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A Soiree at the National Press Club, Washington DC. By Lambert Mbom.


Tuesday November 9th was the day; 5.30 pm – 8.30pm was the time; National Press club was the venue. The Book fair was the event and fair in deed it was. Part of the charm of this event was in its noble mission “to help fill the school library shelves at The SEED School – a high-performing public boarding for undeserved students.”

It was a star-studded event. Even though too many cooks spoil the broth, many hands do light work. May not have been a Pulitzer award ceremony or an authors’ version of the Grammys, the Oscars, etc yet, in its own right it was an evening spent careening with the stars.

To be honest, it was a boring night and lonesome too even though the National Press Club’s ballroom was brimming and teeming. Not even the open cash bar enticed me that much. I just could not muster the courage to start a conversation with anyone. Not being a member of the club and having ridden solo to the event made it daunting, hitching a conversation hike with anyone. Who says I am not shy even though not of a saturnine demeanor.

Yet I relished every moment of the evening. I moved from reading the riveting articles of Gene Robinson in the Washington Post and watching him on primetime TV programs to the surreal moment of shaking hands with him.

Before this evening, NPR’s soft spoken and charming voice of Diane Rehm was all I had savored. She was honorary Chairwoman of this night’s Book fair & authors’ night. This fair afforded me the excellent opportunity to put a face to the voice and share her elegant demeanor and the warmth she so generously exudes.

George Allen somewhat conjured at least in my mind George Michael the deceased sports commentator whose sports machine shot him to popularity. Remember the bruising political season in Virginia, which saw the “political demise” of George Allen? It was the title of his book: “What Washington can learn from the World of Sports” that enamored him. If I could, I would provide a copy of this text to all those licking their wounds from the bruises of the last elections on how to cope with failures and for the frolicking members of Congress – on how to compete? Politics is also a game where the spirit of fair play and not the dog-eat-dog debacle should prevail.

Table 5 brought me up very close to Mark Halperin – Time magazine’s political jockey. I have read many of his reflections in Time magazine and watched him on TV. This “faciem-ad-faciem” meeting has its “weight in gold.”

My appetite for the event grew larger when I bumped into Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger. By sheer coincidence or by design he was strategically positioned as he occupied the first table in the row opposite the exit – some sort of a table captain- reminiscing his brilliant exit strategy that saved 155 lives last year when he safely landed the US Airways plane on the Hudson River. I quickly examined my environment to be sure I was not in the Smithsonian Air and Space museum.

Finally yet importantly on my A-list was Gayle Haggard, wife of disgraced pastor Ted Haggard. Her contrarian stance during the contretemps of the husband’s repulsive scandal and how she stuck to her guns “for better, for worse” so atypical of this age is worth commending.

You would be wrong to imagine then that I must have left the event with at least six books from my stars of the night. In this age when the dollar is so hard to come by, I managed from a very tight budget to stroll back home with three books. I had to cut my coat according to my cloth and not my size.

The initial allure to this event got its ignition from Roy Peter’s text in grammar advertized on NPC’s website. Having embarked on a career path in writing, the need for me to master English grammar is cardinal. My sixth sense nudged me then to grab a copy of “The Glamour of Grammar: A Guide to the Magic and Mystery of Practical English.

First, this book is a contemporary text published in August 2010; second, it was within a reasonable price range; lastly, its author is a member of the distinguished Poynter Institute, a place I am looking forward to explore and exploit.

Roy’s text was in competition at least in my mind with S Barry and K Goldmark’s, “Write that Book Already!: The Tough Love You Need to Get Published Now.” Even though cheaper than Roy Clark’s which deals with the process of fine-tuning, Goldmark’s it would appear deals with the product, at least the manuscript. Getting it would have been akin to putting the cart before the horse.

Jack fuller was sitting next to Roy Clark and the title of his book was quite captivating. I am a news junky with an avid thirst and large appetite for news. In this case among the competing texts in this category, the enthralling title “What is Happening to News: The Information Explosion and the Crisis in Journalism” made me want it. Not wanting to judge the text by its cover, I thumbed through and three chapters namely The science of Journalism, The search of Story and lastly A New Rhetoric for News played the trick.

This “classic” I hope would help settle a personal conundrum: whether journalism especially `a la news is a dead career option. This is something some luminous voyeurs daily remind me of. What is more, it appealed to my immediate needs of validating or rather invalidating my insistent or rather stubborn inclination towards a formal career in journalism, or so I thought.

The competition was stiff here as George Allen’s: “What Washington Can Learn from the World of Sports”, Alison Dagnes’ “Politics on Demand: The Effects of 24 hour News on American Politics”, Kovach & Rosenstiel’s “Blur: How to Know What’s True in an Age of Information Overload?” all beckoned on me. I thought of casting lots given that they were within the same price range. It was his contiguous position to Roy Clark that led me finally to get a copy of Jack Fuller’s book.

Of the twelve categories of books at the Fairgrounds namely, Adult fiction, business, children’s food, history, lifestyle, memoir and biography, Poetry, Politics and Current Affairs, Religion, Sports and Writing, I had to go through a painful process of elimination. First, I really do not care about this fiction stuff fascinating and exhilarating as it may be, for it is too abstract. The excitement of imagination that leaves you empty in the end.

