"When I came here I said I'm not going to do this unless I do it big," says Wordstock organizer and recent Portland transplant Scott Poole. "You gotta have headliners. If you don't, nobody's going to pay attention." Poole, to put it mildly, has our attention. Wordstock features so many amazing authors (Poe Ballantine, Kent Haruf, Ursula K. Le Guin, to name a few more) doing so many amazing things (a schmooze party at the Kennedy School, 5:30 pm, April 22; a two-hour comedy performance at the Aladdin featuring Marc Acito and John Wesley Harding, 8 pm, April 22; the book fair at the Oregon Convention Center, which expects over 20,000 visitors and is totally FREE) that it's almost overwhelming. We don't have nearly enough pages to give Wordstock the coverage it deserves, but we can share some of the (many) highlights, and tell you where to go to learn more: www.wordstockfestival.com. After that, you're on your own, cast adrift in a sea of your fellow book-lovers, bobbing slowly but surely toward an island of textual paradise. JUSTIN SANDERS
Appearing with Scott Nadelson, Poe Ballantine, Walidah Imarisha; Keller Auditorium, 222 SW Clay, 224-4400, Tuesday April 19, 7 pm, $29.75-$40.50
It's not our contention that John Irving is an untalented, over-praised prick, or that he's worth a $40 ticket. Rather, it is our conviction that Irving is a prick who's worth listening to. Need proof?
• Irving pimps his best (and worst) stuff to Hollywood, which consistently churns out the most mediocre of filmic facsimiles. Recall the cloying L.L. Bean orphans of The Cider House Rules, a film whose most redeeming attribute was an unobstructed view of Charlize Theron's ass.
• Irving is sure to remind his Wordstock audience that he STILL writes on a typewriter--as if being a Luddite is some sort of literary virtue.
• Wayyyy too many of Irving's characters are writers, or aspiring ones. Irving has said he's in the "what if…" business. Great! Well, "what if" we're all really tired of reading about writers? And while we're at it: nix the maimed children (another Irving staple), and Greco Roman wrestlers.
…Worth Listening To.
• Irving has an interesting theory on monogamy--that it's both unnatural and a good idea. (Not unlike paying $40 to see John Irving.)
•--Irving is still devoted to telling stories, and thankfully doesn't go in for the insufferable footnoted, picture book postmodernism that's fawned over by many custodians of current literary opinion.
• And even if many of Irving's sagas are 200 pages too long with a magical realism that never quite cuts it (the baseball beaning of Owen Meany's mom; the castrating car accident in Garp), well, sometimes the first 300 pages are so good it makes you forget the rest. Sometimes. JOHN DICKER
Appearing at the Book Fair, Oregon Convention Center, Powell's Stage, Sun April 24, 2 pm
The Nancy Pearl Librarian Action Figure (with amazing push-button shushing action; available at http://goreydetails.net/show.php?alpha=2481, $10) gives the famous Seattle librarian a clearer taste of immortality than we could ever imagine. Book Lust, her remarkably successful book, is a categorized love song to literature, grouping 1,800 of her favorite books into categories like "Czech It Out," "What a (Natural) Disaster," and "Physicians Writing More Than Prescriptions." More Book Lust will be published by Sasquatch Press this month.
How weird is it to be the most famous librarian in the country?
Very, very weird. With the whole popularity of the action figure and Book Lust, I sometimes feel like I'm watching somebody else's life unfold.
If you were an English teacher, how would you handle the concept of required reading?
That's tough. I think it would be sad to grow up without experiencing certain books--Catcher in the Rye, for example. But I'm not sure there are books that you have to read to be a better person. To me, it's sad that Dickens is regarded as this dull, dead, white guy that people are forced to read in English class. In his time, he was the Stephen King of his day--his books were exciting, people couldn't wait to read them. He was a star. One thing that I would love to do as a librarian is to begin to demystify the classics. I think I'd push for a more emotional reading of the books.
