''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 exposť 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