Sunday, April 29. 10:30 a.m. I get into all the panel discussions I want.
I begin with God aka the panel on the place of religion (which is broadcast live on CSPAN). Audio
Thane’s quick, witty and charming. He has a frighteningly large shock of grey hair.
The star of the panel is Christopher Hitchens. The audience of 400 wildly applauds his attacks on religion.
Hitchens says that most of Islam’s canon is an "inept plagiarism of Christianity and Judaism."
He asks of religious people: "Why can’t they keep their beliefs to themselves?"
I rise and walk to the microphone (starting a stream of people to the mikes) to ask Hitch, "Why can’t you keep your beliefs to yourself?"
Then, while waiting to pose my question, I change to (Video): "Mr Hitchens: How come it took the most religious country in the Western world to rescue your pretty secular country, Britain, from two world wars and to be the bulwark against communism and to lead the fight against Islam?"
Hitchens: "Very good question. I’m going to correct you in two ways. …May I say, ‘My fellow Americans…’ I took my oath of citizenship on April 13…the birthday of Thomas Jefferson…who wrote the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom and drafted the First Amendment, making America a secular country, not a religious one… This has had to be defended several times from religious secessionists… In my country of birth, the Queen is the head of the church and everyone has to pay money, whether they want to or not… That’s what you get from the family values of Henry VIII."
The first questioner in the other line wore a t-shirt that proclaimed that 9/11 was an American government conspiracy. The moderator skipped him for the questioner following me. The conspiracy theorist wouldn’t shut up and wouldn’t let anyone else ask a quesiton.
Finally, security took him away.
Hitchens: "Go away. We don’t want fascist crackpots in our meeting."
I catch a friend repeatedly sitting on the ground. I yell, "White people do not sit on the ground."
True or not? Are non-whites, particularly Asians, more comfortable sitting on the ground in public places?
I last 13 minutes at the memoir panel (Orli Low moderates Mark Doty, Bich Minh Nguyen, Emily Rapp and Clancy Sigal) then leave for "the future of publishing" (James Atlas moderates Georges Borchardt, Dana Gioia, Sara Nelson and Charlie Winton — Audio).
Dana Gioia says that young people used to read the most of any age group. Now they read the least.
The panelists say that more books are published now than ever but fewer books are sold.
Again, I ask the first question: "I’m wondering if the biggest problem in publishing is that there’s way too much civility?"
James Atlas: "Not here."
A ludicrous comment given the plodding panel discussion.
Luke: "What can we do to fan the flames of hatred in book discussions? If there was a book review section that was consistently snarky, scandalous, harsh or funny, more people would read it. Book reviews are so bland."
James Atlas: "That was actually not a question but we’ll let it pass."
Dana: "…Culture is a conversation… The more lively, the more unpredictable that conversation is, the more engaging it is."
Sara: "We do have that in the blogs…and TV shows…. The common reviewers, the Entertainment Weeklies and the Oprahs…are the folks who stir it up and sell books."
Moderater James Atlas says that was not a question but Dana and the Editor of Publisher’s Weekly respond to me (largely in agreement).
Everybody, including Snow, hates the American war in Iraq and (with the exception of Miller) predicts that nothing good can come of it.
Scheer: "I was fired for opposing the Iraq war."
What’s next for Iraq? "Impeachment [of George Bush]," says Hedges.
"If we go to war with Iran, I will no longer pay my income taxes."
Langewiesche: "There’s no chance of anything good coming out of this."
Cathy Seipp would’ve enjoyed today. I believe she was asked to moderate a panel (perhaps blogging or humor). Realizing she wouldn’t make it, Cathy suggested Amy Alkon in her stead.
This year, the demise of traditional book reviews (and Book Reviews), the emergence (for better or worse) of literary blogs and the contested territory between traditional print media and the online world were the hot topics both in the panels and in the author green room. From the first bell of the Book Prizes, where the editor of the Times lamented how it’s mere seconds between the posting of confidential internal memos before they’re up on watchdog blogs, to the final conversation I had walking to my car when a woman wearing a purple muumuu asked me if I’d review her novel based on her blog about the corruption of the Iraq war, the assault (real or perceived) on literary and simple culture was on full display.