Saturday I went to the Brooklyn Book Festival. I had a lovely time wandering the stalls with M; we caught the last half of Jennifer Egan, Pete Hamill, and Colson Whitehead’s reading. All the readings in the Borough Hall Courtroom (a lovely place) were a madhouse, with lines to get in winding down the stairs and out the Borough Hall door. They also had audience members sit up in the judges’ seats, which made watching the reading extra interesting, to see people’s changing expressions of amusement, sleepiness, and sleepy amusement. During the Q&A someone asked all 3 writers if they ever get depressed reading writers they admire. Whitehead said he tends to read non-fiction when he works, and Egan said if she reads something that depresses her because it is so good she doesn’t sit down to write right away. I found Hamill’s response most reasonable and encouraging. That you’ll never be Gordimer (the questioner said Gordimer is her favorite) and Gordimer will never be you. You bring your own unique experiences to your writing (and this includes everything you read). He added that he tends to read work in translation in order to get the substance of the work without letting the music influence his writing (like reading Tom Wolfe and putting 20 exclamation marks in a paragraph).
We also saw the next reading: Ben Greenman, Jonathan Ames, and Gary Shteyngart. That was a very fun group. Shteyngart gave an especially spirited reading from the start of his book (beginning with masturbation and ending with circumcision and, of course, infection), so I finally picked up a copy of Absurdistan and hope to read it soon, though now that school has resumed it may be slated for July 2007. Oy.