Friday night I was able to hear Eric Larson at the Savannah Book Festival. It was an enjoyable lecture, even if I felt it was a bit canned. He could have given this lecture anywhere in the English speaking world, but that’s okay, for it my first time hearing it. His talk had appropriate humor, often directed at himself along with some insights into his methodology, which I most appreciated. He also got a hardy laugh when he announced his next book (Killing Bill O’Reilly). There was a good question and answer section afterwards, but I wish someone would have asked him what he thought about Bill O’Reilly’s Killing (you add the name-Jesus, Patton, Lincoln, Kennedy, Reagan) books and about O’Reilly as a historian.
I was a bit surprised to learn that Larson doesn’t think of himself as a historian. Instead, he sees himself as an animator of history, trying to weave a historical accurate story together in a manner that allows the reader to feel as if he or she was there at the time of the event. Instead of trying to inform, he’s trying to create a rich experience for the reader. As with his latest book, Dead Wake, which is about the Lusitania, Larson said it was harder for we all know the ending of the story (the ship sinks) but he wants his readers to feel as if maybe this time it won’t. Certainly, those who were on board did not think the ship would be sunk until after it was struck by a torpedo. Larson acknowledges a desire to write about things that are not as well know and that while there was much written about the Lusitania, most of it focused on the sinking itself and the aftermath (the hearings and the court battles). If you’ve read the book, you’ll remember that Larson focuses mostly on the passengers and life aboard the ship as it crossed the Atlantic (along with the life of the crew of the U-boat). This allows him to create a different perspective from much of what had already been written about the ship.
After the lecture, I was invited to a party which where there were a lot of other authors at the Savannah Book Festival. I met a few of them. I would have enjoyed listening to more of them, but the Saturday of the festival events are in a half-dozen different venues downtown and with my limited mobility, I just couldn’t see myself hobbling from one venue to another (and I still am unable to drive)
In other news, as you all heard, Antonin Scalia died this weekend. He’s the only Supreme Court Justice that I have meet personally. In 2003, I heard him speak at Calvin College and was at a wine and cheese reception with him afterwards. Needless to say, I didn’t always agree with him, but my condolences goes out to his family and those who do. However, our country has a unique opportunity and I hope Obama seizes the moment. Ted Cruz said that if Obama nominates a successor to Scalia, he personally will filibuster the nominee. What a great idea. I hope the President nominates someone this afternoon. Send Cruz back to Washington where he can be relegated to C-Span… Now what can we do to shut up the rest of the candidates and find a bit of peace? The eternal election cycle that has taken over American politics needs to stop!