Despite the steady downpour, the people came in droves. A sea of umbrellas stretched over the entire soggy expanse. Assembled together on the Mall, thousands of bibliophiles milled about at the 2009 National Book Festival.
I had the opportunity to catch the tail-end of the magnificent day for book lovers all over. And I was astonished to see that–no matter how impressive those Amazon Kindle devices are, no matter whether libraries are going “book-less”, no matter how informative other media forms are–the book still holds a special place in many people’s hearts.
The book sale tent was packed with people–young and old, learned and learning–buying books like it was their job. The genre tents were filled to capacity with readers eager to hear from some of America’s most gifted writers. The book-signing tent, from an aerial perspective, looked like a giant octopus with enormous tentacles of patient, rain-soaked fans clutching worn or brand-new copies of great books that swayed and spiraled all over the Mall.
At the history/biography genre tent, I listened to Dan Balz and Haynes Johnson talk about the significance of the 2008 election. Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan then came on to discuss “The National Parks: America’s Best Idea”, a breath-taking look into an institution that both defines who we are as Americans and exemplifies one way in which we are unique (the documentary premiered tonight–it was fantastic). I sat next to a retired 30-year veteran of the DC Public Schools, who was so glad to see a young teacher in the district.
What was perhaps most unusual was the 50 states tent, in which librarians and bibliophiles from each of the 50 states as well as some relevant organizations (e.g. National Endowment for the Humanities) manned booths sharing information on reading books. Little kids had map handouts that they used to acquire stamps from each state booth. The best part here, though, was the free material. I now have an assortment of approximately one hundred bookmarks including ones promoting state libraries, ones offering factoids on Abraham Lincoln and ones teaching that “living with aloha means giving from the heart”. Also, a few posters on reading, libraries, and themes in literature.
Here are some photos (of Ken Burns; the front half of his fan club; the 50 states tent; and James Billington, 13th Librarian of Congress):
After attending this event I realized one thing: I am blown away by the tremendous cultural opportunities made available in DC. There is always something amazing going on each day and, often, it is free. Teachers are particularly lucky, because there are endless events for teachers. I had the chance to attend a special preview of the newly-renovated museum space at Ford’s Theatre. They allowed us to see the booth in which President Lincoln was assassinated (something that the general public cannot see). In a few weeks, I’ll be at the Smithsonian Teachers’ Night, which is supposedly a wonderfully-planned event (i.e. there is an open bar?).