Let us dismiss with this notion, once and for all, that I’m an obsessive. I know how to shut of my computer and have fun outside, as long as I can connect it to writing somehow. In any case, here’s how I spent my weekend!
These pictures come from the 2017 Printers Row Lit Fest. It’s the largest gathering of book lovers and authors in the region. It’s also an excuse to add more books to your bulging bookshelf, because a lot of good lit lingered on these streets. Passing up a book you know you’d like feels sinful, somehow.
I had the privilege of attending this gathering over the past weekend. I forgot how much I missed a big city’s bustle, even while under a blazing sun, during my time in Iowa. If you go to this festival next year, bring two water bottles, at least. The one I brought wasn’t enough.
The Lit Fest provided great opportunities for writers. You could mingle with Chicago’s bibliophiles, meet local authors for business handshakes, and meander past rows of marked-down literature.
support local authors
I attended two speaking events in this fest (it was actually three, but I forgot to take pictures for one). At noon last Sunday, Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn talked with Daniel Wolff about Wolff’s new book: Grown-Up Anger: The Connected Mysteries of Bob Dylan, Woody Guthrie, and the Calumet Massacre of 1913. Wolff presented some concise, humorous, yet informative insights about a labor union tragedy that influenced Bob Dylan and Woddy Guthrie. Plus, Zorn and a friend played folk music at the event. They gave my mind some much needed rest inside an air-conditioned hall.
The second speaking event was a big experience for me. I got to see Jonathan Safran Foer, in conversation with Jennifer Day, about his latest novel, Here I Am.
I loved Everything is Illuminated (couldn’t you tell?), and it’s inspiring to hear a successful writer be himself on stage. Foer discussed the Judaic influences in his books, and his role as a parent, in a thoughtful and sprawling style that seems characteristic of most writers/philosophers. His digression on humor in his literature clicked with me. Here are two Foer quotes from that discussion:
yes Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
“We were the way we were not because we were progressive, free-thinking, all-accepting people. I think in part, it was in response to conversations that we couldn’t have, that other families could have, about the war, and my grandparents’ experiences, the response to which was really kind of silence, it was this conversation that was always never being had— it was just always present, but we never ever talked about it…”
“…So we had a kind of exuberance that was not necessarily an expression of joy, but was sometimes an expression of anxiety, or even an exuberance that was an expression of repression. And that was the kind of humor that I grew up with. We were really filthy. We used bad language, made sexual jokes all the time, all the time. I think it was almost like— ‘It’s ok to do that, because we don’t do these other things.’ It was like a sacrificial substitute for a deeper conversation? And with my writing, I’ve often wondered about the role or the value of humor. I remember… I had a letter correspondence with the woman at the New Yorker who had edited the excerpt of Everything is Illuminated and then went on to become just one of my closest readers… one of the things I was sort-of interrogating her about (because I was then trying to write something new), was, ‘Does it have to be funny?’ Like I have an instinct that it has to be funny. Will it still be good if it’s not funny. Really simple questions that you think would almost be asked by a ten year old, or somebody who has not had a lot of experience with writing. And I find myself asking them, like, right now. You know, right now I’m working on two different projects. They’re both novels, one of which is not at all funny. It’s just very— it’s not maximal or particularly stylized. It’s kind of quiet. Clear. And the other is really boisterous, it’s a little more like Here I Am. Kind of, like, boisterous and all over the place, and it… as a friend of mine says, ‘It not only bites the bullet, it eats the gun.’ And I am drawn to both. But what’s kind of interesting to me is— it’s not just an aesthetic question. It, to me, feels almost like an ethical question. It’s very personal… and I put it in terms of good and bad, which is strange. Like, is it good, would I be good to do this, or would I be bad to do this? Which is obviously harkening back to these odd uses of humor when I was a kid, which were tied up with emotions like guilt.”
I’ve thought similar things about humor in my own writing. It’s nice to know I’m not alone.
Here are all the books I bought at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest.
And I also had my copy of Here I Am signed by Foer himself!