The Library of Congress National Book Festival: Celebrating American Ingenuity


Open a Book, Open the World

"Open a Book, Open the World – The Library of Congress National Book Festival" is an hour-long special that delivers highlights from this year's National Book Festival and celebrates a sense of renewal and hope that we’re all yearning for.

AIRED: September 12, 2021 | 0:55:35

LEVAR: Hi everybody, I'’m LeVar Burton

and this is Open a Book, Open the World,

the Library of Congress National Book Festival.

You know, a good book can take you on a journey.

And after the last year,

we are all ready to plot a new course

and books can be an amazing compass.

Join me as some of our

nation'’s leading literary voices

bring us a sense of renewal,

discuss their newest work,

and open up a whole new world of possibilities.

The National Book Festival is coming up next.

LEVAR: Hi everybody, I'’m LeVar Burton,

and books and I go way back,

not just in my own journey as a lifelong reader,

but in the decades I spent bringing books to life

right here on public television

and inspiring a love of reading across generations.

If you are an avid reader,

one thing you know about books

is how they can open up the world,

they can show you who we are,

help you see through someone else'’s eyes,

and maybe most importantly,

connect us with people and places

we otherwise might not know.

So if we'’re going to talk about books,

what better place to do that

than in front of my public library,

right here in Los Angeles.

But another nice thing

about doing a book festival this way

is that we can also jump right over

to our National Library and our Librarian of Congress,

Dr. Carla Hayden.

CARLA: Hello, LeVar,

we'’re so happy to have you with us.

Thank you for everything you'’ve done

to inspire young readers.

I'’m here on the balcony of the Library of Congress

with its wonderful view of Washington, D.C.

The Capitol'’s east lawn was actually the site

of the very first National Book Festival

on September 8th, 2001, 20 years ago.

And now,

it'’s our pleasure to bring you this year'’s festival

on such a special anniversary.

For the next hour, we'’ll be highlighting

plenty of names you'’ll know,

and some others that might be new to you.

But one thing is for sure,

books have opened the world

for all of our featured authors,

and now they'’re paying that forward.

One of these is the talented wordsmith and poet,

Amanda Gorman.

A few years back I asked Amanda to come here

to the Library of Congress and join me

with then U.S. poet laureate, Tracy K. Smith,

and that'’s where Dr. Jill Biden saw Amanda read her poem,

"In This Place: An American Lyric,"

sparking the now-famous invitation

and the rest is history.

I had the chance to catch up with Amanda again,

and we talked a bit about

how much books have meant to her.

AMANDA: Books have been everything for me,

I'’ll just jump in and say that.

I mean, ever since I was young,

they'’ve been the place in which I can open up a page

and discover a world,

and also at the same time, discover myself.

I always say I feel the most at home

in a bookstore or a library.

And I don'’t remember,

the first book that did it for me,

it was kind of like

literally hooked on it from day one

but I do remember in third grade being read

Ray Bradbury'’s "Dandelion Wine"

and that'’s first and foremost

what made me want to become a writer.

I just remember hearing the language

and just falling in love

and thinking that that'’s what I wanted to do

for the rest of my life.

CARLA: So Amanda, what have books

and reading meant to you during the pandemic?

AMANDA: I think particularly

in the pandemic,

books have meant their own form of normalcy

in a time that feels very disruptive and unstable.

And so staying at home, quarantining,

not being able to gather in the same places,

still being able to read books

and feel a connection to humanity,

to discuss and share ideas that are important to us,

I think that'’s really everything,

particularly when the pandemic started,

I began thinking a lot about the writers

who wrote in solitude and also wrote in the dark,

whether it be Martin Luther King'’s letter

from a Birmingham jail,

or I did a lot of thinking about Anne Frank

and what it must have been like

to be writing a journal

while hiding away from a society

that would want to destroy you.

And so I think there'’s something so powerful

in understanding that when times

become so isolating and so dark,

often it'’s storytellers who bring a type of light

to that power of understanding differences

and also similarities.

ROXANE: I'’ve been reading, like most people,

since I was a little kid

and books have always just shown me

just how big and how small the world is.

SYLVIA: I think there'’s many places that I'’ve met

for the very first time through a book

and not just places, but time periods and situations

that I might not have known about that I read.

And that was the way I

began to understand the world.

So it'’s a passport into a lot of different realities,

both imaginary and real.

BILL: I was super lucky that

a grandmother in particular

read a lot of books to me and my sisters

and that developed a love of books.

She picked Dr. Doolittle, lots of fun stuff.

And then when I was able to read, I was very avid.

And over the summers, there was always,

a public library would have a contest

about who could read a lot of books.

And an addiction to reading has been a key secret

of my success.

DIANE: What books do

is they take you to another world.

It takes you in different places.

It can make you travel,

it can make you understand the suffering of others.

It'’s enlarging your horizon,

books are everything.

MISHAL: I grew up in the Middle East

as an expat kid.

And there were no public libraries

that I can remember.

And there was one little library

in our sports club

and that was where I pretty much feel

I read the whole children'’s section.

So I feel like I owe so much

to that tiny little collection of books

in a building

that I'’m sure no longer even exists.

