Skip to main content


September 26, 2013

An Interview with Reviewer Amy Gwiazdowski About Her Experiences at the National Book Festival

Posted by Shannon

What’s it like to have your city flooded with book people? Not so bad, according to reviewer Amy Gwiazdowski of Washington, DC, who was among the thousands in attendance at the National Book Festival on September 21st and 22nd. Luckily, Amy was willing to share her experiences about her day at the festival with all of us who weren’t there. Read on to find out which books she’s most excited about after attending, the interesting literary question the Library of Congress posed to the world at their pavilion, and the best part about getting together with fellow readers. What did you think of the National Book Festival?

Amy Gwiazdowski: I had so much fun --- even after getting soaked by the downpour! Any chance to hear authors talk about books gets me out of the house. The layout was good this year and made getting to every tent easy. There’s only so much you can do with that many people, but I think, overall, it was well planned.

BRC: Was this the first time you attended? If not, how did it compare with other years?

: I, strangely enough, have attended almost every year since it began --- even going back to the first year when it was held on the Capitol grounds. I love seeing it grow each year. As most years, it was pretty much just organized chaos with people everywhere, lines everywhere, but there’s something so wonderful about hearing everyone around you talk about books and the author they need to see next. I do think they’ve managed to streamline a few things, like the buying of books, for instance. I liked that the book signing area was clearly marked this year, too. I think that helped a large portion of the crowd organize itself. As I’ve learned, book people are organizers, ever if it looks like chaos on the outside. :-)

BRC: What spurred you to attend the event?

: There were a few authors I wanted to see, and really, the opportunity be around books is something I’ll take advantage of any day of the week.

BRC: Who joined you at the event? What were their comments about it?

: I made a go of it alone this year. Usually, my husband attends with me, but hiking plans overtook books this year. While I had fun, I’d definitely encourage attendees to come with a partner. You can cover so much more ground that way!

BRC: Was there one panel that stood out to you? If so, what was it, and why? (If there was more than one, please feel free to cite them.)

AG: I went to see Justin Cronin. I haven’t read his books yet, but the books have now worked their way up my list. He read a short passage from THE TWELVE and then spent most of his time answering questions. He was incredibly engaging and funny. I loved his story about how he came up with the idea for the trilogy, which started out as a way to spend time with his daughter. What began as a simple story he and his daughter made up (she wanted a story about a young girl who saved the world) ended up turning into this series.

Paolo Bacigalupi was next on my list. He was right after Justin Cronin, so I ran, with a whole group of readers, down to the children’s tent. Picture orange C-Span Book TV bags flapping behind a group of people running, and you have the image! He was talking about and reading from his new book, ZOMBIE BASEBALL BEATDOWN. He also spoke about how important it is to encourage kids to read and to give them books they will read! I do believe it’s important for young readers to hear that it’s okay not to like every book. In the end, there is a book for just need to find yours. That's a great message.

I also got to hear most of William Martin’s presentation. He has a new book out on Lincoln that sounds so good. What can I say? I’m a sucker for historical fiction set in my city!

BRC: Was there one author you really wanted to meet? (If there was more than one, please feel free to cite them.)

: I didn’t get a chance to meet Justin Cronin, since I was running to another tent, but he would have been my choice. Getting the chance to hear him was a great consolation prize, though.

BRC: Did you get books signed? If so, by whom and how were the lines?

: I didn’t get any books signed this year, but I was happy to see the long lines and sort of happy to not be queuing in them, especially with storm clouds looming.

BRC: Did you get to speak with readers other than those in your group? If so, what were their reactions?

AG: I was lucky to snag a chair in all three readings I went to, and everyone was talking about how much fun they were having. And it was fun! There’s nothing like a gathering of book people to make conversation easy.

BRC: What book did you walk away wanting to read most?

AG: THE PASSAGE and THE TWELVE have been on my list for so long, and I’m planning time at the holidays to tackle these two, but honestly, I think THE LINCOLN LETTER by William Martin is inching it’s way up the list. It sounds so wonderful, and I like that his interpretation of Lincoln isn’t the popular one. I don’t want to say he gives him a dark side, but he said he wants his readers to re-think their ideas about the man and his accomplishments. That’s so intriguing to me.

BRC: Any other thoughts on the event?

AG: I stopped by the Library of Congress pavilion, and I'm so glad I did this year. They were asking people to write the name of the book they thought helped shape the world on a white board. It was a great compilation of books. While not every book on the list answered the question, I thought it was a great conversation piece for people. I loved that everyone was standing around thinking out loud and happy to see the book they were thinking of was already on the list. It was an amazing conversation starter. 

BRC: Would you attend this kind of an event again? And is there anything that would make it more special for you?

AG: I'll be waiting for next year. It’s a great event in a great setting, as said by a downtown resident who is happy to have her city flooded by book people. :-)

BRC: Anything that you think could have been done better?

: I think the organizers do a good job. Pavilions are clearly marked, and while there’s only so much one can do with this many people wandering about, I think it’s well-run.