Miami Book Fair spins into town

Put down that book. Pick yourself up and head to Miami Dade College's downtown campus. Hundreds of America's top authors — including a former president, the grandmother of punk rock, and what's-his-name Rushdie — will be in town to shill their books beginning November 14 for Miami Book Fair International.

The big names will begin talking on the campus at NE Second Avenue and Fourth Street this Sunday and finish during the street fair next Friday through Sunday, November 19 through 21.

Below is Miami New Times' take on the most prominent/interesting writers. Unless otherwise noted, they will speak at the Chapman Conference Center (Building 3, Second Floor, Room 3210).


Miami Book Fair Internatioanl

As a 16-year-old girl, Patti Smith wasted an entire summer working in a factory that made handlebars for tricycles. She hated it, so she spent her days lost in arty fantasies of some future life in a faraway place. "I'd brag that I was going to be an artist's mistress one day. Nothing seemed more romantic to my young mind," Smith, now 63, writes in her recent memoir, Just Kids.

And though the notoriously tough proto-punk poet shed her early, innocent yearnings for mistressdom, she nevertheless found that dream boy. Of course, there was her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith, the late MC5 guitarist. But even before him, she loved, supported, and worked with a soon-to-be-infamous photographer named Robert Mapplethorpe.

In the four decades since the two artists met in New York City and 21 years since Mapplethorpe died of complications from AIDS, their friendship and occasional collaboration has become one of the great love stories of American culture's outlaw, post-hippie period. This book provides an intimate and lyrical personal account.

A nonfiction finalist for the National Book Award, Just Kids sometimes reads like a 308-page prose poem, even slipping into verse near the end: "Little emerald bird/We must say good-bye."

Smith will speak Friday, November 19, at 8 p.m. — S. Pajot

Seventy-eight-year-old Gay Talese is a strange combination of ire and grace. "It's one of those rare occasions where the writer of record didn't do much work," he answers when asked about his newest book, The Silent Season of a Hero.

Of course, Talese put a hell of a lot of work into the book's 38 pieces. But the work was produced over the course of 60 years. Surprisingly, that's the most rewarding aspect of Silent Season. Whereas most anthologies are a waste of time, this one is terrific — charting Talese's evolution as a writer through the lens of sports. It begins with articles he wrote as a teenager and ends with some of the most famous, poignant essays on athletes ever written, including stories about Joe DiMaggio and Muhammad Ali.

"What makes sports special are their immediacy," Talese says. "If you're covering a war, you don't see the war. If you're covering politics, you don't see the intrigues in the backroom... You're getting it secondhand from some spokesperson, some spin artist, some flack. But in sports, you're actually there in the press box, on the sidelines."

In the modern-day world of sports media, though, do we still need 10,000-word articles about athletes? Talese believes so. His interest has always been in losers, or over-the-hill competitors anyway. In "The Loneliest Guy in Boxing," he profiles Ruby Goldstein, a failed boxer-cum-referee whose dedication to the sport has left him all alone. "And that's the most interesting thing of all," Talese says. "How can athletes move on when they can no longer compete in what they're trained to do?"

He, along with author Ian Frazier, will discuss The Silent Season of a Hero Saturday, November 20, at 4 p.m. in the Auditorium (Building 1, Second Floor, Room 1261). — Michael E. Miller

The most boldfaced name attending the book fair is an author so devoted to literature that he didn't stop reading the children's book The Pet Goat even as the Twin Towers fell. We got our hands on an early draft of George W. Bush's Decision Points — and we must say, this memoir was a lot more interesting pre-editing.

Here's what Dubya's ghostwriter left on the cutting-room floor:

• A combined 28 pages of transcribed nervous chuckles — heh-heh, heh-heh — and 12 pages of macaroni art.

• "I had the greatest respect for Dick Cheney, but we did differ on some policy points. Like when he started murdering his gardeners."

• "Wearing only a cowboy hat and a presidential belt buckle, I ran my hand up Laura's navy blue skirt. Her eyes glowed red with longing, and she bared her metallic teeth. Then I felt Condi's pincer grasp on the back of my neck, and I gave in to pleasure."

• "I had thought Iraq and Iran were different names for the same place, like Missouri and Mizzou."

• "I didn't fire Donald Rumsfeld because of political pressure; I fired him because he wouldn't stop wearing a dress."

Bush will kick off the book fair this Sunday at 4 p.m. — Gus Garcia-Roberts

"What is this shit?" That's how rock critic Greil Marcus opened his review of Bob Dylan's album Self Portrait in Rolling Stone 40 years ago. Marcus has since become one of America's premier cultural critics and has penned much prose that is both probing and poetic, but those four words still constitute his most memorable line.