VIET: I think Amy Tan'’s "The Joy Luck Club"

had a huge impact on me because I read it

when I was probably 18 years old

and I had never read a book

by an Asian-American writer before.

And that opened up the possibility for me

to think that I could write about people

who were of Asian descent

and that there was a space for someone like me

as a writer who could write about my parents,

could write about the Vietnamese

refugee community,

could write about Asian-Americans,

and that opened so many doors for me at that time.

LEVAR: Now, with that little bit of inspiration,

let'’s dive into our first group of authors

whose stories best help us understand ourselves.

ROXANE: I have always, from early on,

enjoyed working across different genres.

And part of it was because

especially as a Black writer

and a Black woman writer,

people want to pigeonhole you

and suggest that you can only write in one vein.

And I think that limits our potential in our creativity

when, especially writers of color,

have so many different kinds of stories

that we want to tell.

And the industry rarely affords us the opportunity

to express that creativity.

And I wish more people would recognize that,

that everything I write is about identity,

but it'’s not about identity

in the ways that you might expect.

"The Sacrifice of Darkness" graphic novel,

began as a short story

that I wrote and was published

in my short story collection,

Difficult Women.

And I wrote the story when I was living

in Michigan'’s Upper Peninsula

and going to graduate school.

And I was living in a place

where there was a lot of poverty,

a lot of rural poverty,

which is not something that gets talked about a lot.

When we talk about poverty in the United States,

it'’s often in the context of urban poverty.

And it really struck me that there were a lot

of contributing factors to that poverty,

and one of the main ones

was that there used to be a copper mining industry

and when the copper mines ran dry,

the mine owners picked up and left,

and all of a sudden,

the primary form of employment

in the area disappeared,

and there were repercussions,

and there are all these

sort of hauntingly beautiful

industrial ruins that are a constant reminder

of what happens

when you prioritize profits over people.

And so I wrote this short story about a world

in which a man who has been mining for his entire life

is so consumed with darkness

after the mine owners

demand more and more labor from him

that he flies an air machine into the sun.

And so I was really just thinking about inequality

and the sacrifices that people make

at the altar of capitalism.

But I love to, in addition to writing

from a place that is research and fact-based,

I do think it'’s important to introduce readers

to subjectivity

and what it means to live in your shoes.

And I have always understood that nobody

will understand the world the way I do.

I'’m just opening up my experiences

in the hopes that someone out there

is gonna connect with it in some way

and feel seen

and recognized and maybe even understood.

MISHAL: Hello, everyone, I'’m Mishal Husain,

author of "The Skills From First Job to Dream Job:

What Every Woman Needs to Know."

And I'’m delighted to be speaking to Adam Grant

about his latest, and again, very successful book,

which is called "Think Again:

The Power of Knowing What You Don'’t Know."

So welcome, Adam, thanks for being part of this.

ADAM: Thanks, Mishal, great to be here.

Yeah, I didn'’t expect the book to be so timely.

I started working on it in 2018,

having no idea that there was gonna be a global pandemic

that forced us to rethink so many assumptions

that we'’d taken for granted.

MISHAL: What is the core argument

that you set out in this?

ADAM: Well, I think the basic premise is

that being smart enough

to be good at thinking and learning

sometimes stands in the way of rethinking and unlearning.

The more intelligent you are,

the more reasons you can find to convince yourself

that your beliefs are true,

but we live in a dynamic world

where everything around us is constantly changing.

And that means that there'’s a danger of our old beliefs

becoming mental fossils,

that they need to be discarded and abandoned,

and we'’re pretty reluctant to do that.

And so what I'’m really interested in

is how we can find the curiosity, the humility,

and the courage to question our old ideas.

MISHAL: However, if you find a method,

a way of working,

a system of processing information

that works well for you,

and I'’m thinking as an individual here,

in an organization, you probably call it a best practice.

You'’ve discovered that works for a reason

and it'’s kind of tried and tested.

But is it a dangerous thing to try and hold on to?

ADAM: My hope is that in 2021 and beyond,

we do our rethinking more proactively

and more deliberately.

And one of the best ways to do that

is to get out of this mode of preaching

and prosecuting,

and into thinking more like a scientist.

When I say think like a scientist,

I mean, don'’t let your ideas become your identity.

Look for reasons why you might be wrong,

not just the reasons why you must be right.

Listen to the ideas that make you think hard,

not just the ones that make you feel good

and surround yourself with people

who challenge your thought process,

not just the ones who agree with your conclusions.

So one of the things that I'’m planning to do

in the second half of this year is,

I'’ve actually scheduled a check-up.

It'’s a little bit like going to the doctor

even when nothing is wrong.

You do that once or twice a year.

I think we should do the same thing

with the important decisions in our lives

to pause once or twice a year and ask,

do I have the right values?

Am I actually prioritizing those in my daily life?

And have I encountered any experiences or any data

that might suggest it'’s time to rethink

where I want to live, who I want to spend my time with,

or what kind of work I want to do?

And I think having that structured occasion,

that scheduled moment to reflect

is a great way to pause

without having your life in constant flux and say,

"Oh, no, I have to rethink my principles

and who I am on a daily basis,"

which is probably not a healthy way to lead a life.