There is a tested theory among many immigrants that doing business is the epicenter of their success story. One must agree that not all of us can become business moguls especially for those of us for whom management especially of money is a herculean task. I personally lack the wherewithal and as the Delphic Oracle rightly admonished, “Man, know thyself,” I shy away very easily from engaging business of any sort. May be I need some pupilage in business and through some of these books I could learn the rudiments of the trade. Yet I must confess that truly, when a snake bites you, even a loose thread would frighten you.

The Children’s section was tempting enough but my two weeks’ old daughter still has some growing up to do before having to suffer through the vagaries of modern civilization. I still have some time before fatherhood’s distinguished chores kick in.

As for lifestyle, nothing could be far removed from my very short list than this. If as I imagined, this was about tastes and fashion, am surely of the old school stuck to some outmoded forms. I know that dressing is not my thing and has never been safe for occasional flamboyant donning thanks to the distinct flair of my wife. Believe it or not, you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. Fashion magazines are just not my thing and I trust the richness of my poor sense of fashion.

The least on my list was poetry. Poets are mystics at least in my world with ethereal etchings. This genre of writing comes with facility only to a select few. One needs a special inspiration to be able to figure out the argot of poetry. I love it if it is read out and staged out. I would not want to torture my already tortured feeble brains and so prefer to stay with the plain stuff. In fact, even as a gift, I swear it would wind up on my shelf left to gather the proverbial dust.

There was a whole section on food and drink. Even though I have a huge appetite for food, cooking is just one of those crafts that I lack not only the will power but also basic formation. The downside of attending a boarding school and also growing up in a house populated with sisters and aunts each trying to perfect their skills and outsmart each other. I know a good dish when I taste one even though I lack the mechanics of the process.

Guess what? If there were a cookbook with recipes for corn fufu, achu, eru, ndole, kati-kati, to name but these popular Cameroonian dishes, I would have rushed for it. Charity begins at home though while in Rome do as the Romans. Even my appetite for beer did not bring me close to getting Charles Bamforth’s “Beer is Proof God Loves Us: Reaching for the Soul of Beer and Brewing.

Only at personal peril will one not to turn to history for as they say we must look to the past in order to better live the present and plan for the future. It was a very interesting section on history broaching an assortment of issues from events to persons and then places. Unfortunately, these did not meet with my immediate needs and ranked very low on my scale of preference.

I love memoirs and biographies. Former President George Bush’s memoir published on this Tuesday November 9th paradoxically did not make it to the fair. This is so for obvious reasons. Sequel to this frustration and in protest, I could not care the least about the memoirs and biographies that were in display. By the way, buying books just for fun is not a level I have attained yet especially with a bleeding economy. Yet I would have given up everything to get a copy of Bush’s memoir autographed by him.

The Religious category especially within the background of this secular age should have been the first most compelling section for me not out of any pious overzealousness, pomposity or show off but rather for the very want of this piety. After all, it is the sick that need the doctor and the Spiritual doctor himself declared: I came for sinners.

You would bet that Mpho Tutu’s: “Made for Goodness: And why this makes all the difference” would make it to my desk. This is obviously so because even though resident in DC, this work is authored by one from the great continent of Africa – one of the few African authors in this mix. Has it not been proclaimed from rooftops that, “If you want to hide something from a Black person, put it in a book.”

Secondly, Mpho is the daughter of the revered Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu (co-author). After all, isn’t greatness somewhat genetical too? In addition, if not genetical, may be by association. This does not take away the strength of her own greatness. However, I imagined with her “priestessly” benediction, I too could become great by association even though as a Catholic this benediction would be anathema. I saved this for some other time.

Yet I had to defer to the “painful choice” of procuring Eugene Robinson’s “Disintegration – The Splintering of Black America.” I had passed around Gene’s table a couple of times while whiling away time but was not tickled enough; I finally decided to have an avant-gout not of his style (which I already relish in his column in the Washington Post) but of his content. He sure is the first African American author I am going to savor. The reason this text wound up in my hands is due to the major thesis of his assessment that there has been a seismic sociological paradigmatic shift in Black America. To talk of contemporary Black America in homogenous terms is not only disingenuous but also myopic. This resonated very much with me as I had toyed with this idea in an earlier article. What better validation could one get than this?

As I left the National Press Club, I wondered whether I had had a run for my money. Was this a worthwhile investment or expenditure? I am used to buying books mostly online where I normally get a good deal. In fact, I usually order a cheaper version of the same text especially when I get a used copy in excellent condition. I just checked on Amazon and Jack Fuller’s text which I bought for $25 now sells at $16.50 if I was buying it new and was I to get a used copy it would be $11.47. The entry on Amazon for Roy’s book is something like this: Buy new: $19.99 $12.98 37 new from $10.83 11 used from $10.02. I could get a used copy. So what was the deal with this book fair?

I am sure it had everything to do with getting the author’s autograph on purchased copies. With the autographs, these books take an added form: memorabilia. Roy and Fuller both asked me what I do. In response, I said I am testing the waters. In my autographed copy, Jack Fuller signed off with the words: “May you find the waters fine” while Roy penned off thus: “Our next great writer. Cheers.” It is in honor of these comments that I decided to bore you with these ramblings. In all, it was an evening well spent.

One Response

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