Book Festival Poster
“I cannot live without books.” ~ Thomas Jefferson
I had the great joy of attending this year’s National Book Festival on the Washington DC Mall. With over 100 authors in attendance, CSPAN’s BookTv.org covering the event, PBS Kids, Scholastic, and the greatest library on Earth providing educational materials, this was a fun activity for kids and adults, all celebrating the most important cultural invention in human history: the written word.
As Carl Sagan explains, books changed everything:
For 99 per cent of the tenure of humans on earth, nobody could read or write. The great invention had not yet been made. Except for first-hand experience, almost everything we knew was passed on by word of mouth. As in the game of ‘Chinese Whispers’, over tens and hundreds of generations, information would slowly be distorted and lost.
Books changed all that. Books, purchasable at low cost, permit us to interrogate the past with high accuracy; to tap the wisdom of our species; to understand the point of view of others, and not just those in power; to contemplate – with the best teachers – the insights, painfully extracted from Nature, of the greatest minds that ever were, drawn from the entire planet and from all of our history. They allow people long dead to talk inside our heads. Books can accompany us everywhere. Books are patient where we are slow to understand, allow us to go over the hard parts as many times as we wish, and are never critical of our lapses. Books are key to understanding the world and participating in a democratic society.
The Library of Congres
I’ve written about my love of the Jefferson Room in the Library of Congress and compared it to a modern day Library of Alexandria in my book The Spiraling Web. Just as the British Empire defined itself as the time keeper for the world symbolized through the monumental clock Big Ben, the Library of Congress symbolizes the United States’ status as the world’s cultural hub. The entire world sets its watch by Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) and it sets it intellect by America’s eclectic melting pot of diversity and open discussion of ideas.
From the Library’s website:
The Library of Congress is the largest library in the world, with more than 147 million items on approximately 838 miles of bookshelves. The collections include more than 33 million books and other print materials, 3 million recordings, 12.5 million photographs, 5.4 million maps, 6 million pieces of sheet music and 64.5 million manuscripts… in some 470 languages.
Digital Preservation at the Library of Congress
The Library also supports the acquisition of its own collection through the issuance of copyrights, where anyone seeking to obtain copyright protection under the American government is required to submit two copies of their work (electronic copies are preferred now). Additionally, the Library (capital-L) has numerous other projects going on such as Digital Preservation, which includes web archiving and educational outreach efforts to encourage Americans to backup their digital media for long-term preservation. The LoC also has lots of great online educational resources like the World Digital Library, Gateway to Knowledge, Knowledge Quest, and a vast archive of photographs and other media, including photos of the Jefferson Room.
And did you know that the Library of Congress is also a Unit of Measurement in Information Science? 20 Terabytes; although, the LoC has far surpassed that.
Electric Company Coloring Poster
Three very large tents hosted a wide variety of games and activities for children. There were lots of folks in cartoon character costumes, presentation, and giveaways. My favorite activity here was the “Klutz Build a Book,” which included all sorts of decorative items to glue into the pages of a spiral bound book. Sort of like scrapbooking, but fictional.
After the festival, I found out there were tons of authors I would have enjoyed seeing, but, since I didn’t plan my trip out, I only made the effort to see two.
Neal Stephenson, one of the most interesting cyberpunk novelists today and whose book Cryptonomicon I couldn’t finish (gave up at page 300), but did inspire me to buy an autographed copy of IT Security Guru Bruce Schneir’s book Applied Cryptography: Protocols, Algorithms, and Source Code in C, was reading from his latest tome. I happily stood in line for 50 minutes to get an autographed copy of the book Reamde for my brother-in-law who is a huge Stephenson fan and is confused as I am as to why I don’t grok this speculative hyper-geek of an author. His writing is kind of dry, but incredibly witty and his science fiction is hardcore and erudite, all wonderful qualities for his subject matter.
A special treat was seeing Garrison Keillor of A Prairie Home Companion fame. He was reading from a collection of poems he had assembled titled Good Poems, American Places, which included a nice prayer for the existence of god (YouTube of him reading it), which was a request for god to simply be out there somewhere, and included the amusing line, “for I shall sure be pissed if I should have been an atheist.” Keillor related his experiences in writing, including rewriting scripts on the PHC as the actors were reading them. He also made one of the best observations about the craft I think I’d ever heard, “Writing is never finished; it’s just taken away from you.”
I can’t wait till next year’s festival.
You can check out my Creative Commons Flickr Set Here, which includes lots of photos of Neil and Garrison.