Yesterday, the Library of Congress held the National Book Festival in-person once again. And I was so excited that I was back just in time to attend.
Held at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, the Festival was jammed packed full of panels, authors, and books. In fact, I had such a hard time choosing which sessions to attend and which authors to sign books. I mean, check out this incredible schedule. How do you decide?
I attended in 2018 and went with no planning. That was a mistake. I ended up just randomly wandering around, got overwhelmed by the number of people (in fairness, attendance at the 2018 Festival was at capacity), and ended up leaving only buying a couple of books but without really seeing a panel.
So this year, I was determined to have a plan. And my first attempt to schedule all the sessions and book signings I wanted to do meant I would need to be 4 people.
My first few schedule attempts would’ve required Hermoine’s time-turner. But not having a time-turner, I did have at least some kind of plan.
I eventually eliminated those sessions on the main stage because I figured those would have huge lines to get in and I’d be unlikely to get in (as was my experience in 2018). And so I decided to stick mostly with the Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF) Stage because those are my favorite genres.
The Conference Center opened at 8:30am. I arrived at 9 and immediately headed to the lower level, which held the kitlit areas, the book signing area, exhibits for the various LOC buildings, some sponsor exhibits, the U.S. States & Territories tables, and, of course, the book sale area.
And I totally headed straight to the book sale area. After making my initial schedule, I had my eye on 15 books (matching all the sessions I wanted to see), but decided to limit myself to 5. (On Thursday, I had purchased and immediately dived into The Monsters We Defy by Leslye Penelope, which I brought with me).
Next up, I headed to the U.S. States & Territory area. Each U.S. state and territory had a table to display the authors and books from that state. To make it more interactive, the LOC had a fun map to get a stamp from each state/territory. Kids and adults alike, me included, had so much fun wandering around the tables, collecting stamps, and seeing the various authors and books from each state/territory.
I also collected a lot of bookmarks, some stickers, road maps (WA, OR, AZ, AK), brochures on the Hawaiian language, a poster (OR), and even a magnet (thanks ND!). For completing the map, which I also got to keep, I got a reading light!
I then headed back up to the street level to the SFF stage to attend my first panel of the day, Thieves and Their Petty Little Secrets with Chelsea Abdullah, author of The Stardust Thief, and M.J. Kuhn, author of Among Thieves. A fantastic panel discussing those morally gray characters we love to root for, as well as their writing processes and how they developed their stories.
After this, I skedaddled back downstairs to get 3 books signed: Night of the Living Rez by Morgan Talty (who’s panel with Tomás Q. Morín conflicted with the Thieves panel), Chelsea Abdullah’s The Stardust Thief, and M.J. Kuhn’s Among Thieves. This, of course, meant I missed Bring on The Blur: Reality vs Fantasy with Kim Fu and Lidia Yuknavitch. <sigh>
But before the session started, I started chatting with a new book friend, Nic, who told me about B² Weird Bookclub, an IG book club that focuses on SFF books by authors of color. (And they call themselves the weirdos! I LOVE IT! These are my peoples.) And then she gifted me her extra ARC of The Memory Librarian by Janelle Monáe.
Booknerds are the bestest!
I then beelined back to the SFF Stage for Come Into My World: Vivid Places and People in Fiction with Tochi Onyebuchi and Leslye Penelope. Another amazing panel. It was so good in fact, that I raced back downstairs to buy Tochi’s book. And a good thing too, because the SFF table was nearly empty. Only a handful of Tochi’s book were available and many other books were sold out.
But that meant I missed The Magic of Music and Movies with Alex Jennings and Nghi Vo because I was getting Leslye Penelop’s The Monsters We Defy and Tochi Onyebuchi’s Goliath signed. <another sigh> And so since I missed that session, I just stayed downstairs and got in line to get Alex Jennings’s The Ballad of Perilous Graves signed.
At this point, I must point out that I wore my “Dragons Love Books” tee from Out of Print, which I had gotten numerous compliments on (as well as told multiple times that dragons also love tacos). I explained that Dragons are notorious hoarders and I hoard books, therefore, I’m practically a dragon. (I also like tacos, so there’s that too.)
Another great thing about the Festival is seeing all the bookish tees, dresses (yes dresses), and tote bags. On top of that, no one looked twice at me for reading while standing in line. In fact, most everyone else was reading while standing in line too.
Anyway, Alex’s mother, who was sitting with him at the signing table, loved my shirt so much, she took a photo of me with Alex! How flattering is that?!?
I’ll also admit at this point that I’m not confident enough to ask for photos with the authors. I’m overly aware of the line behind me and tried to keep my time at each signing table as short as possible so that everyone else has a chance to get their books signed since the schedule has the authors only at the signing tables for an hour.
Although standing in line to get books signed may seem to some to be a waste considering some of the incredible panels I missed, I enjoyed it for two main reasons. First, I enjoy people-watching and waiting in line is a perfect opportunity to observe the masses. What I saw was a kaleidoscope—people of all ages, shapes, sizes, and colors. The festival is truly a beautiful slice of humanity, showing that in addition to just being human, we all share a commonality—stories and storytelling. Every culture, ancient and current, has a storytelling tradition. And that was evident at the LOC National Book Festival.
It was simply beautiful.
Second, I do
hoard collect books. And I have a section for special editions, exclusive editions, and signed editions. For me, getting an author to sign their book just adds something special, a little bit of storytelling magic.
But I digress.
The last session I attended, and my only non-SFF session, was Ed Yong’s An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (also the name of his book). It was a great conversation between Yong and moderator Dr. Kirk Johnson, the Director of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History. I was already excited to read his book because animals. And then after hearing him speak, well, he was so interesting! I would love to attend a small group event with him and listen to him discuss the scientists he interviews and all the research he must do. I also added his first book, I Contain Multitudes, to my TBR.
In fact, that isn’t the only book that ended up on my TBR. I added at least 2 dozen books (including the 8 of the original 15 that I didn’t buy). A few of my TBR additions:
- How Y’All Doing by Leslie Jordan, who was interviewed by Megan Mullally, another session I missed because I was in line to get Ed Yong to sign my book
- Life on the Rocks by Juli Berwald
- Below the Edge of Darkness by Edith Widder
- River of the Gods by Candice Millard
- Thrust by Lidia Yuknavitch
- Red Paint by Sasha Lapointe
- The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera
- Blade Breaker and Realm Breaker by Victoria Aveyard
- Lesser Known Monsters of the 21st Century by Kim Fu
I finished the day getting to have dinner with two Litsy friends, which was the icing on the cake. Overall, an incredible book-filled day. I had a blast!
Which books have you read or are (now) on your TBR? Share your faves in the comments below.