National Book Festival 2008

Today was the 2008 National Book Festival, and because I live in the DC metro area, I was lucky enough to be able to attend, along with my husband. We arrived around 10:30 AM, and while there were plenty of people there, it wasn’t crowded so we got the chance to wander into all of the tents and scope the scene out.

Once we made our way through the whole festival, I decided to go to the Fiction/Mystery tent to grab a good seat before the authors I wanted to see came on. My husband decided to just hang out by the book signing tents. I’d heard from past attendees that it really is only possible to get one author’s autograph if you are interested in the popular authors. Although I would have loved to get the autographs of Philippa Gregory and Marisa de los Santos, I knew that I wanted Salman Rushdie’s autograph the most. The setup of the festival made this a problem though; the idea was that you would watch your favorite author speak and then go stand in the autograph line; the author would begin signing autographs about an hour after his/her speech. They would only sign for an hour, so if you weren’t far enough ahead in the line, you were simply out of luck.

Now, the problem was that I wanted to see Marisa de los Santos, Salman Rushdie, and Philippa Gregory speak – but if I did that, I’d be at the end of the line for the Rushdie autographs (and his line was the longest). So, before the festival, my husband came up with an ingenius and ridiculously generous solution – he would stand in line while I went and watched whatever I wanted. (Amazing, isn’t he?)

So I left him standing by the Salman Rushdie sign (that wasn’t even up yet), and went in search of the Fiction/Mystery author tent.

I finally found the tent, and an author was just finishing up. I looked at who was next, and it was Brad Meltzer. I’ve read his novel The Book of Fate and enjoyed it, so I didn’t mind listening to him talk – de los Santos was next, after whom was Rushdie, and then Philippa Gregory.

In between the authors, people of course got up and moved around. I went in search of a seat, and happened to catch an empty seat IN THE FRONT ROW, CENTER. That’s right, I was front and center in the pavilion! It was an amazing stroke of luck.

The view from my seat, without the camera zoomed in:
As I said before, first up was Brad Meltzer. I didn’t mind hearing him speak, but before the event, I could have taken it or left it. Afterwords, I was so thankful I had gotten the chance – he was absolutely hilarious! Even if you haven’t read any of his books, if he is doing an author event in your area, I highly recommend that you go see him. He really is an entertaining speaker. Meltzer discussed his latest book The Book of Lies. It was on my TBR list before, but I’ve moved it way up. It sounds really interesting (or maybe I just found him really interesting and funny). Either way, I enjoyed his talk quite a bit.

Next up was Marisa de los Santos. I have to say, I felt a little sorry for her. While I did enjoy listening to her speak, she’s a poet and (of course) is not quite as funny as Brad Meltzer – he was a hard act to follow. She also immediately preceded Salman Rushdie, so I think a lot of the people there were just staking out good seats to see him speak, and weren’t really familiar with her work. But Marisa talked a lot about her writing process and where the characters in her novels come from, something that I found really interesting. And she really is adorable in person!

Oh, and by the way? Check out these earrings she was wearing. Seriously, I was blinded.

Next up was the man himself – Salman Rushdie. You may know that he is my favorite author, and I was so excited to hear him speak. They changed the format of his talk – the other authors simply got up to the podium and said what they wanted to say. For Rushdie, it was an interview by a woman who works for the Washington Post’s book section (I didn’t catch her exact title). It reminded me of a fireside chat of sorts.

I didn’t really know what to expect with Rushdie. I’ve seen his interviews, and my husband calls him a “pompous gasbag,” and while I could see that (and it made me laugh), I wasn’t expecting him to be so genial, or so funny. He talked about the fatwa issued against him after The Satanic Verses was published, twenty years ago yesterday. He also talked about The Enchantress of Florence and his playful use of language in his writing. All in all, it was a fascinating discussion, and everyone was disappointed when his 30 minutes were up.

After Rushdie, there was a bit of a to-do as a lot of people exited the tent. I was a little nervous because he had gone over his allotted time (but it still was too short), and he was signing books in an hour. But I decided that I’d go ahead and stay for Philippa Gregory, and I’m glad I did!

Philippa Gregory was funny and entertaining. She talked mostly about her latest novel, The Other Queen. I haven’t read it yet, but it’s on my Fall Into Reading Challenge list. She said that she had avoided writing a novel about Mary, Queen of Scots, for 10 years because she thought Mary was absolutely the dumbest woman. But she slowly has come to realize that history is full of biases, and what we read is all biased. (She used the example of how a popular historian called Katherine Howard “a stupid slut.” She was incensed because she wanted to know how he could possibly know what was going through poor Katherine’s head). She also read to us from The Other Queen. It was extremely interesting and I really enjoyed it!

