To Do This Weekend: National Book Festival

From First Ladies to First Brothers-in-Law and from science to science fiction on the Mall this Saturday

By: Zac Farber

The Mall can look a little desiccated around this time of year after the scorching heat of August. But this Saturday, a different kind of vegetation replaces the abused grass as the tenth annual National Book Festival springs up between Third and Seventh streets. The festival brings out heavyweight writers including Jonathan Franzen, New Yorker editor David Remnick, Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk, and Scott Turow to celebrate reading, writing, and literacy. More than 70 authors, poets, and illustrators will discuss their work, meet fans, and sign books at the free event, organized by the Library of Congress.

Close family members of both Presidents Bush and Obama will be in attendance. Former First Lady Laura Bush was a late addition to the speakers. Officially, she’ll be talking about her role in establishing both the National Book Festival and the Texas Book Festival, but the real event will be if she reads from her autobiography, Spoken From the Heart. And Craig Robinson, brother-in-law to President Obama, will speak about his book, A Game of Character: A Family Journey From Chicago’s Southside to the Ivy League and Beyond. Head coach of the Oregon State Beavers basketball team, Robinson stumped for Obama during the campaign and kidded that he vetted him on the court.

The festival’s also a bonanza for children. Legends of the genre Norton Juster, author of The Phantom Tollbooth, and Jules Feiffer present their new collaboration, The Odious Ogre, at 11:50 and sign copies from 2 to 3. And for young people and grownups who love young-adult fiction, Suzanne Collins, author of the Hunger Games trilogy, speaks at 10:35 and signs at 11:30.

For those hankering for more pedigreed literature, Franzen, whose novel Freedom is the most popular and polarizing potential great book in the country right now, presents at 10:35 and signs copies at 11:30. Jonathan Safran Foer, who has moved from novels such as Everything Is Illuminated to the nonfiction animal-welfare polemic Eating Animals, presents at 2:05. In the mood for a different kind of reading altogether? Nobel Prize winner and National Cancer Institute director Harold Varmus talks about his new memoir, The Art and Politics of Science, at 4:25.

The festival also marks the launch of a traveling exhibition that’s bringing facsimiles of popular library holdings—the 1465 Gutenberg Bible, a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence, the Waldseemüller map (the first document to use the word “America”), and others—via an 18-wheel truck to small towns in states across the Midwest and South over the next six months.

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