There are those who predict the demise of books without concern. For them, Kindles and Nooks have won the evolutionary advantage. Others, like me, are loath to relinquish that feeling of substance when we hold a new book in our hands, that satisfying crinkle of a turning page, that evocative smell of bound books that permeates the aisles of libraries and bookstores.
Last weekend right here in Bangor, I enjoyed the dual pleasure of both books and those who write them. In particular, I had multiple encounters with Maine’s astonishingly successful and engaging array of writers. I came away with a profound sense that books are so much more than an expression of the human experience. They forge the links of human understanding.
Pulitzer-prize winner Richard Russo and his daughter, artist Kate Russo, gave the Friday evening keynote address for the sixth annual Bangor Book Festival. The father-daughter team discussed their collaboration on a multimedia literary creation, “Interventions.” Their artistic work is a very tactile project that comes in the form of four small books (a novella and three stories) inside a slipcase, with attention meticulously given not only to the strength of the stories and the power of the artwork, but also to the feel of the paper and the quality of the packaging.
More personally moving was the father’s and daughter’s account of discovering a new depth of mutual understanding through their shared creative process. I don’t think the festival organizers intended it, but the overlapping of story, family and relationship recurred throughout their event.
The first speakers on Saturday morning discussed a literary locale that, for most of us, lies outside our realm of understanding — the inside of a correctional institution. Monica Wood and Christina Baker Kline have both spent time leading book discussions and writing classes in women’s prisons. The world inside these institutions and inside the minds of those who live there can be intimidating. It can also be filled with powerful insight and emotion. Wood shared her deep appreciation not only for the heartfelt attention that inmates give to reading, but also for the enthusiasm of so many highly accomplished women writers who volunteer time to visit the prison as guest speakers.
Several writers spoke about memoir. Richard Russo, whose first nonfiction work, “Elsewhere,” will be released next week, has written the story of his childhood in Gloversville, N.Y. He talked about the weighty sense of responsibility in writing for the first time without resorting to his imagination. Monica Wood, too, was intimidated at the prospect of delving into nonfiction. But her efforts resulted in the best-selling book “When We Were the Kennedys,” her story of growing up in the aftermath of tragic loss in Mexico, Maine.
In “August Gale,” Barbara Walsh mixes documentary with memoir. She spans several generations in one family who find healing through the revisiting of a deadly, epic storm. Lou Ureneck gave a talk about building a cabin. The resulting book weaves together several stories of building and rebuilding in both a literal and figurative sense: “Cabin: Two Brothers, a Dream, and Five Acres in Maine.”
The best part of attending these author talks was being an eyewitness to the passion and sincerity that drives writers to write. Their engaging accounts make it clear that the writing process is more than a craft; it is a mission of search and discovery into the intricate complexities of living with one another in this world.
Is it their association with Maine, or is every writer as genuine as these fellow human beings, stumbling along life’s path with the rest of us? I find myself wanting to thank them for sharing their journeys. The best way to say thank you, I suppose, is to lay out a little cash, hold the weight of their labors in my hand, and start flipping through the pages.
Robin Clifford Wood welcomes feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.