In an effort to “create great content”, I have been searching for bookish things to do around DC. At the same time, I am a baller on a budget and would like things to be free or cheaper. Enter the Library of Congress National Book Festival

Two friends and I decided to hit the DC Convention Center last Saturday, and check out the festival. Started in 2001 by then-first lady Laura Bush, the Library of Congress National Book Festival is an annual event that brings together best-selling authors and bookworms for author talks, panel discussions, book signings and tons of other activities. The authors scheduled for 2018 had me like


The festival also had books for sale (including some that weren’t yet released), booths for major literary brands, and a CSPAN mini-studio where authors were interviewed throughout the day.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor
Sonia Sotomayor greets crowd at National Book Fest
Justice Sotomayor working the crowd at the 2018 Library of Congress National Book Festival

“I am only where I am because of books!” 

– Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was at the festival to promote her new children’s book, Turning Pages: My Life Story /Pasando páginas: La historia de mi vida. Listening to Justice Sotomayor discuss the challenges she faced growing up to become the first Latina (and only 3rd woman) appointed to the Supreme Court was very inspiring. Justice Sotomayor wrote this book to help kids understand and face challenges as well as share her love of books. She stated that it’s extremely important to her that her books are published in England and Spanish, at the same time. I loved her insistence that access to her books in Spanish is not an afterthought but a priority. And if you are trying to learn Spanish (or “re-learn” Spanish like I am), she says that reading her books will help, and to “buy both!” Supreme Court Justice, Sales Lady Extraordinaire. After her interview with the Librarian of Congress, Carla Hayden, Justice Sotomayor answered questions from the audience, and walked around while answering them, shaking hands and taking photos with her fans. She appreciated that everyone came out to see her speak, and thought it wasn’t fair that the people in the back of the auditorium couldn’t see her, so she went about fixing that.

“You have to read a lot. Especially as the president.”

Justice Sotomayor with some not so subtle shade
Amy Tan
Author Amy Tan at 2018 national book festival
Author Amy Tan taking questions from the audience

Amy Tan, author of The Joy Luck Club, was the session in between Justice Sotomayor and Madeleine Albright. While I am aware of The Joy Luck Club and it’s importance as both a book and film, I had never read any of Tan’s work. That will change in the very near future. Tan was promoting her memoir “book about writing” Where the Past Begins: A Writer’s MemoirListening to Tan describe events in her life, from the deaths of her brother and father in rapid succession, her mother’s subsequent struggle with mental health and then with Alzheimer’s, to being in NYC walking home from the CNN studios on 9/11 and watching the WTC towers fall, was fascinating. She uses all of these experiences to inform her writing. I didn’t intend to attend this interview, but I am so glad I did.

Madeleine Albright
Madeleine Albright and David Rubenstein at the National Book Festival
Former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright

Madeleine Albright is one of my personal heroes, and my primary motivation for attending the National Book Festival. I am a foreign policy junkie, and as a former Ambassador and Secretary of State, Albright has had my dream career. The opportunity to see her speak was worth navigating huge crowds (not my fave) and dealing with out of control children. Albright, promoting her newest book, Fascism: A Warning, was interviewed by gazillionaire financier/philanthropist and National Book Festival Co-Chair, David Rubenstein. They kicked off the interview by chatting about how Albright had come straight from attending Senator McCain’s funeral, and a little bit about her friendship with the late senator. Rubenstein then asked questions that led Albright through her childhood as a diplomat’s daughter and refugee, and her career as a journalist, congressional aide, White House Advisor, ambassador, professor, and 64th Secretary of State. Her story is riveting and awe-inspiring, and she had very humorous anecdotes that she sprinkled throughout the interview. They ended with a discussion on fascism in history, and how there are current leaders today that exhibit the tendencies of fascist regimes. Not exactly a shocker, but Albright is really frickin’ smart and I learned a lot during her interview.

Tips to Survive a Book Festival
Library of Congress National Book Festival haul
Book Haul from the National Book Festival

  • Get there early. We arrived at 10am, and the place was already hopping. By the time we left at 3:30pm, we were basically forced to shove people out of the way to get out of the building. And this was with the exceptionally well run crowd control and organization by the LoC and their partners.
  • Have a plan of attack. Rookies that we were, when we arrived, we went to the exhibit hall and visited vendors and browsed the books for sale before heading to the main hall. If we’d been earlier, we’d have had better seats for Justice Sotomayor’s and subsequent presentations. If we’d been later, we likely wouldn’t have gotten in into the main hall. Luckily, once you were in, you could stay for all the following presentations (and if you are speedy, you can upgrade your seat in between sessions). But if you leave, you have to get in line again. Basically, once you were in, you had to stay in the room to guarantee you got to see the speakers you wanted (bathroom breaks with a hall pass were allowed). Sacrifices are a part of life, and making sure I got to see my girl Madeleine Albright meant I had to miss Ron Chernow’s panel. So pick your number one Must See presentation, and plan for that to knock out most of your day even if the presentation is an hour. And go to the exhibit hall early in the morning or at the end of the day. I’d recommend going at the end of the day so you can make a list of books you want to purchase as you hear authors speak (I wanted to add 3 Amy Tan book to my haul after I was “forced” to attend her presentation to see Madeleine, and wanted to get Justice Sotomayor’s book in English and Spanish to aid in my language learning).
  • Bring a Friend. Sure, having someone to hang out with and chat with is nice. But once inside the main hall, you could only leave and come back if you got a 15 minute “hall pass” to go to the bathroom. Having a buddy means you can hold seats without having to leave an item to hold a seat, and rotate bathroom and food runs. Or someone can do recon for better seats while someone else holds down the ones you have.
  • Bring a backpack and snacks. LoC put the fear of god in us about bag size and security, so I only took a small crossbody bag with “the essentials” (my planner, phone charger, wallet, chapstick and a cardigan #bitcheslovecardigans). This meant I didn’t have a bottle of water, snacks, or a comfortable way to carry my book haul. Apparently, backpacks were allowed, and so was bringing in your own food and beverage. Remember how you were barely allowed to leave the main hall once you got in? This meant I didn’t get lunch, and was so hungry by 3:30 that I had to leave to get food and ended up not staying for Doris Kearns Goodwin. So bring rations to get you through the day.
  • If you are interested in watching any of the interviews, the National Book Festival’s Facebook page posted a video of all the interviews consolidated.

    I really enjoyed my day out at the National Book Festival, and I am already excited for next year’s event. And with some experience under my belt, I will be better prepared for a day at the Convention Center.

    Have you ever been to a book festival?

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