I arrived around 2 and immediately ran into Amy Guth and Tiffany Tate who had just left the Young and Restless panel that Amy had moderated, and the three of us made our way to Flacos Tacos for what turned out to be a very tasty lunch. If there’s something that goes better with lit fests than pork tacos and Sangria, I’m not sure what it is. After this, we split up for a while and I perused the multi-block book fair and visited the tables of several friends and my personal festival favorites. I stopped by and said hi to Terry Gant at the Third Coast Comics table, who had on display a variety of awesome graphic novels that I wish I’d had more time to look at. Of all the various genres of fiction I read, I regret most my coming late to the graphic novel medium and I wish I knew more about them. It’s been lingering at the middle third of my to-do list for years and now that the Evanston Library has a decent collection of them I’m going to have to take the plunge.
From there, I visited the table for Old Towne Books and Tea. Based in Oswego, IL, they are an indie-friendly bookstore recommended to me by my friend and fellow Chicago author Larry Santoro, who I sadly missed due to getting there just a bit too late in the afternoon. I did also manage to briefly say hi Susie T from the Book Cellar at their table. All I can say about the Book Cellar is that it must be hard to be so beloved by virtually every Chicago author I know, including me.
By this time it was approaching 5pm and it had rained more than once and several booths and tables had decided to pack it in for the day. Also narrowly missed was my friend Gina Frangello founder of Other Voices books and author of the book I’m reading right now titled Slut Lullabies. Jason Pettus, founder of the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography had to make the tough call to cancel the CCLaP social event that was scheduled for the late afternoon due to the fact that it had now started to rain in earnest and the main fair festivities were starting to wrap up quite literally under sheets of plastic to keep the books dry.
Instead of going to the CCLaP event, I went with plan B: shopping for cheap used books. Last year I visited the Open Books booksale and took home as many books as I could fit into my laptop bag. This year I smartened up and brought some grocery bags with me to carry my loot in the form of several books I had been meaning to add to my collection for a number of months and had waited for this festival specifically to buy them. Why wait, you ask? Well, for starters, they had literally every book on my list, and the most I paid for any one book was $5. Some were $3, and a couple of them only $2. It’s a reader’s and book collector’s paradise and worth waiting for if you need to buy more than just a couple of titles.
So in my search I hit the Open Books tent and the Chicago Tribune tent, who between them had everything I was looking for. I picked up copies of Neal Stephenson’s brilliant Snow Crash, which I recently finished reading and wrote a pretty extensive critique of that I’ll be posting here at some point in the future. I had read a library copy but wanted one for myself. I also picked up Stephenson’s latest book Anathem, which was one of the only titles last year to get a perfect 10 score from Jason Pettus at CCLaP in his reviews. I’m looking forward to digging into that one. I got copies of Barbara Erenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Robert Bly’s Iron John since I named my son partly after the title character and every copy that I’ve owned of it I’ve loaned to people and they’ve never returned them. So now I have it in hardcover. Again. I grabbed Douglas Coupeland’s Generation X, the book from which the phrase originates and which from reading the first chapter seems as brilliant as it is unusual so far, and Chuck Palahnuik’s Lullaby, which I read a while ago from the library and rivaled anything else he wrote in sheer creativity. Here’s hoping if they make a film about this one they won’t utterly ruin it (I’m looking at YOU Choke). Also, hilariously, I had a copy of Like Water for Chocolate hurled at me some time later at Reading Under the Influence during the audience participation phase of the readings where I correctly identified Ernest Hemingway as the author of Old Man and the Sea. Hooray for flying literature!
My last stop on the shopping binge was at the Out of Print Clothing table, where I bought this awesome T-Shirt. There were many, many great book-related items at this store but once I spotted it I only had eyes (and enough disposable cash) for this one. Given that the aesthetic of Bradbury’s classic was one of the chief influences of the aesthetic of my first novel Red Ivy Afternoon, you can imagine my unabashed geeking out over it. In other news, I wore it today and it’s very soft and high-quality. I highly recommend you check out their store at http://www.outofprintclothing.com/.
Among the fun moments of the day was the point at which the vendors and publishers who had prepped their tents and tables with plastic dropcovers started unfurling them. You’d think it would be a claustrophobic experience to be in a roughly 16x16 foot tent covered with plastic on all sides in the waning afternoon light, but it actually made for sort of a unique throwback-type, we’re-all-in-this-together-and-isn’t-this-fun? Experience. I snapped these pics while I and some other undaunted lit-loving browsers kept shopping and exploring to our heart’s content even when many of the vendors were starting to pull up their anchors for the night.
So with a bag full of delicious merch I headed for (or rather “ducked into to escape the worsening rain”) Bar Louie next to Dearborn Station for a few beers and some Buffalo wings while I waited for the rain to slacken off. I checked out my new books and wrote some emails to various people I was attempting to meet up with later and in the process discovered that the band Augustana was playing for free at the main stage in less than an hour. Happily, by about 6:15, the skies started to clear up and the Lit After Dark portion of the night got started. I wandered over to the main stage and caught the last three or four songs of the opening band’s set. The headliners, Augustana, played an acoustic set that included their hit “Boston” which I had previously downloaded and enjoyed a year or so ago, but they had the show somewhat stolen from them by their opener band, the relatively unknown Kirkland, who were a surprisingly lively, entertaining high-energy six-piece rock band with a frontman/frontwoman combination that made for a great sound. Kirkland closed out their set with an up-tempo backbeat-enhanced perfectly-sung cover of Four Non Blondes’ “What’s Up?” I liked them so much in fact, that I bought Kirkland’s CD on the spot which is something I almost never do at concerts. Definitely someone to check out of if they’re playing near you.
Ok, I made that part up.
After RUI was concluded, I spotted Deb Lewis who had moderated a panel last year that I sat on at the Pilcrow Lit Fest about writing sexuality, and had been very kind to me last year by introducing me to several other authors who are now friends of mine. It’s always a pleasure to run into her and you can catch her at 2nd Story (see website for upcoming dates), yet another great Chicago reading series.
At this point, Ben, Jason, Katy, Hannah, and I were invited to the impromptu after-reading drinks at Kasey’s Tavern nearby where I got the chance to kick back with lots of the aforementioned authors as well as Brandon Will, staffer of the Book Cellar, J. Adams Oaks (whom I had never met but seen at a reading once and was glad to get the chance to finally talk to), and Bill Adee from the Chicago Tribune, who aside from being one of those rare individuals who seems to effortlessly make you feel like the world is full of interesting things to talk about is just a heck of a nice guy in general. We also encountered the largest dog I've ever seen, a Great Dane that was amazingly not yet a year old.
Though I had a great time at the festival last year, overall I’d have to say there was a palpable jump in quality from last year to this year at Printer’s Row, due in no small part to the melding of some of last year’s events at the Pilcrow Lit Fest into the festivities of Lit After Dark. As much as I loved the festival this year, the very best part of it was of course the little informal gathering at the end and I was inwardly thrilled to be included. There has been much talk this year of Chicago being the new “Capital of independent publishing”, and though my perspective on such things is probably too narrow to offer any definitive verdict, I will say that Chicago last night felt like the capital of a friendly, welcoming, and warmly-inclusive community of writers, editors, and publishers. If indeed the future of books rests on their shoulders, whether indie, mainstream, traditional, or digital, I can assure you the future looks very refreshingly bright even in this awful economy and even in the rain.