MISHAL: Adam Grant, it has been a pleasure, thanks.

ADAM: Thank you,

I hope you don'’t rethink your enthusiasm

for this idea of thinking again.

MISHAL: Definitely not, I'’m scheduling my own,

where am I in my life

check-up immediately after this.

LEVAR: From changing our world view

to looking at history

through a more personal lens,

here'’s historian, Annette Gordon-Reed,

on how writing about the past

can help shape the world today.

ANNETTE: My editor has been after me for a number of years

to do a book about Texas and to write about Texas history,

but with a with a sort of personal slant to it,

because he knows that I grew up in Texas.

And I thought that this was an opportune moment

to sort of turn the focus on myself to a degree.

I mean, it'’s still a history book,

but to talk about how history

influences individual people'’s lives.

And I wanted to talk about Texas

and the history of Texas,

speaking of this issue of race

and how this has influenced that,

the development of that state

in ways that people don'’t typically think of Texas

in that way, because

the image of Texas is one of the West

and they don'’t think about

the sweep of American history

and race relations in Texas.

What I think people can learn from it,

and what I take from it

is that African- American people

have been on a journey from literally, again,

crossing the ocean into slavery, out of slavery.

Juneteenth is a hopeful time when people

at the epicenter of all of that down in Galveston

learned that there would be no more slavery in Texas

and they had hopes

and they were happy about all of this.

And we know

that their hopes were not totally realized,

it took many, many years to realize those,

and we'’re still trying to realize them.

The things that have happened recently,

the murder of George Floyd,

all of those things, interest in thinking

about voter suppression,

all of those issues are part of this struggle,

this journey that we have been on.

I wanted to try to open up a little bit

and make it personal

in ways that I think young people might relate to.

I mean, we like to read about one another,

and it'’s a book that I think is accessible

and will get people

thinking about their own families

and to think about their families

in terms of not just what happened

to them as individuals,

but as a part of history,

we'’re all a part of history,

and we can tell that story through our family lives.

LUPITA: I grew up in Kenya,

which is a predominantly Black society,

but I still found that there was a preference

for lighter skin when my younger sister was born

when I was five

and my relatives and my family friends

would coo and kah at the skin

and say how gorgeous she was

with her light skin.

And so my little five-year-old brain

took that to mean that my dark skin

was not beautiful.

And it started a long journey

of feeling inadequate in my skin

and trying to change my skin color to like her,

which includes some of the things that Sulwe does,

like rub off her skin,

pray for lighter skin, I did that.

And so I wanted to write a book

that addressed the problem of colorism

to help younger kids

feel beautiful sooner than I did.

Because we all want to see ourselves reflected

and in the position that I find myself in

and the stories I want to tell,

I want it to be a reflection of myself.

So what happens if you have only one type of person

behind the camera, only one type of person

sitting in the executive chair in the studio

or producing, writing,

you will find that what'’s happening

in front of the screen reflects them.

So I think it'’s very important for us

not just to look at who'’s performing

in the stories that we'’re telling,

but who'’s telling the stories that we'’re telling.

That changes, then we'’ll have

a sustainable sense of inclusion.

DIANE: I was very lucky, when I was growing up,

I didn'’t know what I wanted to do,

but I knew the kind of woman I wanted to be.

I wanted to be a woman in charge.

So I was lucky to become a woman in charge,

which means a woman independent very early on.

People would ask me, who is the woman you design for?

And I would say, "Women in charge."

So two years ago, I was thinking,

what does it mean really to be in charge?

What it is, it'’s a commitment to ourselves,

it'’s owning who we are.

Whatever it is, whether you are diagnosed with cancer

or whether

your husband leaves you or whatever may happen,

you go bankrupt, whatever, it'’s always the answer.

The first answer is always own it.

You own your imperfection, they become your asset.

You own your vulnerability, you turn it into strength.

In this book, everything leads you

that the secret to life is being you.

When you embrace who you are, you become yourself,

you become glamorous, you become powerful,

you become as invincible as possible

because you have character,

and character is the only thing

that you have complete control of.

So I think that when you have a voice,

it'’s important to use your voice, your experience,

your knowledge, your connections,

and your resources

if you have built some, in order to have other women

to be the women they want to be.

CARLA: One great thing about libraries

is that they are always full of possibilities,

especially this one.

Research done here has inspired generations of readers,

authors, and scholars.

The Library of Congress has the papers of 23 presidents

and champions of change like Rosa Parks,

Susan B. Anthony, and Thurgood Marshall.

We even have Martin Waldseemuller'’s map

from 600 years ago

that used the word America for the first time.

Talk about opening the world.

KAZUO: When I try and create a work of fiction,

one of my one of my big aims

is to create an entire world.

I don'’t just want to tell a story,

I want to create this entire world.

SARAH: And I think that kind of fictional world

and how we see characters

express their thoughts and feelings,

that for me is opening up the world.

I think you learn to see how other people think,

how other people feel,

how other people experience things.

YAA: I was an incredibly shy child who felt

as though her world was very closed

and it was literature that opened up so many pathways,

so many possibilities for me,

reading books not just from Southern writers,

from Black writers, but writers all over the world.