There are almost 2,000 books listed in Book Lust and another 1,000 or so in More Book Lust. Have you actually read—
Yes. CHAS BOWIE
Appearing at the Oregon Convention Center Ballroom, 777 NE MLK Blvd, 224-4400, Sun April 24, 5 pm, $15-25
From his seething abolitionist epic Cloudsplitter, to Continental Drift, his troubling, racially charged portrayal of a blue-collar worker's ill-advised pursuit of the American Dream, Russell Banks has never been one to shy away from massive themes. His latest book, The Darling, tells the history of Hannah, an underground antiwar activist who moves to Liberia, where she marries an African politician, becomes obsessed with saving chimpanzees, and eventually finds herself immersed in a terribly violent civil war.
Your writing is celebrated for its keen attention to the physical and cultural details of an environment. Which comes to you first: the story you wish to tell, or the setting you wish to place it in?
It all seems to emerge simultaneously, so it's a difficult question to answer. In [the case of The Darling], the character of Hannah came first. I was really interested in women who had been in the radical end of the anti-war movement in the late '60s and early '70s. I would say I had the character of Hannah before I had the whole story of her going off to Liberia.
Chimpanzees figure prominently in The Darling. Do you have a personal history with chimps?
Yeah, actually I do. I started visiting a chimpanzee sanctuary--which may surprise you is not very far from where I live in upstate New York--in Quebec. I was really curious and wanted to see chimpanzees up close, and I just fell in love with them, and wanted to weave them into the story. They seemed like a natural thing for Hannah to fall into, and then to become obsessed with.
Any interesting chimp-related anecdotes?
The adult male chimpanzee can weigh up to 250 pounds, is incredibly powerful, and quite scary. In fact, I had an adult male chimpanzee try to brain me with a rock. I was in Sierra Leone visiting a sanctuary. There were three of us men visiting and I was the oldest, and the biggest, and the alpha male in that troop just started throwing boulders at me. They were big, heavy rocks that you'd have to really grunt to lift, let alone hurl, and he was throwing them 30-40 feet into the distance. I'm glad he didn't have good aim because he was trying to kill me, no question. Then he would run off clapping his hands and the whole troop would clap their hands for him. They were proud of him. JUSTIN WESCOAT SANDERS
Appearing at the Book Fair with Joanna Rose & Stevan Allred; Living Room Workshop, Oregon Convention Center, Sun April 24, 1 pm
Portland author Tom Spanbauer's inventive prose, which combines magical realism with brutal, minimalist honesty, has made him one of the most influential members of the Portland literary scene. Spanbauer, who was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, also founded the "Dangerous Writing" workshop series, where he mentored local writers, including Chuck Palahniuk.
10 years passed between the publications of your last two books, The Man Who Fell in Love with the Moon (1992) and In the City of Shy Hunters (2002). Why the gap?
Well… I almost died. Plus Shy Hunters was huge. Nothing will ever be as important again. It was big, and so overwhelming and dark… I just about didn't make it. I don't know if that book almost killed me, or if it saved me.
What's it like, continuing to write after you've written your epic?
Well, it's like everything as you get older, you know? You just go on… you learn humility. Your tits sag, and you can't remember shit. But I love to write, and I've got four or five books in me that I can't wait to get to.
At the end of Shy Hunters (set in New York City's gay community in the 1980s) there's this sense of doom, this impending Apocalypse. Did you feel that?
Yeah. I feel it more and more. There was really this sense of panic in New York at that time... it was fucking palpable. You'd go into a bar and HIV would be just bouncing off the walls. It was really important to put into that book the sense of panic that we all felt.
What do you read?
Writing has killed my reading. It's been a long time since I've read fiction--I'm so aware of what the puppeteer, what the man behind the marionette, is doing, that I can't really suspend my disbelief. And I'm really sad about that, you know? Because reading is what brought me to writing. ALISON HALLETT