Yesterday was my day-one at the Festival, which I’m attending for the third year running. $7 at the used-book sale bought me Susan Sontag’s “Illness as Metaphor and AIDS and Its Metaphors,” Mark Salzman’s “Lying Awake,” Cormac McCarthy’s “The Crossing,” and Francine Prose’s “The Lives of the Muses.”
In the evening, I caught the panel discussion “Philip Gourevitch and Kevin Smokler: Writing in Unreaderly Times.” PG is a journalist and the new editor of The Paris Review, while KS is the editor of the anthology “Bookmark Now.” Very different guys: Smokler was neurotic and enjoyably animated; Gourevitch was commanding and self-confident to a fault. They discussed whether there was a ‘great American novel’ (KS: No, it’s a construct; PG: Of course), music lyrics (KS: the Dylan of the 21st century will be found in hip hop; PG: I don’t believe that), and what they go to novels for (KS: to learn about things miles away from my own little world; PG: to learn about what’s happening right around me). The discussion’s first 20 minutes were its most interesting – both responded to the moderator’s question about whether there should be optimism about reading and books, despite the NEA’s “Reading at Risk” report and rumors of whole states of kids slump-staring at video games and screens like this one. More panels today. Stay tuned.