Saturday, April 26, 2008

LA Times Festival of Books

My mom and I took in the festival's first day, riding up in a bus chartered by a local bookstore. On board was an author who talked about her work. She writes "self-help fiction," a genre I've never heard of nor seen mentioned in Poets & Writers. It was interesting to hear about her process (which included a focus-group to see what type of book she should write for women--women, of course, because they buy more books than men). It was also, well, revolting?

The festival's highlight (other than seeing my brother, who joined us for the afternoon) was hearing Sherman Alexie talk. He read from his new book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, which is largely autobiographical. Alexie was born with hydrocephalus, and the book deals with this and how it made him "different" in school. Once the talk was opened up to questions, a young boy said he has Turret's Syndrome, and asked Alexie what he could do to avoid bullies. It was a shocking question that changed the Q&A's previously jocular mood. Alexie gave a heartfelt answer about finding allies in both students and adults at the school, about divulging his fears to them, and about realizing that being bullied doesn't mean there's a problem with you. The problem lies with the bully.

I thought about how fiction reveals life, including the inhumanity of being mistreated. And how, if the fiction I read is going to have "lessons" or "issues," or even possibly "help me," I want them to be created organically. And go down with nary a taste of medicine.

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