Guest Post: Mr. Bacon Goes to the National Book Festival

Many of my readers have been demanding that Mr. Bacon have his own blog. If I were to allow him to do that I’d have few readers left, so instead I’ve allowed Mr. Bacon to write a guest post. Enjoy.

I don't see what the big deal is about writing a book. If it wasn't for these tiny fingers I'd have written dozens by now.

I time-traveled yesterday. The Washington, D.C., Metro system transported me to the National Mall and a scene right out of the 19th Century — a world filled with people who enjoy an antiquated source of amusement called a “book.”

Leave it to a bunch of librarians, in this case the U.S. Library of Congress, to organize something called the National Book Festival. This annual event features authors reading from and signing odd assortments of paper covered in ink and bound by glue.

I wanted to tell the thousands of attendees roaming from tent to tent that they need to join the 21st Century. If you want to be entertained, watch a video of a kitten stuck in a tissue box. If you want to learn something, your Twitter feed will tell you everything you need to know in 140 characters or less.

Bibliophilus Americanis is a strange species. Squirrles gather nuts but these creatures were gathering books. I think I'd rather eat an acorn.

Not surprisingly, the authors of these “books” had a different perspective. Adam Goodheart is a New York Times journalist and author of 1861: The Civil War Awakening. It’s a New York Times bestseller. (Does no one else see the irony of the dead technology of newspapers tracking the sale of the dead technology of books?) In writing his book, Goodheart chose not to spend hours every day watching viral videos. Instead he spent his days in the Library of Congress Reading Room, perusing letters and journals written by 19th Century Americans. That experience obviously did something terrible to his brain, because he had this to say about the poetic style of writing he encountered:

These people read Byron, the King James Bible. Their brains hadn’t been infected by this pop-culture styrofoam. I don’t think the tweets of today will carry the same weight.

Note how this creature, like a kangaroo and her pouch, has an additional appendage for toting the books he gathers.

That’s the kind of perspective I’d expect from someone who needed 460 pages to tell a story. I was able to write this entire post in fewer than 1,000 words, Mr. Author Man.

If I can give Goodheart one prop, it’s his sharing of a very wise quote by some dead author named Arthur Koestler. I like the quote both because it’s true and because it’s less than 140 characters:

To want to meet an author because you like his books is as ridiculous as wanting to meet the goose because you like pate de foie gras.

Like Goodheart, Joel Achenbach is confused. He also writes books and is a newspaper reporter for The Washington Post. But he should know better, because he’s been blogging since 1999. Anyhow, here’s how old-fashioned Achenbach is. When he wanted to learn more about deep-sea oil drilling while writing the book A Hole at the Bottom of the Sea: The Race to Kill the BP Oil Gusher, he said he actually went to the library (!) and checked out a 1,000 page book (!) on the subject. He’d start each day with a cup of coffee and the book, apparently forgetting that we’re supposed to start our day by catching up with our Facebook feed.

Is it just me, or does bestelling author and Washington Post reporter Joel Achenbach want to eat me?

While researching the book, Achenbach also read thousands of emails written by government officials and scientists. I’ll give him credit for at least reading written works produced in digital form, although I bet he printed them out.

Achenbach made note of the fact that the organizers had him speaking in a large tent, and compared it to another American tradition also found mostly in the past, a revival. Then he showed his true colors. “Let me tell you about newspapers!” he called out in his best preacher voice. “Books!” The audience ate it up, but of course they suffer from the same disease he does, printophilia.

I am offended. Everyone knows B is for Bacon.

At first I took comfort in the type of attendees I saw there. Thinning gray hair. Crumpled spines. Liver spots. Heck, a lot of these folks probably remember 1861. But then I saw others. Thirty-somethings. Twenty-somethings. Young parents with children. And not one kid was screaming bloody murder, demanding to be returned immediately to his X-Box. Wait, what?

Some parts of our culture never truly die. We’ve had automobiles for a century now, but somebody, somewhere, still manufactures buggy whips. But do you own a buggy whip? I sure don’t. I want to live in a world free of any narrative that takes me longer to read than it does for my Netflix stream to buffer. But I’ll never see that world if we produce a new generation of “readers.”

More than 200 people had queued for David McCullough's book signing an hour before he arrived. If the Pulitzer winner's next biography profiled me, the National Mall wouldn't be big enough for the queue.

