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November 26, 2014 Reader Cristina Vazquez Reports on the Miami Book Fair


The Miami Book Fair  is now in its 31st year, and boasts more than 450 authors reading and discussing their work, including the Latin American and Spanish authors who participate in the IberoAmerican Authors Program. Unfortunately, Carol could not make it to Miami this year, but one of our readesr Cristina Vazquez (who Carol has been lucky to spend time with at the Fair in the past) was kind enough to share her commentary on the event. Here, she talks about some of the panels she attended (she learned some surprising information about one of her favorite authors) and the books she thinks will lend themselves to excellent book group discussion.

Question: Who did you attend the Fair with?

Cristina Vazquez: On Saturday I attended the fair with, Saray Gutierrez, a teacher friend who is from Spain. She teaches English, Spanish and French, and is an amazing international reader. On Sunday I met up with Patty Gans (pictured  on the left with Cristina on the right) from our now defunct book group.

Q: What panels did you attend?

CV: Saray suggested we attend the “World in Translation” panel since Valerie Miles was her teacher in an online course; Valerie was accompanied by [panelists] Frankétienne and Betty Milan. We then went to see Spanish author Julia Navarro, who was very interesting. Even though I have not read anything written by her, I was intrigued, and the room was full of fans with interesting questions. We then went to see Mona Simpson, Ann Patchett and Lucinda Franks. Ann Patchett spoke about her "nun," and it so happens Mona has one, too! They both sponsor nuns who are retired. Ann also admitted she owed a lot to Mona because Mona had published her first story or book --- not sure which one. At the end we went to see Garth Stein, Ron Rash, Peter Heller and Wiley Cash.

Sunday was a cultural identity day, one could say. I started with local author Uva de Aragón and her translator Dr. Jeffrey Barnett and Cecilia Fernandez. This panel was about growing up Cuban in the ‘60s and Cuba in general in the ‘50s. Then I met up with Patty and we went to a panel with Maria Dueñas and Thrity Umrigar. I went because Maria Dueñas' book, THE SEAMSTRESS, and her latest, THE HEART HAS ITS REASONS, were translated almost immediately when they were first published in Spanish. Then Patty and I went to line up for poet Richard Blanco, who was in a panel with Charles Blow (eloquent, elegant prose). I was delightfully surprised that my favorite cartoonist, Roz Chast, was on the panel, as she was not in the original calendar. I just relate so much to her humor when I read theNew Yorker! We closed a busy day with Siri Hustvedt, Francine Prose and Susan Minot: What an amazing, interesting, refreshing literary trio.

Q: Which panel your favorite?

CV: My favorite panel was the one with Mona Simpson, Ann Patchett and Lucida Franks. The rapport between Ann and Mona was fun, witty, and I felt like I was having coffee with them at the kitchen table as they shared anecdotes about life, marriage and books. Everyone in the audience laughed as they shared bits and pieces of their lives. The three of them, for example, spoke about what it was like to be a stepmother.

Q: Were there any authors who surprised you or shared something unexpected?

CV: The most surprising moment for me was when Mona Simpson graciously said that she did not answer any questions about her "brother," who, by the way, was the late Steve Jobs! The whole audience gasped when they heard ther share that. Quelle surprise!!!

Q: Were there other panels that you wish you could have attended?

CV: I am angry that I did not attend Alexander McCall Smith’s panel on the first day. I met him a few years ago at Books and Books, and he is an amazing presenter, with the same humor you can see in his stories. Also, because I was so engaged with Julia Navarro, I missed the Lisa See panel. Yes, I always see Lisa at Books and Books! But since I work nights now at Miami Dade College teaching ESL, I was not able to attend the last time she was here. Also, it does not matter how many times I attend her presentations, I always learn something new.

I was surprised that the translators were present at some of the panels. For example, an author would introduce the person who is going to translate her book into Spanish or vice versa. I don't remember translator introductions from previous book fairs. In one, the translator even got to share what it was like for him to translate idioms, etc. and the struggle at times to figure out the most approximate language.

Q: Which books are you most looking forward to reading after the Fair?

CV: I am really looking forward to reading Richard Blanco's THE PRINCE OF LOS COCUYOS and Garth Stein's A SUDDEN LIGHT. Although with Stein I am a bit nervous because I liked THE ART OF RACING IN THE RAIN so much, and I am scared I won't like the new one as much. Also, the authors were asked what books they read recently, and Maria Dueñas recommended a book I also want to read: Elizabeth Gilbert's THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. Also, Mona Simpson's book, CASEBOOK, seems an interesting read.

Q: Did you discover books that you would like to share with your book group for possible discussion?

CV: Since I have a book club that likes discussion and is moved by international affairs and history, the obvious choice is Susan Minot's THIRTY GIRLS. This book would be perfect for the group, and Minot's discussion of how the book came about also was very interesting. Ann Patchett's THIS IS THE STORY OF A HAPPY MARRIAGE is perfect for the group, and I think our readers will relate to it as well. Since we live in Miami, and there are several books about cultural identity and the feelings of living in a nostalgic place, the island that once was Cuba, etc., THE PRINCE OF LOS COCUYOS, Cecilia Fernandez's LEAVING LITTLE HAVANA and Uva de Aragón’s MEMORY OF SILENCE are also choices that can stir a heated conversation.