"It was simply what everybody was saying," Marcus admits. His review is one of the first entries in his latest book, Bob Dylan, a collection of writing about the legendary singer/songwriter from 1968 to 2010. "I realized I'd been writing about Dylan for 42 years, and with Obama's election, it had brought the story to a kind of verge," Marcus says. "With this piece, I have a book with a beginning and a conclusion, though not an ending."

The book opens in 1968 with rumors that Dylan is to appear at a Berkeley coffeehouse after three years out of the limelight. A giant box is wheeled onstage, the lid is propped open, and the sounds of a harmonica briefly emerge before "the great box was borne way into the night."

By the time the book ends with "Blowin' in the Wind," sung on election night 2008, Dylan has emerged from seclusion as a country crooner, become a born-again Christian gospel singer, embraced his native Judaism, written a memoir, and returned to his roots. And Marcus has grown from a rock critic for the underground press into a master stylist delving deeply into the soul of America. Though he has written volumes about Elvis, as well as punk's subversive antecedents, Dylan has remained a favorite topic.

"Along with a lot of other things, becoming a Bob Dylan fan made me a writer," Marcus writes. "I was never interested in figuring out what the songs meant. I was interested in figuring out my response to them, and other people's responses."

Marcus will discuss Bob Dylan Saturday, November 20, at 12:30 p.m. — Jorge Casuso

When Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections was published in 2001, the literary world treated him like a god. Author Bret Easton Ellis declared the novel "one of the three great books of my generation." It won the National Book Award and was shortlisted for dozens of other literary honors. Nine years later, Franzen has published another, 576-page novel of domestic drama called Freedom. Time preemptively placed him on the cover with the title "Great American Novelist," and the New York Times called it a masterpiece. The red carpet was even longer and more crimson this time around.

But that's when the Franzenfreude backlash began. Female writers such as Jodi Picoult, immediately suspicious of the establishment's coddling of another white male from Brooklyn, started a Twitter campaign against the endless glowing reviews. And when Franzen was in England promoting Freedom, gadflies knocked the glasses off of his face and tried to hold them for ransom.

The ire surrounding the acclaimed author can be traced to two things: Franzen's public recoil after the mainstream Oprah's Book Club selected The Corrections, and his 1996 Harper's essay, "Perchance to Dream," in which he trumpeted the death of the social novel. But instead of following his own advice to abandon social commentary and write for entertainment, Franzen continued to pump out long-winded fiction about the brokenness of middle-class America.

Freedom continues this tradition, centering on the angst of one bougie Midwestern family where each character is his or her own tiny tornado of neuroses — spinning through failed marriages, adolescent love, politics, and resentment. At first, Franzen's crisp vision is startling. But soon, too many details cause the story to sprawl every which way — just like those evil suburbs.

He will discuss Freedom Sunday, November 21, at 5 p.m. — Amanda McCorquodale

For all the glittering Hollywood names attached to blockbuster hit The Social Network, its millions of fans are absorbing a story first told by one man: author Ben Mezrich.

Mezrich's best-selling tome about Facebook, The Accidental Billionaires, casts the story of the über-popular site — from founder Mark Zuckerberg's lady-hating, envy-driven origins at Harvard to the lawsuit that tore apart his friendship with Miami native and Facebook cofounder Eduardo Saverin.

There's only one question: Is any of it true?

Zuckerberg wouldn't speak to Mezrich (Saverin was his main source), and the author freely admits in his intro that some "settings and descriptions have been changed or imagined," including scores of scenes starring Zuckerberg himself.

Reviewers have torn Mezrich to shreds over his blend of reporting and semifiction ("wild guessing seems... to have been [his] primary working method," the New York Times seethed). But Mezrich says his methods are legit. "I understand my style is very controversial to a lot of old-world journalists," he explains. "But I think it's a very valid form of nonfiction. I interview everyone I can, read reams of documents, and then I write my book like a thriller."

Among his harshest critics is David Kirkpatrick, author of competing book The Facebook Effect. Kirkpatrick, who had full access to Zuckerberg, slams Mezrich's unflattering take on the founder.

Who's right? You can decide for yourself: Both Kirkpatrick and Mezrich will speak at the book fair. (And security might have to keep them apart in the hallways.)

Hear Mezrich's take on his book and the film Sunday, November 21, at 3 p.m. in Presentation Pavilion A (NE Third Street and First Avenue). Kirkpatrick will speak Saturday, November 20, at 2:30 p.m. in Building 7, First Floor, Room 7106. — Tim Elfrink

Click for more event info about Miami Book Fair International.


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