The 2009 Miami Book Fair offers a strange brew of talent

Call it Book Fair Ultra, but not Book Fair Lite.

Thanks to state budget cuts for the arts, the staff at the Florida Center for the Literary Arts had to brew this year's 26th annual Miami Book Fair with a smaller pile of hops, but the product still packs more than the legal limit of intellectual star power.

From rock innovators to former vice presidents to actresses who make puppet porn, this year's fair has a flavor for every cultural thirst. "Miami is the one place where all authors want to come," says chief book bartender and fair chairman Mitchell Kaplan.

Jeff Kinney

Details

Miami Book Fair International: November 8 through 15. Street fair November 13 through 15. Miami Dade College Wolfson Campus, 300 NE Second Ave., Miami. Visit the website for admission prices. 305-237-3258; miamibookfair.com

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Kick the week off right with President Barack Obama's wordsmith of choice, poet Elizabeth Alexander, who reprises her reading of "Praise Song for the Day" from January's inauguration. Her Sunday 5 p.m. reading is followed at 7 p.m. by Canadian authorial bad-ass Margaret Atwood, who drops a new novel, The Year of the Flood (Doubleday, $26.95), for the first time since 2005. The rest of the "Evenings With..." sessions unfold like a choice international selection of taps at the greatest word bar south of Heaven.

Monday feeds the stomach and the soul with a double-header — former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl at 6 p.m. and perennial best seller Barbara Kingsolver at 8 (each costs ten dollars, FYI). Tuesday quenches your craving for memoir, with former MSNBC gossip columnist Jeannette Walls reading at 7:30 p.m. from her followup to 2005's mega-best seller The Glass Castle, Half-Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel (Scribner, $26). Test your head's tolerance with Wednesday's and Friday's dual award winners: Pulitzer-carrying Richard Powers and Nobel-toting Orhan Pamuk. Powers reads from his tenth novel, Generosity: An Enhancement (FSG, $25), while Pamuk, the first Turkish citizen to win a Nobel Prize, reads from his newest novel, The Museum of Innocence (Knopf, $28.95). Both read at 7:30 p.m.

Thursday's Isabella Rossellini appearance is like that crazy blueberry-infused Trappist ale with a twist of wormwood. The famous actress — who can ever forget her turn as Dorothy Vallens in David Lynch's Blue Velvet (1986)? — screens her series of short films called Green Porno (2008), in which Rossellini and others don animal costumes and act out mating rituals. Schwing!

But a word hound can't stay sloshed on "Evenings With..." alone, and the culminating weekend — beginning with the Friday, November 13 street fair and running until the last event Sunday, November 15 — will likely toss more than a few of us off the wagon. And who better to ask about choice vintages than the perennial imbibers at New Times? Over the next two weeks, our dipsomaniacs will dish out a series of author-tastings online and in print that will have you sneaking out the back door on your wives, husbands, and children.

"What happened, honey?" they'll ask when you stumble home Monday morning covered in paperbacks.

And all you'll be able to muster is: "When it hits your ears, it's just so good..."

To get you started, Homer, here are three authors you can't live without seeing in person:

Minor television personality and big-time genius John Hodgman is an expert on things that don't matter: Presidents who have hooks for hands. The perfect name for a hobo. Monster hunters. His new novel, More Information Than You Require, reads like a gift sent from the god of attention deficit disorders. It's a trivia book full of fake facts, footnotes, and lists — penned with a tone you'd find in the pages of McSweeney's. "Its grab-bag nature wasn't a choice — more of a reflection of my adult brain," Hodgman explains. "And my hatred of long paragraphs or even complete sentences."

Did we mention it's hilarious? Or that Hodgman is somehow able to make the subject "Speaking of Parasites" funny? Perhaps best known as "that guy in the Mac commercials," Hodgman began as a freelance writer in New York City. He then became a literary agent and humor editor for New York Times Magazine. Eventually, he says, he was able "to fool someone into thinking a collection of my insane obsessions might be worth publishing." His first book, The Areas of My Expertise, was written, in part, on the subway and in Central Park. It is also a collection of made-up facts.

After Hodgman plugged the book on The Daily Show, producers liked his comedic style enough to invite him back for a regular gig. He's since been featured as the "Resident Expert" on the show more than 30 times. Those TV appearances have made people "smile at [him] more on the street," he says. But alas, fewer folks are privy to his literary work. One thing he wants us know about his latest: "That it exists!"

John Hodgman reads from More Information Than You Require Saturday, November 14, at 5 p.m. in Building 3, Chapman.

Natalie O'Neill

Ruth Reichl comes to the Miami Book Fair to plug a huge, 1,000-plus recipe cookbook called Gourmet Today on the heels of the announcement there will be no more Gourmet magazine tomorrow. That's sort of like Bernie Madoff going on a financial self-help book tour in the weeks after his Ponzi scheme imploded. In other words, this will be one of the hottest events at the fair.

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