Saturday, October 25, 2003

Authors, authors

''Twenty will not come again,'' A.E. Housman wrote in A Shropshire Lad more than a century ago. But for the moment let's forget the gentleman's lamentation on his threescore years and 10 and concentrate on our own imminent and significant number: Twenty years of appearances by the most luminous authors. Twenty years of readings and panels and lectures, of demonstrations of culinary prowess and healing arts. Twenty years of delicate and rare volumes that must be touched with utmost care and kids' books destined to be passed around with jelly-stained hands. Twenty years of falling in love with books -- have you recovered from Augusten Burroughs' hilarious, poignant Dry yet? or Alberto Fuguet's nostalgic Movies of My Life? or Eric Schlosser's exposé Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market? Books, and books, and more books.

Let us think of 20 as our lucky number as the Miami Book Fair International celebrates its anniversary. The fun begins with a special appearance by former First Lady Barbara Bush on Nov. 1 to benefit the fair's literacy efforts and ends Nov. 9 in English with Edwin Black and his unsettling War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race and Abraham Foxman and his unsettling Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, and in Spanish with a panel on Latin American Perspectives with Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Alberto Montaner and Enrique Krauze.

In between, there are more than enough author appearances in both languages to flummox readers, who will face the annual searing dilemma: What to do when two intriguing sessions occur at the same time? How to choose between a reading with Caryl Phillips (A Distant Shore) and Martin Amis (Yellow Dog) and a panel that includes National Book Award nominee Carlos Eire (Waiting for Snow in Havana)? A program featuring debut writers Vendela Vida (And Now You Can Go), Julie Orringer (How to Breathe Underwater) and Felicia Luna Lemus (Trace Elements of Random Tea Parties) or readings by novelists Sena Jeter Naslund (Four Spirits), Pete Dexter (Train) and Robert Morgan (Brave Enemies)? And will there be enough time to fit in an arepa and to shop?

The fair began as a two-day event. Marjory Stoneman Douglas signed books; readers paid 25 cents for cookies with poems tucked inside. ''When we started, we had to beg publishers and authors to come,'' says Eduardo Padron, fair founder and president of Miami Dade College. ``Now they beg us to be here.''

The fair ''is a Miami original,'' says bookseller Mitchell Kaplan, cochairman and co-founder. ``Other people saw what we were doing in Miami, and they went to their own cities and began doing it themselves. The book fair is one of our great exports.''

Look back over the past, and you will find familiar names on this year's schedule. Nobel laureate Toni Morrison, who kicks off this year's week-night ''Evenings with...'' series on Nov. 2, also was the opener in 1986, the year the fair expanded to a full eight days. Garrison Keillor, who appears Nov. 3, shared his Lake Wobegon humor with an overflow opening-night audience in 1987. Other ''Evenings with...'' speakers are wonderfully recognizable: Mitch Albom (Nov. 4) on The Five People You Meet in Heaven; Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel (Nov. 5); a couple of Herald guys you might know, Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen (Nov. 6); and choreographer Twyla Tharp (Nov. 7).

But the weekend, oh, the weekend! The street fair sprawls on Nov. 8-9; thousands flock, many to ingest arepas. Fiction lovers can revel in readings by Joyce Carol Oates (The Faith of a Writer; The Tattooed Girl) and Edmund White (Fanny: A Fiction); Carolyn Parkhurst (The Dogs of Babel); Lauren Weisberger (The Devil Wears Prada); Alan Lightman (Reunion); National Book Award nominee Edward Jones (The Known World). Budding political wonks can hear former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (Madame Secretary) or former Clinton aide Sidney Blumenthal (The Clinton Wars). Aficionados can meet Broward's Will Eisner, credited with creating the first graphic novel, A Covenant with God, and here to promote his new work, Fagin the Jew.

For history buffs: Walter Isaacson on Benjamin Franklin; David Maraniss on Vietnam with They Marched into Sunlight: War and Peace, Vietnam and America, October 1967; Caroline Alexander on The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty (hint: Fletcher Christian was the bad guy). For New Yorkers: Colson Whitehead's urban essays, The Colossus of New York. And current-events lovers can get their fix with correspondent Anne Garrels (Naked in Baghdad), with Jessica Stern (Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill) and perhaps with Malika Oufkir, who relates her harrowing ordeal in Morocco in Stolen Lives: Twenty Years in A Desert Prison.

So many books, so little time, and if you don't believe me, check with Sara Nelson, who wrote a book with just such a title. She'll be here, too. But as the man says, 20 may not come again. So it's time to celebrate.

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