It was an extremely loud, incredibly sunny day of freedom at the National Book Festival this past Saturday where the two Jonathans (Franzen and Safran Foer) and I’m sure several others looked liked they got the rock star treatment. Unfortunately I made it to neither one of their events, but fortunately I did make it to two great ones. I saw National Book Award, Pulitzer Prize winning writer Timothy Egan who spoke about his book The Big Burn and first brother-in-law Craig Robinson who was shilling for his memoir called A Game of Character. Some pictures from the festival are in the full post.
Egan’s book, The Big Burn gets to what this website is all about: nature, news and politics. The big burn he’s referring to was a 3 million acre forest fire that spread and burned in 36 hours, killed everyone in its path in five towns, but helped Teddy Roosevelt firmly plant his foot into firmly toward establishing the U.S. Forest Service and public lands programs so that every American could feel like public lands would belong to them, not wealthy landowners, as was the case with large pieces of land in Europe.
It turns out, according to Egan, that Roosevelt and his top aide and close friend Gifford Pinchot were close to losing their battle to create a public lands program, but that after the fire things changed in the public’s eye because Roosevelt used the tragedy of the fire as a way to gain support for his big idea. Egan was passionate about the human connection to nature, and noted that everyone who cares about conservation and nature has their own abstract moment where they feel connected to nature, a moment that can’t necessarily be explained, but that deeply connects one to the outdoors.
On a lighter note Egan told several anecdotes including an amusing, relevant story about Roosevelt’s Presidency when he compared Pinchot to Rahm Emanuel, noting that Roosevelt and Pinchot would take long hikes in Rock Creek Park followed by skinny dips in the Potomac, asking “can you imagine Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel skinny dipping in the Potomac?” Once, said Egan, the French ambassador joined the duo in a skinny dip but kept his gloves on. When asked why he kept his gloves on, but nothing else, he remarked that there might be ladies present. Egan has also written a book about the Dust Bowl called The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl. He mentioned Ken Burns was doing a documentary on the Dust Bowl as well.
Though I didn’t get to chat with Egan, I purchased and he signed a copy of The Big Burn, which I look forward to reading.
I haven’t read A Game of Character but first brother-in-law Craig Robinson also told some nice anecdotes about his dad, his sister and the President. Of his inspiration for writing the book, he mentioned something I hadn’t heard before. His dad, he noted, was the one in the family who told the same stories, jokes and made the same suggestions over and over again. I can certainly relate to that.
19 years after his father had passed away after suffering from Multiple Sclerosis for a number of years, while backstage before he introduced his sister Michelle at the 2008 Denver Democratic National Convention, Robinson thought about how excited their dad would have been if he were there.
No Obamas seemed present at the festival though Laura Bush was somewhere nearby as she spoke not long before him. I don’t think they hung out.
I also stopped by the fiction tent a couple of times but never caught a full talk. One that I caught the tail end of was Edward O. Wilson, who I hadn’t heard of before, but who wrote his first novel after a lifetime of work in science, education, and environmentalism. Wilson’s book is called Anthill. Patagonia per capita (PPC) was at it’s highest rate at Wilson’s event.
Some pics from the day are below: