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.
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.
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,
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
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,
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
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 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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
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.