Monday, September 29, 2008
I just got back from a whirlwind weekend in Washington, D.C., in the company of 70 authors, illustrators and poets at the National Book Festival. Below is a videotape -- a webcast -- of my address in front of 250 people gathered in a pavillion on the National Mall last weekend (Sept. 27). I followed Eleanor Clift, a famous reporter with Newsweek, discussing her moving book, Two Weeks of Life, about hospice care. And following me were Pauline and Arthur Frommer, the famous father-daughter travel writing team (who gave a great talk and were wonderful to meet). The weekend for authors invited to participate in the eighth annual event started the night before at a gala event at the Library of Congress' Jefferson Building. Dinner was in the newly renovated Great Hall, whose sweeping marble steps we climbed to the second floor, with its painted domed ceilings, to get to our assigned tables. Joining us were President and Mrs. Bush and their daughter Jenna. It wasn't known in advance that the President would be there -- and, frankly, it was quite a surprise, especially since lawmakers were working through the weekend on Capitol Hill. On my way to the dinner that night -- after having stepped off the Metro train -- I saw the brightly lit building — you couldn’t miss it — and knew that they were all inside, working on a bailout plan. Whatever your politics and whatever you think of Bush, it was nice to see him support reading and the book festival. Before the First Lady's speech, a military band began playing "Hail to the Chief," then an announcer said, "Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States." Mrs. Bush spoke and, after four authors also addressed the audience, Laura Bush was presented with a Living Legend award for her efforts throughout her stay as First Lady to promote public libraries and fight illiteracy. After breakfast the next day, in the State Dining Room inside the East Wing of the White House, I met Laura Bush. My good friend and former editor, Charlene (or Charlie) Fern, asked me to be sure and say "hello" to Mrs. Bush for her. Charlene was Mrs. Bush's speech writer for many years. I didn't have the chance; while Mrs. Bush shook my hand, she shook others' as well as she moved from one author to the next. I didn't want to keep her, so I simply said "Hello." Earlier, at 6:30 a.m. (I arrived early for breakfast, walking from Pennsylvania Avenue, where the taxi driver dropped me, to the southeast gate of the White House, where I was allowed through a guard shack (as employees call the gates) to the entrance of the East Wing. Another guard announced my presence and a Navy officer escorted me to the First Lady's official receiving room. It overlooked the White House lawn. I sat in an antique armchair and thumbed through a copy of Pawprints of Katrina and chose the passages I would read at my presentation on the Mall. I was there about 20 minutes when poet Michael Lind joined me, whom I'd never met before. We had a pleasant conversation as we waited to be called. A few minutes later, another officer opened the door to the receiving room and escorted us to the State Dining Room. We passed Jacqueline Kennedy's garden. The uniformed people -- from the black-and-white clad Secret Service people, to the Naval personnel in white and the White House employees in red, were friendly as they greeted us. I can't even describe the feeling of being in the White House. Simply put, I had a deep sense of those who had walked through those hallways in the very same rooms I stood in. A grand piano, where a military pianist played as we walked by, was emblazened with golden eagles. In the State Dining Room, where I sat with Library of Congress employees, I couldn't help but notice the green marble mantel, restored during the Kennedy renovation. My mother, author Eileen Rose Busby, went to the White House in 1977 for the inaugeration of CIA Director Admiral Stansfield Turner, my late-mother's brother-in-law. I would have loved for her to be with me last weekend. She would have enjoyed every minute. To view the webcast of my talk, go here, then click onto "webcast." And go here to read an article by writer Sandy Miller about the weekend in D.C.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
I had the good fortune of being invited to participate in the 2008 National Book Festival this weekend, Saturday, Sept. 27, in Washington, D.C. I'll be giving a 30-minute talk on the National Mall and signing books, plus there's a dinner and entertainment the night before with 70 authors and First Lady Laura Bush, along with her daughter, Jenna. Then there's breakfast the next morning at the White House. The event is sponsored by the U.S. Library of Congress. The Saturday book festival is open to the public. I'm really looking forward to spending time with fellow authors and hearing about their latest books. I'll write a blog or two from the Capitol, telling you all about it. --Cathy
