I was in the library between meetings last Sunday. I went to get books for Bryce. I’m pretty sure we or he’s read all the books in our home that aren’t in my or Dawn’s library. Though we never restrict him from any book in the house, he prefers books with pictures to pastoral theology or media studies. He’s seven. I’m giving him time.
At the Harold Washington Library Center, when you rise on the main escalator, you can look up and see a curiously marvelous installation. There are thousands of dog tags from veterans of the Vietnam War. I didn’t read the description on the wall, but I did stand on the landing for a few beats and imagine how many tags were there. I wondered about those warriors. I was thankful and conflicted. I thought about the protests of that war and the images I’ve seen of the war and the protests.
While I was there, no one else looked up at the ceiling. I’m not sure how many people saw the breath-taking identifications. It dawned on me that most people could come and go and not see overhead.
Book lovers, shoppers, people watchers, joggers, and dog-walkers line the streets. Vendors exchange money and swipes of cards for hard and softbound worlds in between covers. Bags and backpacks bulge with the latest novel and with goods like newspapers and t-shirts and pamphlets from street preachers around the block. Panels sit, adjusting microphones until that clunk from some guy’s elbow sends a dong into your ear for a while.
Bunches and crowds of men and women who look like your high school librarian collect in front of a tent. What have you missed? Children walk around, some of them with leashes around their necks. You laugh. It’s funny. Dogs roam freely while the kids are leashed.
You spot a writer you’ve read. You get a children’s book signed by an author you respect even though you don’t read children’s books, you don’t have children to give it to, and just because it’s Nikki Giovanni. In fact, you buy two and give one to your niece, hoping she’ll appreciate the gift. You’re convinced she’ll trade it in a flinch for ten dollars. You sigh and get the second book anyway. You love supporting writers, especially writers you love.
The last time I was at the Printers Row Lit Fest it was a day full of cramped walking, scooting really. My wife was with me. We listened to Ms. Giovanni discuss writing and her process of developing and publishing a story about Rosa Parks. It feels like it was a long time ago.
I saw a status update from Cathy or maybe it was Laura that the Fest is coming back. I was and am happy. Then I saw that one of my favorite writers will be there. I’m reading her (Tayari Jones) novel (Silver Sparrow) now. I was and am even happier. Hopefully I’ll get to have a blog interview up before the Fest and one of you can win a copy she can sign in person. Whether you’re into recently published novels, cooking books, biographies, rare finds, books about spirituality or romance, you will find what you love at this fest. You’ll need an allowance, a budget, a spending cap. You’ll need a friend to make sure you respect that cap. But come.
Come and bring people you like. Bring people who enjoy reading and talking about reading. Come if you don’t like reading but think you could be converted. Come to the programs on the street or to the ones at the library. Make new friends. Have a good time. If you’d like more information on the Fest, visit the website by clicking here.
If you are interested, the Harold Washington Library Center will host several authors this month, one event being in connection with the Columbia College Chicago Fiction Writing Department. Among the programs remaining are an event featuring Joyce Carol Oates, discussions with Jennifer Egan, Audrey Niffenegger and Regina Taylor, as well as readings and conversation with, again, Audrey Niffenegger, Karen Tei Yamashita, Gerard Woodward, and Alexis Pride. Visit chicagopubliclibrary.org for more information.