It'’s been the thing that has made me feel

like I have a kind of separate passport.

TANA: To me, this is probably the core point

of the arts, of any art, is that,

it gives you this chance

to see the world even for a brief glimpse

through someone else'’s eyes

and to realize that this other person'’s reality

is as vivid and as present and as real as your own,

and that they'’re experiencing

this world entirely differently

and they'’re seeing you entirely differently

from how you see yourself,

and that'’s at the heart of every book

'’cause it'’s this glimpse into somebody else'’s world.

MARTHA: Taking in all these different ideas

and these different voices

and learning how other people thought

and learning to see different perspectives

as well as just seeing different parts of the world

through these books, I mean, that was hugely important to me

and I don'’t think I would have become a writer without that.

ANGIE: One thing about Mississippians

and being from a place that has such a colorful history,

to put it mildly, is that as a writer,

I feel as if it helped shape me

so that I can write stories

that reflect the world better than maybe some can,

because I think Mississippi and its history

and the fact that it has such a past,

I think is reflective of us as a society as a whole.

And I think it was William Faulkner who once said

that if you wanna understand the world,

understand Mississippi first.

So I think as a writer,

that'’s how I approach everything that I do,

so I'’m thankful for these experiences,

I'’m thankful for these stories,

I'’m thankful for

the fact that I can learn from the past

and hopefully craft stories

that help my young readers create a better future.

LEVAR: To better understand one another,

it'’s useful to step inside each other'’s lives

and see ourselves anew.

Books help us realize that, hey,

maybe we'’re not all that different

from one another after all.

But you don'’t have to take my word for it.

YAA: I think, you know, all writers will talk

about how you work your entire life toward a debut.

It feels like you'’re collecting all of this stuff

that goes into that first novel

from childhood, from birth.

In my case, I was born in Ghana

and then I wound up living in Huntsville, Alabama,

from age nine on.

And it was that kind of juxtaposition of being born

in this place that had this role in the slave trade

and then ending up in a state in America

where the effects of that trade

are still so strongly felt in many ways.

The kind of irony of that, I think,

is what set me on the path to writing "Homegoing."

I wanted to find a way to connect these two places

and this lineage of the slave trade

together somehow.

I wanted a history

and "Homegoing" is a book that is,

in many ways, about connecting the dots,

reconnecting a family that has been torn apart.

And in that way,

I think restoring a history to myself,

When I started "Transcendent Kingdom,"

like so many other Americans,

I had been reading

about the opioid epidemic for years

and I felt like the reporting around that

was really excellent.

These pieces that we'’re willing to kind of

investigate the role

of pharmaceutical companies in creating this problem,

pieces that looked at the science behind addiction,

pieces that looked at the families

that were surrounding the person

who was himself suffering from opioid use disorder.

I found these to be really incredibly moving.

I feel like a lot of addiction discussion

in the past has not been particularly

around the crack epidemic of the '’80s

and heroin epidemic of the '’60s.

And what I note about those two previous epidemics

is that they largely affected

Black people in cities

as opposed to this current crisis,

which is largely affecting White people

in rural and suburban areas.

And so what I wanted to do with this book

was to kind of approach that topic

with the same kind of sensitivity,

nuance, curiosity, investigatory spirit,

but to do so in a way that

placed Black people at the center

and to recognize that that we deserve

all that same kind of compassionate reportage.

And so "Transcendent Kingdom" was an opportunity

to bring hard science into a container

that made sense to me and how I see the world.

VIET: Those of us who are immigrants and refugees

and who have come from other places to the United States,

I think we can see the transformations

that take place in our parents

who had their own lives in their other countries,

and then they come to the United States,

and all of the sudden,

they'’re are no longer the same people

that they once were.

"The Committed" and "The Sympathizer"

are about a Vietnamese spy

in the South Vietnamese army.

And so that'’s loosely inspired by

a real life spy,

named Pham Xuân An,

of whom there have been a couple

of biographies written in English.

What I did was I grafted his story

with the refugee experience that I'’d had.

The only interesting thing about my life was

that I felt like a spy when I was growing up,

like I was an American in my parents

Vietnamese household

spying on these strange Vietnamese people

and their customs.

And then when I stepped out of that household,

I was a Vietnamese person spying

on these strange Americans and their customs.

And I took that seed of feeling of displacement

and always feeling at ease and always observing.

And I greatly exaggerated those feelings

and put them into the character of this spy.

CHANG-RAE: I don'’t know that in this particular book I set out

to comment upon, say, suburban American culture,

which I do a little bit.

I think it'’s just a function of

having a character and see to it

and having that character

as clear eyed as possible about what'’s going on.

And yeah, it'’s mostly in good fun, satirical.

But at the same time,

it'’s been a kind of pleasure for me

where people will read about, say,

the towns that Tiller inhabits and they'’ll say,

and the main town is based upon Princeton, New Jersey,

but people from all over me and say,

"Oh, that'’s just like my town."

And of course, I wanna say, "Well, (laughs)

there'’s a reason why it'’s just like your town."

This is what Viet'’s talking about, right?