A few minutes into Philippa’s question and answer session, I got a text from my wonderful, generous, patient, standing-in-line-for-three-hours-to-get-his-wife-an-autograph-from-an-author-he-doesn’t-care-about husband saying that they were starting to line up because Rushdie was going to start signing early, and that he was seventh in line. First of all, I marvelled at the seventh in line – I was front and center during the author talks, and seventh in line for Rushdie autographs? How did I get so lucky?

My second thought was that I might miss Salman Rushdie, and I started panicking. As soon as Philippa Gregory was finished speaking, I tore out of the tent and ran across the mall to the book signing area. I got there about three minutes before Salman Rushdie signed my books.

I really was giddy when I went up there – I’ve never met someone I admire that much, and he is one of the reasons I read as much as I do. I told him that I own all of his books, and I might be one of his biggest fans. He seemed amused, and I told him I had been in the front row of his talk earlier in the day. He said, “I know, I saw you there. You’re cute.” He had a little smirk on his face when he said it, and it was great! (When I told my husband that, he said it sounded kind of creepy – trust me, it was meant to be funny, not creepy.) Then we had a discussion about how I bought The Enchantress of Florence in Italy while I was on my honeymoon. He asked me how it was, and I said it was wonderful (of course, I mean, even if I didn’t like it – which I did [review] – what else was I going to say?)

And that was it! A volunteer was nice enough to take pictures while I was getting my books signed, so here they are:

The autograph lines that I didn’t have to stand in:

Though I do own all of Rushdie’s books, I only decided to get three autographed – I didn’t know if there was a limit, and it just seemed unfair to do more than that!


  1. What an awesome post and pictures! I enjoyed living the experience simply through your writing about it. I’m so happy for you that you got the autographs you wanted and wow-front row-you were lucky today. Your hubby is sweet-standing in line for you. He’s a keeper I would say. All in all, what a fabulous day for you. It’s so much fun for me hearing about it since I’m so far away. I would have loved to see Philippa Gregory. Thanks again for a great post!

  2. What an interesting post. I’m so glad you took pictures. You wrote well about it too.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this! I was reading this with a huge smile on my face! What a fun time! I got to meet David Sedaris a few months back and it was amazing! My grandparents live in the DC area, you guys get a lot of fun stuff out in your area of the country! One of my favorite bookstores is out there actually!

  4. Thanks so much for sharing your NBF experience! I’m so happy that you got to meet Rushdie. Great post and wonderful pictures!

  5. I am so jealous! I was planning on attending today’s festivities but woke up feeling under the weather and just couldn’t drag myself out of bed. I wanted Rushdie’s autograph as well. I loved Haroun and the Sea of Stores. Own, but haven’t read The Satanic Verses yet.

  6. Swapna – What a wonderful post! Your enthusiasm is contagious, and your pictures are fantastic … front row, wow!

    Your husband is incredibly generous to offer to stand in line for you (I hope he had a good book to read while he was waiting!).

    One last comment – I don’t think I’ve ever seen a pic of Salman Rushdie smiling like that; it seemed he was enjoying the interview/chat as well.

  7. Oh you’re SO lucky!!!

  8. Sounds like a fabulous time and a fabulous hubby. I was lucky enough to participate in a conference call with Brad Meltzer and found him very entertaining, too.

  9. I’m so jealous! One of the friends I was meeting ran late, which meant that we didn’t get to the festival until the very end of Rushdie’s talk, so I heard the final wears from very far away, then discovered the horrifically long line for booksigning and decided that the humidity was too much for me….so we toured the Library of Congress instead. Next year, I’m taking a cue from you and getting there very early. Lucky girl!

  10. Oh wow, oh wow, oh wow! Thank you sooooooo much for posting pics!!

  11. Lucky girl! Every year I say I’m going to go to this festival and every year I miss it. I’m totally jealous!

  12. Thanks for sharing – sounds like you had a great time. And the husband is definately a keeper!

  13. I am terribly, terribly envious!

  14. Okay, I’m sold! I definitely want to go next year! We’ll see, since I’m on the West Coast…but it would be so cool to meet!

  15. Your husband and mine are both troopers, aren’t they? I was in the center in the last row mainly. We were so close to each other and didn’t know it. I’ll take a picture of my autograph so you can see about what Philippa’s signature would look like on your book. Thanks for sharing! How wonderful was this weekend???

  16. Swapna – I’m SO happy for you that you were able to see your Favorite author, Salmon Rushdie. I’ve been reading your blog for awhile and I know how much that meant to you! That was an amazing post! Thank you for sharing your experience with us.


  1. […] For other experiences at the 2008 National Book Festival:The Literate HousewifeDC ReflectionsJason’s View From D.C.Sarah MoffettBiblio’s BlogginsKnitting4ShirleyS. Krishna’s Books […]

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