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Not much else for me to add about David Foster Wallace's recent suicide. Just very sad. His accomplishments weren't measured by the awards or accolades he accumulated; his readers to his body of work, instead, are a testament to his success. One of his statements, in an interview with Salon.com, is haunting: There's so much mass commercial entertainment that's so good and so slick, this is something that I don't think any other generation has confronted. That's what it's like to be a writer now. I think it's the best time to be alive ever and it's probably the best time to be a writer. I'm not sure it's the easiest time. ... I get the feeling that a lot of us, privileged Americans, as we enter our early 30s, have to find a way to put away childish things and confront stuff about spirituality and values." In 2005, he gave a speech at Kenyon College. In it, he said: Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience. Because if you cannot exercise this kind of choice in adult life, you will be totally hosed. Think of the old cliché about quote the mind being an excellent servant but a terrible master. This, like many clichés, so lame and unexciting on the surface, actually expresses a great and terrible truth. It is not the least bit coincidental that adults who commit suicide with firearms almost always shoot themselves in: the head. They shoot the terrible master. And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually dead long before they pull the trigger. David Foster Wallace wrote his first novel at age 24. He hanged himself at 46. Very sad indeed. Illustration by Harry Aung
Friday, September 12, 2008
Here's the latest interview with me about Pawprints of Katrina, this one in Best Friends magazine in its Sept/Oct issue (circulation 300,000). To read the interview, click here. To learn more about the book, click here.
Tuesday, September 02, 2008
Pawprints of Katrina Reviewed by Kathryn Reed Reprinted with permission by Mountain News Tears flowed nearly every time I picked up Pawprints of Katrina: Pets Saved and Lessons Learned. Part of it was the raw emotion of remembering driving around last summer during the Angora Fire with Bailey, my 14-year-old black Lab who I had to put down in February. Part of it was knowing this month marks the third anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and still New Orleans has only half the population it did prior to the catastrophe. And part of it was learning about the senseless loss of so many four-legged family members. Most of it was the incredible dedication of so many volunteers who spent hours helping save thousands of animals who otherwise would have perished. Cathy Scott, the author, captures the chaos, the love, the drama, the sense of urgency, the harrowing rescues and dedication like a true journalist. I suppose I'm a bit biased, but I think journalists write these sorts of books the best – they are trained to observe and then tell a story. Scott immersed herself in the rescue efforts, sleeping on the ground at Camp Tylertown, a refuge set up by Best Friends Animal Society. I’ve known Scott since we worked together at the Las Vegas Sun in the 1990s. She was a reporter, I was an editor. She’s written several books, though the only other one I’ve read of hers was about Tupac Shakur. Scott lived in Vegas when the rapper was killed. This book, about saving the pets of Katrina, is so much more compelling. Even though I had read countless newspaper stories and seen television coverage of the animal rescues, it wasn’t until I read this book that it sunk in how devastating and miraculous it truly was. Scott went to the hurricane ravaged region to write a story. She ended up staying. Working. Leaving. Returning. And finally she wound up with a full-time writing job for Best Friends Animal Society’s magazine and website. The book is not just about the animals. It also delves into who the rescuers are. The lengths rescuers went to to reunite people with their animals was incredible. The hours involved in nursing so many back to health. The foster families, the adopted families, the owner who didn’t give-up on finding their animals, the owners who knew it was better if someone else took over the caregiving. Pawprints of Katrina touches on the multitude of rescue organizations, though it focuses on Best Friends. And then it talks about lessons learned, including federal legislation that mandates animal shelters be set up when people shelters are erected. That was one of the horrors of Katrina, people being separated from their pets. Tears flowed for the happy stories – like Red, a disabled Staffordshire Terrier, who learned to get around with a cart. Not every story has a happy ending. But the struggles and heartache are real. They needed to be written about and need to be read. Amazon.com lists Pawprints of Katrina as one of its “Hot New Releases.”