For some reason the roster of eminent fiction writers seemed to get short shrift and the large ballroom on the second floor was reserved for historians and super stars. (Shonda Rimes, Bob Woodward, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) Other years one could come and go throughout the various venues since speakers often overlap, but this year lines formed outside the smaller rooms set aside for fiction writers, many so long that I thought I'd mistakenly ended up at Disney World.
Doors were locked until one presentation ended and another began. While chatting in the hour-long line for Richard Russo with some other book lovers, I found that they could not get in to see many of their favorites, Carl Hiaasen and Colson Whitehead among them. This is especially shocking in light of the fact that Whitehead, as an Oprah pick, was bound to attract a standing room only crowd.
Having worked for years on the Southwest Florida Reading Festival, I understand how difficult it is to please all the people, all the time.One has to make difficult choices. In fact, there were three people I wanted to hear at noon! But even though the new system meant that we couldn't interact with as many authors as we would have liked, (not even Mary Roach had seating space), my sister, my friend Don and I had a great afternoon, even finding ourselves within a couple of feet of Salman Rushdie at one point.
The questions were especially apropos, the interviewer pointed out, because of the current political climate that seems to pit blue collar workers, shut out from factory jobs that have disappeared and unable to reinvent themselves, against college educated folks with more resources. Russo did an admirable job of fielding a charged opportunity to trash one presidential candidate or the other, by saying that he wasn't inclined to alienate half of his audience, drawing appreciative laughs.
Russo was thoughtful and kind. I had no doubt that he would be. He treats each quirky character he creates, no matter how deplorable (if I may use that word), as someone loveable and redeemable. He told the audience that his best known anti-hero, Sully, played in the film, "Nobody's Fool," by Paul Newman, was based upon his dad, something I guess I should have picked up on but hadn't.
What's next? He has two books in the hopper, one a collection of short stories, and the kernel of an idea that may evolve into his next novel. In the meantime, he asks, can we please just read a little slower?