About the ways in which we'’re not seeing

the way how these places function

and why they function in those ways,

why certain people are left out of those towns,

why certain things are are upheld as successful

and noble and other things not.

VIET: So the point here is that as someone

who grew up with this, I learned, I think,

an innate sense of empathy for people

who are undergoing transformation,

who are cast on the outside,

who have dual lives and so on.

And that sense of empathy is good for anybody,

but it'’s also particularly important,

I think, for writers,

because that'’s one of our most important tools,

is the capacity for empathy

and not just empathy for people who are like us,

like our own family members,

but people who are not like us.

CHANG-RAE: For me,

I haven'’t probably been as intentional

about certain kind of cultural

or political critiques of society.

But I hope that my work is always on the edge of that

just because of, in my hope that, again,

I'’m trying to open up truth,

I'’m trying to see clearly.

And if you do that as a writer,

I think all those notions they end up seeping in,

if not absolutely directly, then at least subtly,

and certainly just by osmosis.

LEVAR: One thing for sure,

we all see the world in our own unique way.

Here'’s Tana French in conversation

with NPR'’s Maureen Corrigan about her new book,

a murder mystery set in Ireland,

and that magic trick books do,

getting you inside someone else'’s head.

MAUREEN: I'’m Maureen Corrigan, I'’m the book critic

for NPR'’s Fresh Air.

I'’m also a regular contributor

to The Washington Post Book World.

I am here with the superb suspense writer, Tana French.

Well, let'’s talk about you

and let'’s talk about "The Searcher,"

your latest novel.

You have an American who'’s your main character

and you'’ve set it in rural Ireland.

TANA: Well, he'’s a middle- aged American guy

who has just retired from the Chicago police force

after 25 years there

when he'’s basically lost all his faith in the job

and he'’s just had a tough divorce

and he is kind of having a moral crisis.

And he reckons that by getting away

from all the places

where he was a police officer, where he was a husband,

where he was a father, all the things that he feels

he'’s somehow made a mess of, morally speaking,

maybe if he gets somewhere that will be simpler,

he'’ll be able to find his

sense of right and wrong again.

It kind of doesn'’t work out that way

because a neighbor kid

whose teenage brother has disappeared

demands that Cal,

the protagonist, investigate,

and of course,

he gets drawn in for one more investigation.

MAUREEN: I think you do a wonderful job

of giving us this character

who has some sense of how his life

has fallen apart a bit.

But he'’s not sitting around

at night doing deep analysis

because he'’s not that kind of a man.

TANA: Yeah, he'’s not introspective,

MAUREEN: No TANA: and that was deliberate.

I really didn'’t want to write an introspective character

'’cause I just finished writing "The Witch Elm,"

where the main site of all the action

is inside the main character'’s head.

And I did not want to write anymore introspective.

I was very done with that.

I wanted to write somebody who was all about action,

for whom the defining elements of anyone,

including himself, weren'’t what does this person think?

What does this person feel? What does this person say?

It was all about, no, no, no,

you'’re defined by what you do.

What does this person do?

And I liked doing that and going,

the person who you think you see

has reasons that you will never know

for being who he or she is,

has layers underneath that we may never understand.

And you'’re writing mysteries

and the most fascinating and beautiful, painful,

all of those things, mystery of all,

is the human mind is other people.

And so I think

it'’s a, mystery is a really good genre

to let you into trying to touch on that mystery.

SILVIA: Gothic heroines are interesting because they,

just like the gothic genre,

they tend to be different things at the same time

and sometimes contradict each other.

Gothic is a lot about atmosphere and psychology

and the interior being

reflected by the exterior, right?

So those windswept moors and those stormy nights,

the wind banging on the shutters

are reflections

of the interior psychology of characters.

My book, "Mexican Gothic,"

it'’s based on a real mining town

that is called Real del Monte or Mineral del Monte

and it'’s in Hidalgo.

It is kind of cold and chilly and it was in fact

an English mining town in the middle of Mexico

at one point in time.

So Noemi is a socialite,

that obviously implies a certain amount of wealth

and resources that other characters might not have.

So she'’s very aloof.

She is a modern girl for the time period for 1950.

She smokes and drives a convertible

and wears really fancy dresses.

You look at the press of the time

and how people are reacting to womanhood

and things like that.

There are some people who are very critical of that,

and they want, they'’re like,

why are our daughter'’s now going out dancing

instead of getting married and having children?

So there'’s some of that

also embedded in the narrative.

SARAH: I think for me, "The Sanatorium,"

the building, the soulmate,

as it becomes within the novel,

very much uses that sense of place

to create a sense of unease.

And I think you have within the main character of Elin,

that psychological, that you mentioned,

that almost chipping away at her sense of self

as she sort of sees

lots of things that happen within the sanatorium

but also the external environment.

And I think that kind of weather

is very much, again,

the sort of trope you deal within the gothic novel.

And I think it for me, it very much reflects

Elin'’s internal character and how she'’s feeling.

I think we see the house and weather

in the sanatorium is very much something

I wanted to build for the reader

and for Elin alike, that kind of sense of intention.

Elin as a strong character.

