Sunday, November 14, 2004

Miami International Book Fair 2004. "The book fair" is an annual event in downtown Miami that we began attending when our children were small. This year's edition started about a week ago, and this weekend was the "street fair" part of it. At the street fair, booksellers set up temporary stalls in the streets around Miami-Dade Community College and for three days, Friday through Sunday, show their wares. I would guess that this year there were over one-hundred of them. Thousands of people parade through the stalls, pawing through and buying the books. We went to the fair yesterday and brought home some bargains. We need more books in our house, of course.

When we first began attending the fair, almost all of the booksellers dealt in English language books. As the years went by, the proportion of Spanish language booths increased to the point where, about 10 years ago, I got a little annoyed. Yesterday as I walked through the street fair, I recognized that my attitude had completely changed. "Oh, look!" Paul exclaimed, "an English language bookseller. Let's go over there!"

Some of the stalls have religious books of a given point of view and people in them ready to proselyte or, at least, to explain themselves. From the beginning there were some New Age types, but the variety and number of religious stalls have increased. None of the Christian types, however, were evangelizing. They were all about something else: the English Language Catholics were about right to life; the Cuban Catholics were about some great priest back in Cuba; the Mormons were about genealogy; a Southern Baptist church was about looking as much like any other used book seller as they could be. But the Muslims? Well, let me tell you, my friend, about Islam.

The book fair invites authors to come and speak. Carol and I heard Tom Wolfe Friday night. He is promoting his new book, I am Charlotte Simmons , a sort of updated Sister Carrie.. Charlotte is a fictional young person from Sparta, NC, who goes to DuPont University, a sort of amalgam of Yale, Stanford, Michigan, Penn, Chapel Hill, etc. Wolf said he spent a month at each of these schools talking to students about what it is like to be a college student at an elite school. He used the novel form to "report" on his findings. The findings are not surprising, though they are appalling. We heard about such things as "the seven minute seduction" and "sexile". About how ideas of "character" have disappeared, to be replaced, vaguely, by "leadership" and nothing else. Wolf turns out to be a liberal in the 19th Century sense, I think. He didn't say it in so many words, but he must be very concerned about the future of the Republic if these are the citizens were are producing.

We are going back again today to hear three lectures: Lynn Truss, the lady who wrote Eat Shoots and Leaves; Pat Conroy; and Alexander McCall Smith, who writes a series of novels about The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, whose heroine is Precious Ramotswe, and which take place in Botswana.

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