I was lucky enough to have attended and survived the Gaithersburg Book Festival for although it was held on May 21, it was 95 degrees and you had to be a super book lover to handle that heat. But it was definitely worth it. Here are some author talks that I attended and if their books are as amazing as their talks, then go out right now and order these books. Ironically for me, they are all Non-Fiction. I must confess that I haven’t read these books yet. These are my impressions as I listened to the authors.
There She Was: The Secret History of Miss America by Amy Argetsinger —Remember when we were young and impressionable, and we couldn’t wait to watch The Miss America Pageant every year? Television and women’s roles were certainly different then. Argetsinger, a Washington Post Style reporter has written a cultural history of American women through the lens of the Miss America Pageant.
And the pageant itself has reflected American life through all its turmoil. The infamous Rule 7, enacted in 1948, stated “Contestants must be of good health and of the white race.” It was not until 1970 that Cheryl Browne became the first Black woman to participate. Bess Myerson, who in 1945, became the first Jewish Miss America, was asked to change her name to something less Jewish…she refused. And in 2017, misogynistic leaked emails from the all-male CEO and board of the Miss America Organization led to their firing, after which the board was taken over by women. Gretchen Carlson, formerly of Fox News became the next CEO and her first decision was to remove the swimsuit competition, which created some more backlash. This is a fascinating look at an institution that is now just barely surviving and if you read the book, you will understand why. Great idea for a book discussion!
Ann Hood, author of several fiction and non-fiction works, began her career at the age of 21 as a stewardess (not yet called flight attendant) for TWA Airlines. Fly Girl is her story in the air as a witness and participant in the early “Fly Me” years from 1978-1986 about the time that women were finally given the respect that they should have had years before. But this is not a polemic. It is simply a memoir of the best time of her life and the difference between then and now, both for passengers and crew. I attended her and Amy Argetsinger’s presentation as they discussed both their books, comparing life in the air and life on a pedestal. I must tell one of her stories: A very famous writer was a passenger on one of her flights and by that time, Hood had already started writing books. She mentioned this to the author, and he looked at her with a dead pan expression and said, you’re too stupid to write. It was only her flight training that got her through that conversation. We tried to get her to reveal his name, but she never did.
There is Nothing For You Here: Finding Opportunity in the Twenty-First Century by Fiona Hill —I’m sure you remember Fiona Hill’s riveting testimony at President Trump’s impeachment trial. But do you know her origins as the coal miner’s daughter from Northern England? As mines were shutting down and no jobs to be had, her father told her that “there is nothing for you here”, the sentence that spurred her to seek higher education and even to get out of England. She studied in Russia and finally the United States at Harvard, where she felt anyone could start anew. And indeed she did, specializing in Eastern Europe. She served under three presidents, Bush, Obama and finally Trump…and you know the rest. But this is not only a memoir, it’s a cautionary tale of what could happen in America, just as it did in Russia under Putin.
Midnight in Washington: How We Almost Lost Our Democracy and Still Could by Adam Schiff—As we have watched the January 6th Hearings, Midnight in Washingon could not be a more pertinent book. Schiff takes us from the former president’s first impeachment trial through the 2020 election and especially the January 6 Capitol riot and his memories of living through that awful day as rioters attempted to break into the chamber. His bitterest comments though, are reserved for the “insurrectionists in suits and ties” who he is sure knew that the election was not rigged but “slowly surrendered to the immorality of the former president.”
The Family Roe: An American Story by Joshua Prager —As one does at book festivals, when there are famous writers that are going to speak at a certain time, it’s important to arrive and get a seat at the previous writer’s talk. This often leads to discovering a new author (new to me anyway) and I certainly did. The Family Roe could not have arrived at a more propitious time, now that Roe V. Wade has become history. The story behind Jane Roe is as complicated as Norma McCorvey herself (the real Jane Roe). She gave birth to three children, from three different men, two of whom she gave up for adoption. Her first was raised by her mother. Norma often changed her story, changed her mind and finally switched her position to an anti-abortion stance.
Prager tried to approach this very controversial topic in as neutral and human tone as possible. He felt it was politicized enough. He discovered “Baby Roe” who was adopted but did not find out about her birth mother until she was 18. And Prager was instrumental in getting all of Norma’s children together. This is a fascinating look at a moment in history that has changed our lives.
And one more book to introduce…As I stopped by the Maryland Writers Association booth, I was asked “Are you a writer?” Well, sort of was my answer. I do publish a blog about books. One of the women in the booth was very excited. She handed me a copy of her book 50 Things to Know About Birds in Washington DC by Dana Burton and asked if I could review it on my blog. Well, now I guess I’ve become an influencer! So here goes…
If you are a bird lover or even if you are not, this slim, handy 70-page book may get you started. It’s not slick or fancy or even in color, but it lists many places in DC where you are sure to find birds including Roach’s Run Waterfowl Sanctuary, Dunbarton Oaks, Hains Point, Rock Creek Park and many more. And she knows lots of interesting facts about birds in this area. She even included a paragraph on Presidential Pets with Calvin Coolidge at the top of the list. So if you are interested in birds, or Washington DC trivia, this might be the book for you. It could have been checked for spelling errors a little more thoroughly though. Look for 50 Things to Know About Birds in Washington DC by Dana Burton, available on Amazon.com.
The Gaithersburg Book Festival, begun in 2010 has become a place for authors and readers to meet and discuss books. It’s a free all-day event with free parking…but be sure to arrive early! And it’s right here in Gaithersburg! Make sure you attend next year and hopefully it won’t be so hot.
See you next month and happy reading!