I think for her, a lot of people have said

they don'’t see her as a strong character

because she is quite open about her emotions,

she'’s acting in what would be described as kind of

an emotional way.

But I don'’t even necessarily

like that kind of description.

I think she is a person who'’s just very much her.

So, yeah, I think Elin is a strong woman

because she is unafraid to be herself,

and I think she lays it all out there

for the reader and, in a way, for herself,

she'’s going on a journey and exploring who she is

through what happened.

SILVIA: We really want women, when they are

in a certain active role

where they'’re the the main protagonist

and they'’re in this kind of narrative

where they'’re facing off against

somebody or something,

we want them to take an Ellen Ripley approach

to get the flamethrower

and burn the alien down immediately,

and be like, I'’m a bad, tough lady.

And if a woman stops for a second and says,

"Oh, my God, I don'’t know if I'’m going mad

"or what is happening here?

I don'’t understand how the pieces of the puzzle fit."

We just say, "Oh, what a weakling,

and what a silly lady that is," or even worse.

But I think that has to do a lot

with how we envision women,

that mentions that we allow women

to inhabit and how uncomfortable we are

with what I would call complicated women.

ANGIE: When I finished "The Hate U Give,"

I thought I was done with those characters,

done with that story.

But my readers,

they'’re the reason "Concrete Rose" exists.

When I was touring for

"The Hate U Give" and promoting it,

the character I was asked about the most

was Maverick Carter,

who is Starr'’s dad in "The Hate U Give,"

and you wouldn'’t expect the father

to get that much attention in the book,

you know?

From the young people

telling me they loved Maverick

to the moms telling me they wanted to marry Maverick.


So a lot of people wanted to know from me

how did he become the man and the father

that we see in "The Hate U Give"

knowing about his past?

I think that for a lot of young people,

this was a story

that addressed things that concern them

and it reflected the world

that they were seeing around them.

I think for a lot of

especially young Black kids,

it was a book that showed them themselves

and affirmed a lot of them to them.

You know? I think, too, that

this book allowed a lot of people

to have some conversations about society

and about issues happening in our world

and to have those conversations

in a safe space

in the form of a book.

If nothing else, the summer of 2020

and seeing the death of George Floyd caught on tape

and seeing more Black men become hashtags,

it reminded me of the importance

of humanizing Black men and Black boys.

And I think that as an author,

I have that responsibility.

If you look at Maverick,

if someone were to just look at this character

of Maverick,

and just take a quick glimpse at him,

they would assume, oh, he'’s a troublemaker,

because he'’s involved in a gang,

and he does illegal activities at times.

But we are also talking about a 17-year-old kid

who just wants to be loved

and protected and cared for.

And those are all things we can all identify with

no matter what walk of life we come from.

So I wanted to humanize Maverick

and further humanize Black boys and Black men

so that when we'’re saying Black Lives Matter,

when we'’re saying those words,

maybe people will understand them

a little bit more

and get while we'’re saying yes,

even when Black boys like Maverick are in trouble,

their lives still matter, too.

ISABEL: I believe that narrative nonfiction

is the closest

that many of us will ever get

to being another person,

it requires going very deep into the motivations,

into the experiences, into the responses

that individuals may have

to whatever the circumstances

they might find themselves in,

a phenomenon that they may be

attempting to survive within.

CHANG-RAE: Empathy, the lives of others.

It'’s made me realize how much I love this world

and everything in it,

even the stuff that gives me heartache

and gives me rage sometimes,

we need it all to make sense of ourselves.

And that, I think, is what I enjoy from a great book.

It gives me a little bit of everything.

MICHAEL: I had books that I don'’t even think of,

like this room I didn'’t think I have books in

but I have like 50-60 books in this room.

And I know this isn'’t even one of my rooms

with a lot of books in it,

and books are everywhere in my life.

ADAM: As a shy kid who'’s very introverted,

reading a book was a way to connect with other people

without all the discomfort and awkwardness

of having to approach someone for a conversation.

ANNETTE: I grew up in a very small town

and I spent lots of time

in an even smaller town where my grandmother,

grandparents lived, and we visited them sometimes

in the summer and usually on the weekends,

and I read books.

It was the thing to do after you'’ve played enough

and you'’ve run out of all the things

that could be done in rural East Texas,

I would go inside and read books

so I could discover new worlds in those books.

And it took me outside

of that very, very provincial area.

So it opened the world to me, actually and literally.

CHRISTOPHER: I was homeschooled my whole life,

and so I really had an exaggerated

version of experience

that so many of us do have with books where for me,

books were a way of learning about the world

and experiencing things

I had never experienced before.

LUPITA: And in so doing, it gives me more

of a complex understanding of humanity,

which I think is the power of stories, right,

that we'’re able to see ourselves

in all manner of different character.

And we realize, yeah, we'’re so different,

but we'’re also the same in many ways.

CARLA: The Library of Congress has books

that date back centuries, but just as importantly,

it adds new books and other items

to its collections every day.

One of our most recent collections has focused

on capturing our collective creativity

during the pandemic.

Here, the Library has amassed artistic endeavors

from people all over the country.

Collections such as these offer us new ways

to relate to each other and maybe, just maybe,

make some unexpected connections.

