A beautiful Fall day in Boston at a book festival – I thought it was heaven. I took the T to Copley Square and spent the entire day in the presentations with no break for lunch or browsing at the large number of booths.
A word about the venue. One of the events I attended was at Old South Church and one was at Trinity Church. Wow!!! Real church!!! Sorry to you home church people. I loved being in those places. Magnificence and majesty. The very places encouraged wonder and openness to the unknown and the surprising. Another workshop was at the Boston Public Library, in and of itself an architectural setting that overwhelmed the senses and gave a feeling of transcendence.
I attended four presentations.
1. Allan Dershowitz and Susan Abulhawa on the place of the novel in places of conflict. That is what it was supposed to be about until Ms. Abulhawa launched a screed at the Israelis. You don’t do that to Dershowitz without expecting nuclear warheads to be lobbed into your backyard. And it was nuclear war!! The irony to me is that Ms. Abulhawa is most famous for placing playgrounds in Palestinian territories and refugee camps. Seems Dr. Suess enough, but she demonstrated an attitude of hate and vitriol that made you wonder how the word “playground” could even occur to her. They both have novels that describe life in the zone of conflict and that was supposed to be the topic. Dershowitz presented first and did so without any reference to politics or sides. Abuhawa just couldn’t hold up her end of the bargain and launched into the “Israelis as butchers” mantra. That ruined the event, at least in terms of the announced topic. Dershowitz was more than ready to take her on if that is what she wanted to do. He combines the mouth of a megaphone and a mind like a computer. She was completely outside her level of competence.
2. I next attended “The Ancients” with presenters Caroline Alexander, Stacy Schiff and Sir Peter Stoddard. All have penned books about the ancient world of the Romans and Greeks and Egyptians in areas where we have precious little information – the war against Troy, Cleopatra and Spartacus. So the question was about how reliable is our information about these ancient episodes and how big books can be written about things for which we have so little information. Intriguing. I will have to read the works of these authors.
3. I quickly walked the street to the next venue to hear Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, talk about going from page to screen. He is pure Boston, hoodie and all. Thousands of people were at this event, and I was reminded how much a book can affect so many people and catch their attention. He described the process of going from a book of some several hundred pages to a screen play of 150 pages. So much has to get cut and to make the film work so much has to be added that is not in the book. Very interesting.
4. The last presentation was “Talking About Justice.” One of the presenters was Michael Sandel, a Harvard prof whose course on justice is one of the most popular at Harvard and which is all online. I use his stuff on my course on ethics I teach at Eastern Nazarene College and Massasoit Community College. He asserted that “private” moral convictions should be brought into the public square for discussion if there is to be a vital and relevant discussion about justice. This is the opposite of what so many believe. The public dialogue will be enriched and the hard work of moral decision making will be exposed to critique and kickback, both of which are necessary for truth to emerge.
The day was so busy that there was no time for a resting lunch. I found that an apple and two Snickers bars could get me through the day