Tuesday, September 29, 2009

a quote

"How unyielding is that space between connection and interruption - one false move, one misspoken word, and you find yourself on the wrong side of things." - Dalia Sofer, The Septembers of Shiraz

Monday, September 28, 2009

National Book Festival

Thanks to the weather, which was highly rainy, my hiking plans for Saturday were canceled and so we decided to go to the National Book Festival on the mall in DC instead. The Book Festival happens every year and is put on by the Library of Congress. It brings lots of authors in to do book signings and give talks and has a lot of kid-centered activities to encourage kids to read. There are tents for several genres such as Poetry and Prose, Fiction and Fantasy, Mysteries and Thrillers, Teens and Children, and History and Biography. They were also giving out a lot of free reusable bags, which is sweet.

Jeff and I met up with Stan at Dunn Loring and got in at about one o'clock and met Alex there. Just as we arrived, massive bestseller James Patterson (who shares a name with my late grandfather) was going up to speak. He was surprisingly funny and clearly didn't take himself very seriously. He regaled us with anecdotes such as going into a bookstore to watch people buy his first bestseller but seeing someone steal it instead. All of these stories were of dubious veracity, but they were entertaining nonetheless. He has recently branched into young adult fiction and has a website, readkiddoread.com, dedicated to making kids readers for life. He talked about ways to get kids into reading and then got into his suggestions for writing. First of all, he advocated using outlines, which works for him. He also said "stop writing sentences and start writing stories." As a popular novelist, for him the story was the most important part, and he admitted to not being the greatest stylist there is. He also suggested working on multiple projects at once, which for him keeps writers' block at bay. He encouraged people to write every day, even if you thought whatever you wrote that day was bad, and if you were trying to write a novel, writing a page a day could get it finished in a year. When asked how he wrote so truthfully about a black family (his character Alex Cross who shares the name of one of the friends I went with), he stated that he thought people were more the same than people made them out to be.

After that I went to catch part of Julia Alvarez's talk, since I've read her In the Time of the Butterflies. She writes historical fiction about the Dominican Republic under the dictator Trujillo, where she grew up. She emphasized the political importance of reading about other countries' situations, even through fiction. She thinks that doing so can make us all freedom fighters in a way. She also talked about the importance of public libraries in getting her access to reading, which influenced her to write. I didn't catch any talk of her methods, unfortunately.

After getting some delicious cinnamon pecans, we went to see George Pelecanos, who writes crime novels set in DC and is a writer on The Wire. He told a story about a man in prison who got books sent to him secretly and eventually was influenced to write, and recently published his first novel (sadly I can't remember what it was). For him, research was the most important part of writing. He was mostly influenced by events in the news, which propelled him to write about those issues. He actually said the writing itself was not that fun for him, but that he liked getting the message out and doing the research. He also writes about people from vastly different backgrounds than himself, and says that the way he makes the characters authentic is to go to places where he doesn't belong, places where his characters might live, and just talk to people, and listen, and find their voice. I haven't read anything by him, but my friend Alex wanted to see him speak, and now I want to read a book by him.

I unfortunately missed Mark Kurlansky's speech - he's a historian whose book about Cod I am reading now. I thought about getting him to sign the book, but it's a library book so I decided not to. My friend Stan did get a book signed by him. We also failed in our mission to procure either a salt shaker or an actual cod to get him to sign (he also wrote A World History of Salt). Other authors present included David Baldacci, Judy Blume, John Grisham, John Irving, Jodi Picoult, Daniel Silva, Nicholas Sparks, and David Wroblewski. I kind of wish I had gotten there earlier to see more talks, or that I wasn't so tired of standing and wet from the rain so that I would have stuck around longer. Still and all, it was a great experience, and I hope to go next year as well. There are book festivals like this in other places, too (for instance, also one in Baltimore this weekend) - definitely check one out! To find out when and where your local book festival is, click here.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Month of Vegetarianism

August has come and gone, so it's about time to reflect on that month where I didn't eat any meat. I don't feel like writing out a huge chunk of text, so I'm just going to answer many of the common questions I got and still get about it. Have another question you want to know about? Ask in the comments and I promise to add it.

Why did you go vegetarian for a month?
There were two main reasons I did this. The first was simple curiosity. I've been mulling over how I feel morally about eating meat (at the moment fairly ambivalent) and have been wanting to try out vegetarianism (I had been cutting down on meat anyway). When the lovely Amy challenged all her friends on Facebook to do a month of vegetarianism, I thought about it for a while and decided I would give it a go. I guess a month is supposed to give you a good idea of what it's really like.

Was it hard?
Easy question: no. For nearly the entire month I was on the West Coast, a veritable mecca of vegetarianism (especially Portland, which I was in for 3 nights in total). LA was a little trickier than expected. Coming back onto campus for that last almost-a-week was by far the hardest bit. Not to say I wasn't tempted, especially in LA (I attribute that to not having as many great veggie options). Also, I'm a bit of a foodie when it comes to tourism so I was a little sad to give up the opportunity to try some regional dishes - especially sushi in Vancouver. However, I plan to get back out there sometime, so not a huge loss.

Did you like it? Did it make you feel better?
I did like it, though occasionally wished to try a meat dish. Shamefully I mostly ate out so wasn't that healthy, however, I did notice a difference in the frequency of digestive problems (much less!). I always thought that was due to dairy consumption (I love cheese a little too much), but maybe that's not the whole story.

Are you going to become a vegetarian now?
Short answer: no. Long answer is that while I still feel a little guilty about eating meat (even more so now, I started having meat guilt dreams during August), this month also allowed me to discover the reasons I really would want to be vegetarian. Truth is, these reasons - health and environmentalism - can be almost as effective if I am eating only a little meat as they would were I eating no meat. And since giving up burgers forever is not a fun thought, I'm going to simply cut down on my meat consumption a lot. Sadly, the meat consumption is currently on an upswing, probably due to both feeling deprived and the lack of vegetarian options at the dining halls. I am going to set a goal right now to be fully vegetarian at least 2 days a week, and slowly increase that number as time goes on (FYI: I'm already half, or 2/3, vegetarian every day - I only eat meat at dinner [if I eat it], and of course breakfast is a bagel when I eat it so no meat there). I am currently using Tofutti Better than Cream Cheese and Vegenaise, and I use soy milk in my cereal and drink chocolate soy milk (SO GOOD).

Did you learn anything during this time?
In addition to whatever you can construe as learning above, I learned the difference between animal rights and animal welfare activism thanks to Amy. I have discovered that I am not interested in animal rights, as I mistakenly assumed I was, but instead, more interested in animal welfare.

On the whole I found the process enlightening and fun. I tried new things like tempeh (delicious!) and seitan jerky (not so much a fan). I got to the point where I don't loathe tomatoes. I ate at a whole bunch of amazing vegetarian and vegan restaurants, thanks to Amy's awesome trip planning skills (and her GPS, it must be said). In addition to that, I discovered a valuable resource in Yelp for general food and drink recommendations for cities, and HappyCow.net for specifically vegetarian recommendations. Overall I am very glad I did it, and maybe I will slowly become vegetarian - who knows!