The same is true of books.

Our final group of authors are all about finding connections

and focusing on what we all have in common.

ISABEL: This is a golden age of unfurling,

of perspectives that have not been built into the ways

the ways that history is taught in our country.

Because so many people are thirsty for knowledge

to understand

what they might not have understood before,

what they did not learn growing up.

This is a time where people

are hungering for answers because there is so much

that has not often made sense to many people.

And we often in the last few years

have heard people say,

I don'’t recognize my country.

This is not America.

This is not what America stands for.

And whenever I hear that,

I'’m reminded that not enough of us

know our country'’s true history.

"Caste, the Origins of Discontent"

arises from "The Warmth of Other Suns"

in which I spent 15 years to research

and to narrate the experience

of six million African- Americans who,

in some ways,

they fled the Jim Crow South,

but they were really

defecting one part of the country

for another part of the country.

They were seeking political asylum

within the borders of their own country.

And in doing so, to be able to understand

why they were doing what they were doing

required me to not just

do the research into the archives,

but to listen to the stories

and experiences of the people.

Once we recognize that we ourselves

have been programed to act in a certain way

in accord with

the assignment based upon our location,

the location of the people

of the group that we were born to

and where that group is located in the hierarchy.

Once we recognize that,

that'’s one of the first ways of fighting something

is to first recognize that

you have something to fight for

or against anyway.

And so recognizing it is the first step

toward vanquishing it.

And that was the goal of this work,

is to first shine a light on us

so we can see beneath what we thought we might know

about the hierarchy that we have inherited

so that we can begin the work together

to dismantle these hierarchies,

to dismantle the inequities

that are built into our society.

DAVID: Welcome, everybody, I'’m here with Bill Gates.

I'’m David Rubenstein, and today,

we'’re gonna talk about Bill'’s new book,

"How to Avoid a Climate Disaster."

So let'’s talk about what we can do in our lifetime.

If I change my habits or you change your habits

or anybody changes their habits,

it'’s our great-great- grandchildren

that might benefit.

We'’re not really gonna benefit.

Is that true or not?

BILL: My belief in the book is that overall,

we'’re not going to be, change people'’s behavior.

So the assumption in the book

is that only through innovating

and how we make all those things,

including electricity, food,

and only by changing that

so that they have no emissions,

will we be able to get realistically to zero.

So in large part, it'’s that process of how electricity

gets made or how your car gets powered

that we have to drive to zero emission

rather than completely getting rid

of the demand for all those things.

So if we can electrify fast enough

and make these changes,

we will get emissions down

towards the end of the time

when we are likely to be alive.

But your point that, getting the world to start cooling off,

even in the best case, it'’s actually way out there

in 2060s, 2070s that you start to see that temperature

begin to drop back to where it belongs.

And so the whole world'’s in this together.

The only reason we want the whole world to get to zero

is that that'’s what it takes to stop the temperature

from constantly going up.

DAVID: What do you think is the reason

that you still have a fairly big resistance

to the idea that climate change

isn'’t even a real manmade problem?

BILL: Yeah, the number of people who deny

that the phenomenon exists is going down.

The number of people who say,

"Gosh, the other countries won'’t go along,

so it'’s hopeless,"

they'’re asking a legitimate question,

and that'’s why these conferences,

including one coming up in late 2021 in Glasgow

will be important to show that

people are working together.

We also now have people who think it'’s easy to solve,

that is, they haven'’t looked

at all the sources of emissions

and the scale of change required.

And so they'’re not helping get the research money

and the innovation agenda going at full speed.

And so a key reason I wrote the book

was to say to the people who think it'’s easy,

no it'’s hard,

and the people who think that it'’s impossible

to remind them that innovation

in all these areas is happening.

The only question is, is it happening fast enough?

And what kind of incentives and policies or behaviors

should individuals, companies,

and governments engage in

to give us the best chance

of avoiding this climate disaster.

MICHAEL: This book just kind of happened.

I was gonna write a book about golf,

I thought I'’d write a book about golf

'’cause golf gave me a kind of second wind

in terms of socially and athletically,

and it'’s a nice thing for that point in my life.

And so I'’m writing this book about golf,

making notes and that,

then I get this spinal thing, a tumor on my spine,

and I had that operated on, then I broke my arm,

and I just found my optimism,

my much valued optimism leaving the scene quickly.

It just really reached a dark point for me.

And as I experienced it, I came through it

with a lot of lessons learned from Gus, my dog,

and my father-in-law, not necessarily in that order,

but so many people in my life, my wife, Tracy,

my kids, my friends,

but with gratitude,

optimism becomes sustainable.

I just got that, it just came to me and said,

that is what it is, you can get through anything

if you find things to be grateful for.

And the Parkinson'’s wasn'’t my fault,

I couldn'’t do anything with that,

the spinal tumor wasn'’t my fault,

but the falling was my fault

because I was not careful,

and by not being careful,

I was not being respectful to my doctors

and my health care people that helped me.

So my family who stuck by me through

my rehabilitation

and my friends, and I just felt I let them all down.

And I thought

I'’d let the Parkinson'’s community down

because I'’m telling them chin up

and it'’ll all be okay and look forward to the cure.

