Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Southern Festival of Books: What’s All the Buzz About?

Story and Images by Cory Pavlinac

During the weekend of October 9-11, Nashville was the southern hub for literature and home to hundreds of loyal devotees to the art of the written word. Set between the columns of the War Memorial Auditorium, booths of publishing companies, libraries, and book sellers lined the plaza, while smoke from the barbecue grills wafted through the crowd, carrying with it an irresistible temptation.

With anywhere from five to ten authors speaking during the same hour, it was difficult to even make a decision as to who to see. Children’s authors included Shellie Braeuner with her book, The Great Dog Wash, as well as John Carter Cash (the son of country/folk legend, Johnny Cash) with his first crack at the genre, Momma Loves Her Little Son. Exuberant readers of all ages shuffled into the War Memorial Auditorium at noon, clutching books like The Tale of Despereaux, Because of Winn-Dixie, and The Magician’s Elephant, in hopes of leaving with the signature of Kate DiCamillo.

Nonfiction and journalistic writing was represented with award winning authors like David Cullen, who has written extensively on the shootings at Columbine and various societal issues. Writers of scholarly books were present from universities across the nation, giving insight into writing memoir and illustrating the new methods of music journalism. While prose seemed to dominate the scene, poets Diann Blakely and Julie Kane tag teamed in a sultry discourse about jazz and Bourbon Street.

One writer I chose to hear was Joseph Kanon, an author of five novels including his most recent, Stardust, about the Diaspora of a small group of anti-Nazi citizens from the crumbling, post-war Germany to the glimmering paradise of Hollywood in the 1940s. Here was a Hollywood in its prime--“a town of movie stars, palm trees, swimming pools, back patios, and people who didn’t wear neck ties"--the home to an industry that was seeing more consumer activity than at any other time, past or present. During the war, some 85 million people were attending movies on a weekly basis, and Hollywood was becoming the playground for the rich and famous. So it makes sense for a downtrodden, poverty-stricken German escaping the Fascist regime of the Nazis to head to Hollywood. Why live anywhere else? Ironically, as Kanon pointed out, a lot of the German actors in this migration ended up auditioning and taking roles as Nazis in movies. But Kanon’s focus wasn’t so much on the sunny side of Hollywood but on the dark side. Movie executors came under heat for “harboring communists” and were forced into blacklisting the German immigrants in order to save face, their careers, and to keep from being federally persecuted. According to Kanon, “McCarthyism started before McCarthy, in Hollywood.” Stardust is meant to portray this time in Hollywood’s history through a murky lens; much like stardust gets in the way of seeing the cosmos clearly.

The event that created the most “buzz”, without a doubt, was Buzz Aldrin’s lecture at one o’clock on Saturday afternoon. The grandiose War Memorial Auditorium was filled with anticipation and an agitated murmur as elderly men festooned with war medals stretched their necks to catch any signs of life from the back stage door. Then the door opened slowly and before the snowy haired, space veteran could even show his face, the crowd burst into a tumultuous display of admiration. A hero had just entered the room. The highlight of Buzz’s speech was his on-stage exploration of the black hole of his life after returning from his legendary peregrination to the Moon. Much of the same story and sentiment found in his new book, Magnificent Desolation: The Long Journey Home from the Moon. The title of the book has literal and figurative meanings. It’s “a magnificent testimony to the progress of mankind” and a simultaneous nod to the uninhabitable characteristics of the Moon. The title also describes Buzz’s own magnificent opportunity of the Apollo mission and the desolation of a life steeped in depression and alcohol after returning. The lecture was not without some lighthearted astronaut humor, however, as Buzz joked chauvinistically about the true consistency of the Moon: “the Moon doesn’t have Swiss cheese on it, it has American cheese.”

Cory Pavlinac is a Junior BU English Major.