Thirty years ago, a Book Fair was launched in Miami with three major authors and several hundred attendees. Thirty years later, the Miami Book Fair International – hosting 500 authors and 250,000 attendees – is vying with “Art Basel-Miami” as the defining annual high culture feature of Miami and Dade County, Florida.
Book fair chairman, Mitchell Kaplan, launched this year’s festival by introducing author Dan Brown (The Da Vinci Code; Inferno) at a seafood restaurant. Kaplan, a past president of the American Booksellers Association, is a co-founder of the festival, and owns the Books & Books chain of Miami (and the Hamptons) bookstores. The opening was given a royal flair with the presence of Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe and Princess Letizia. They were present to celebrate the fair’s Spanish books and readings and mark the 500th anniversary of the Spanish colonization of Florida by Juan Ponce de Leon.
Among the authors present and books featured were the top books of 2013. The included:
Ari Shavit. Author of “My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel” which was named a top book by The Economist and The New York Times Book Review. Shavit, a columnist for Haaretz, draws on interviews, historical documents, private diaries, and letters, vignettes of yishuv figures, as well as his own family’s story, to tell the story of Zionism and Israel, and call – a scream – for a change in Israel’s narrative. Shavit introduces the reader to Shavit’s great-grandfather, Herbert Bentwich, a British Zionist leader who in 1897 visited Palestine on a Thomas Cook tour, reported back to Herzl, decided to stay, and later, bought land from his Arab neighbor in the 1920s to grow the Jaffa oranges that would create Palestine’s booming economy. He mentioned his great grandfather so much in his talk at the Miami Book Fair that I got the feeling that he had a “chip on his shoulder,” and was trying to distance himself from any other Israeli who came to the land in the various waves of aliyah or who did not purchase their land legally. He primarily asks what Israel is and what its future should and shall be. His stories set up the foundations for what became the current state and structures of Israel. he writes that Israel’s main problem is that it lost our narrative: “We were a story that became a reality, but we lost our sense of meaning. We need to love Israel in a new, authentic way.” Shavit will visit a number of American college campuses in 2014. He realizes that many young Jews “who see Israel as an embarrassment and he wants to make Israel attractive and sexy again, and to connect it with the heart of the Jewish experience. Essentially, he wants to renew Zionism. Should be interesting conversations.
A video of his talk at the Miami Book Fair International can be found HERE. Shavit appeared on stage with Scoot Anderson, the author of Lawrence IN Arabia: The Making of the Modern Middle East. Anderson tells the real story of T.E. Lawrence who toiled to unite the Arabs against the Ottoman Turks, which he said was a sideshow to the sideshow, and ignored by Britain, which was much more busy with WWI. Among the stars of his book is Curt Prüfer, an effeminate academic who worked for Germany in Cairo and tried to get the Arabs to revolt against Britain, and Aaron Aaronsohn, the renowned Jewish agronomist and committed Zionist who gained the trust of the Ottoman governor of Syria and ran a complex Jewish spy ring that the British ultimately ignored, since they hated the Palestinian Jews, and Jews in general.
Mark Halperin and John Heilemann authors of “Double Down: Game Change 2012” read from their book on the 2012 U.S. presidential contest between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. It is filled with gossip and jokes and big words that make the authors look wise. They expose the successes, gaffes, arguments, blunders, and background machinations on the campaign trail. You find out that the Romney’s actually liked that Ann Romney was said not to have ever worked; if Joe Biden was seriously considered being dropped from the ticket, and why New Jersey governor Chris Christie could never be Romney’s running mate (too many skeletons in his closet).
A video of his talk at the Miami Book Fair International can be found HERE.
I was excited by the book reading by civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis (D-GA). Part of the excitement came from bumping into him looking for umbrellas for sale as the rain poured down in Miami, and sitting next to him in a small coffee bar as we waited for the book reading to begin. What can i say, I am a sucker for political celebrities. Lewis was promoting his graphic memoir March – Book 1 which he wrote with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell. March – Book 1, tells the story of Lewis growing up on his father’s farm, preaching to chickens and his younger cousins (the chickens never said AMEN), his letter to Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., his college years, and his involvement with King and the civil rights movement. It was Rosa Parks’ lawyer who introduced the teenage Lewis to King and Ralph Abernathy. It was actually a MLK, Jr comic book that influenced the start the lunch counter sit-ins movement in Greensboro. Lewis, who met with President John F. Kennedy in 1963 after the March on Washington (Lewis is the last surviving member of the March’s main speakers), told the book fair attendees that he has been arrested forty times. Lewis told his readers to stand up, and get into trouble; good trouble and necessary (non violent) trouble.
Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz (D-FL) also was at the book fair and spoke to her constituents and readers about the book she co-authored, For the Next Generation: A Wake-Up Call to Solving Our Nation’s Problems, in which she talks about her experiences in politics, and challenges the American people to address issues that face future generations. Her talk can be found HERE.
Chris Matthews, a pundit, media personality, author, and political speechwriter read from his book, Tip and the Gipper: When Politics Worked. Seriously, I thought he was a little inebriated during his hilarious reading. But I sense this is just his speaking style. More enjoyable than the book were his answers to audience questions, during which he told one fan to watch another television show if they weren’t happy enough with his. The reading can be seen HERE.
Actress Anjelica Huston presented her memoir at the fair. It is titled A Story Lately Told: Coming of Age in Ireland, London, and New York. It is the story of her youth and education and early acting career before she moved to Hollywood in 1973. She was raised on an Irish estate and was introduced to dozens of authors and actors. At age 17, precocious, vulnerable, and model thin, she was devastated when her mother died in a car crash. Months later Anjelica (who dreamed of being Morticia Adams) moved to Manhattan, fell in love with a much older, disturbed photographer named Bob Richardson, and became a model. They lived in the famed Chelsea Hotel. Her decision to write the memoir came when she was shooting a film in Prague, and felt bored. Acting, she said opens you to criticism, boredom, disappointment, and a lot of waiting. She began to trade e-mails with producer Mitch Glazer (the son of famed Miami writing coach, Zelda Glazer), and he began to coax her to to her memoirs (which she did, by hand… and in pencil.)
A late addition to the festivities was former Vice president Dick Cheney in a book discussion with his co-author and cardiologist, Dr. Jon Reiner, or George Washington University Medical Center. Their book is titled, Heart: An American Medical Odyssey. The book tells the history of modern cardiovascular medicine using Cheney’s life as the sample subject. He had his first heart attack in 1978 as a young adult, had several more heart atacks and bypass surgeries, lived with a pacemaker, and an artificial heart pump, and recently recovered from a heart transplant. In 1978, the White House was stock full of free cigarettes and Wite House matchbooks; there were no drugs to open arteries or stents. These are now standard tools. As a young teen, Cheney witnessed his grandfather die of a heart attack in their house. Did this affect his political outlook? Who knows. Their book is a fascinating account of a man who changes his lifestyle in order to live.
Paul Auster’s reading was a multimedia event, combining a slide show with a reading from his memoir, Report From The Interior. The book charts Auster’s moral, political, and intellectual journey as he inches his way toward adulthood through the postwar 1950s and into the turbulent 1960s. My favorite segment? He was distant from his father until he learned that his father had worked for Thomas Edison. For years, Auster felt second-hand esteem from that fact, until as a teen, he learned that his father had only worked for Edison for a few days. Edison learned that Paul’s father was Jewish and had him fired immediately. Auster evokes the sounds and smells of his early life in New Jersey.
Thane Rosenbaum read from Payback: The Case for Revenge. A legal scholar, novelist and professor, he is an outspoken critic of Holocaust literature. Revenge, he argues, is not the problem. It is a healthy emotion. Instead, the problem is the inadequacy of lawful outlets through which to express it. He mounts a case for legal systems to punish the guilty commensurate with their crimes as part of a societal moral duty to satisfy the needs of victims to feel avenged.
Just down the hall from Rosenbaum at Miami-Dade College, cultural critic Roger Rosenblatt read from his memoir, The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood. When he was nine years old, living on Gramercy Park in Manhattan, he imagined himself a private detective in search of criminals. With the dreamlike mystery of the city before him, he sets off alone, out into the streets of Manhattan, thrilling to a life of unsolved cases. A grown man now, he investigates his own life and the life of the city as he walks, exploring the New York of the 1950s. Rosenbaum was followed by Greg bellow, the son of author Saul bellow, and his book, Saul Bellow’s heart: A Son’s Memoir it is an affectionate and honest look inside the life of one of America’s greatest writers, his father the Nobel Prize-winning author Saul Bellow, Greg Bellow offers a if a man known to be quick to anger, prone to argument, politically conservative, and vulnerable to literary critics.
Other authors of note at the fair included Dani Shapiro (Still Writing); Gary J. Bass (The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide); Peter Baker (Days of Fire: Bush and Cheney); Joshua Safran (Free Spirit: Growing Up On The Road and Off The Grid); Leslie Maitland (Crossing the Borders of Time); Rich Cohen; Samuel G. Freedman; Rabbi Solomon Schiff; Richard Breitman (FDR and The Jews); James Goodman (But Where is the Lamb? Imagining The Story of Abraham and Isaac); David Kaufman (Jewhooing The Sixties); and Dror Burstein (Netanya).