And then here I am whining and

drooling on the floor of my kitchen.

So that was the low point,

but and it'’s okay to go there.

I mean, that'’s what I learned,

so it'’s good to go there.

It'’s good to go to that low point

and really look around and get help if you need it

and find answers to your questions.

You can be a realist and an optimist at the same time.

In fact, I think it requires being a realist

to be an optimist.

You have to look at what the ground is around you.

You have to be real about it and say

these facts are non-disputable,

these are the realities as we see them.

So of course that reality with respect for it

and respect for it that it'’s the truth,

and then we can act on it and we can see.

I picture it as a block, that there'’s room around it,

there'’s room around any problem,

and in that room in that margin, you can find answers.

LEVAR: While there is still plenty that can be done

to find what connects us right here on this planet,

there are those of us who boldly seek out new life

and new civilizations on other worlds.

Fantasy and science fiction conventions

have always created their own sense of community,

and two writers with devoted fan bases,

Christopher Paolini and Martha Wells,

recently connected over this phenomenon,

and the way they'’ve seen a love of genre

bring people together.

MARTHA: When my first book was published,

it was "The Element of Fire"

and it is actually published by Tor Books.

You kind of just, the book came out, and if you were lucky,

your friends, you have friends living near you

who threw a party for you and maybe you did a signing

at your local bookstore and then that was it.

And I'’m lucky where I live in Texas,

especially at that time, there was a lot

of science fiction fantasy conventions around,

that were within driving distance

'’cause I couldn'’t afford to go

to anything out of state.

And so you could go to a convention

and see your book on a table

and people were reading it and stuff like that.

And so that would really be your only idea

of how well the book was doing.

If you went to something like Worldcon

and your editor invited you to dinner,

then you knew you were doing okay.

CHRISTOPHER: I switched publishers for this book

'’cause it'’s an adult novel versus YA.

And because I live in Montana and when I toured,

I was touring by myself and I didn'’t go to the conventions,

I was pretty isolated

from the larger authorial sci-fi fantasy community.

and then I started going to the conventions

and I love them because it'’s very rare

in our day-to-day life to be able

to be unabashedly enthusiastic

about something

in a way that is normally frowned upon.

Basically, at a convention,

you can wear your heart on your sleeve.

You walk in, and here are thousands of people

who are unabashed fans of X, Y, Z.

Maybe they have a costume, maybe they they don'’t.

But one thing you can be sure of

is most people you see at the convention

truly love something

and they'’re there to learn and grow

and share that love.

And I love that because

aside from maybe sporting events,

you don'’t really find that.

But I try to give back to the fans as much as I can

because it'’s their support that has let me do this

as a profession since I was a teenager.

I mean, I have not had a real job.

I get to make up stories for a living.

And that is a privilege

that I never take for granted.

KAZUO: I think I'’ve always been in this habit

of creating imaginary worlds.

I'’ve never lost that.

For me,

writing a work of fiction is about creating this

and inhabiting this fictional world.

Klara is a is a robot girl with a specific purpose.

She'’s been invented to prevent teenagers

from becoming lonely.

And at the beginning, she'’s in a store

with other such creatures.

They'’re called Artificial Friends or AFs.

And this really is a story of how Klara

tries to save the family of humans

she goes to live with from heartbreak.

And how she tries to enlist

the help of the Sun to do this.

And then the reason she wants to help,

she wants to get help from the Sun

is because quite logically, she thinks,

before she knows very much about the world

that the Sun is the source of all good things,

because for one thing, she is solar powered,

and all her fellow creatures

are solar powered,

perfectly logical conclusion.

And when she looks out of the store window

at the city street outside,

she sees all the shafts of sunlight on human beings.

She thinks that applies to the human world as well.

There'’s lots of things you can do

with an AI character.

Questions like, what does it mean to be human then?

What'’s so special about humans? What is a soul?

What does it mean to love in human terms?

I mean, all these things

become very natural questions.

You just have a creature like this.

The question is hovering there in the story

without having to say anything.

We torture ourselves about

whether we'’re being good human beings.

This is what fascinates me about people

and it touches me about people,

it moves me about human beings.

It'’s a kind of a metaphor for me, I suppose.

I mean, we put a lot of our sense

of dignity and our self-worth

into doing something

we think we do well and decently.

But it'’s very difficult

for us to get a full perspective

on where we fit in to the bigger world,

and we don'’t ever quite know

how we are contributing,

and whose side we'’re actually on.

We just hope that we'’re doing something good

and we are part of a team ultimately

that we can be proud of.

LEVAR: The books we'’ve just talked about

in the past hour

have opened up the world a little bit more,

revealed new possibilities, and illustrated the ways

that we are deeply connected to one another.

Hopefully after this, you'’ll find the time

to visit a public library just like the one behind me

to read a good book or two, and find some inspiration.

I know I have a few new books on my list.

I'’m LeVar Burton and on behalf

of Dr. Hayden and everyone else

at the Library of Congress,

thank you for joining us

for Open a Book, Open the World,

the National Book Festival.

We'’ll see you next time,

but you don'’t have to take my word for it.



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