Americans love to blame Washington, D.C., for every national ailment. And they’re almost always right to do so. But I learned during my time travel today that the real obstacle to our ideal future is not the collection of crooks we find in the U.S. Capitol, but a more shadowy and sinister cabal in the building across the street — the Library of Congress.

Heck with the “tea party.” We need a “book party.” When this eureka moment struck me, I approached a young woman wearing a blue “National Book Festival” T-shirt. She was attractive, so much so that she should have been home sleeping off last night’s clubbing, not volunteering at an information tent and handing out free (!) water. I told her we need a revolution. We need a “book party.” She smiled and said, “But we already have one. This is it!”

30 thoughts on “Guest Post: Mr. Bacon Goes to the National Book Festival

  1. I love this post!

    I am reminded that I need to get the kids to DC before my mom stops working for the Library of Congress so she can give them a behind the scenes tour. I loved seeing the internal book delivery system for the first time.


    1. Mr. Bacon here: I appreciate the praise for my post, but am suspicious of what type of “book party” you want. And I believe, Julia, that I’ll be in your neck of the woods soon. Please keep your frying pans at a safe distance.


  2. Mr. Bacon, I found your post amusing. As a bibliophile who finds your disdain for the printed word a bit disturbing, I am curious what your opinion is of the Kindle.

    PS – If you think Goodheart’s book is long, you should have seen the Affordable Health Care for America Act.


    1. Mr. Bacon here: Sue, the Kindle is a monstrosity. It increases the book market, encouraging these authors to keep writing. And you know, I hear some of those enviro nuts rave about how the Kindle saves trees. I say bring on global warming; I’m built to survive far better than humans.


  3. Mr. Bacon sure gets around! In Arizona last week, DC this week! This is hilarious. Mr. Bacon has SOME sense of humor. I LOVE that Joel Achenbach posed with Mr. Bacon (how’d he manage that? Charm him with his wit?)…

    What a refreshing post, despite someone’s initial cynicism … a new generation of readers would be so lovely. Yes – love the term “printophilia.” Long live PAPER AND INK (I’m dragging my heels in the dirt over e -readers. Still. For me, personally, there’s just something about the tactile experience with a real book. Though I confess, I have downloaded a book – Jessica McCann’s ALL DIFFERENT KINDS OF FREE to my hubby’s iPad… Need to see what all this hype is that Mr. Bacon’s bragging about.)


  4. Anonymous

    Mr Bacooooon!!!! Can I get a “WHAT WHAT??” A high five!? You are the most awesome guest poster ever!!

    Though … I do happen to like books. So what, am I a musty old loser then? Well then, if you really feel that way … the engagement is OFF.


  5. This is too ridiculously good. Mr. Bacon turns out to be a good writer!

    Now what, pray tell, does he say to THAT? I can see book deals being offered any minute now.

    (Though there might be a scandal when it’s discovered Mr. Bacon has a ghostwriter because his fingers are too dinky for the keyboard ;~)

    Oh, but wait. I’m being rude and talking about you as if you weren’t in the room. Mr. Bacon, I applaud you (and laugh loudly) at the Arthur Koestler quote that you chose for your guest blog appearance. Your photo captions were rather snappy, as well. And you have a talent for choosing the best backdrop for your photo ops. You’ve really got quite a few talents for the modern age, especially since you thrive on social media.

    I predict you’ll end up in a book. Squashed between the pages by an angry author or starring *on* the page as the main character . . . we’ll see which one it’s to be.


    1. I am in the room and you are not, but I will address you anyway. I had no ghostwriter, although Patrick (who as an Irishman is almost as pale as a ghost) did take my dictation. I’m made of pork, but he has big sausage fingers.

      I take your prediction of book squashing as a personal threat, and will be on the lookout for a woman carrying a “Fear of Writing” book in her hand.


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  8. “I want to live in a world free of any narrative that takes me longer to read than it does for my Netflix stream to buffer. But I’ll never see that world if we produce a new generation of ‘readers.'” Love the whole thing, including the photo captions. Where on earth did you find, er, meet … Mr. Bacon?


    1. The figure himself was a birthday gift from my daughter last year. He accompanied us on a short family vacation that I documented in a slide show on a post:

      Do you know he then went viral? A bunch of other writer’s blogs asked permission to have Mr. Bacon appear on their blogs:

      And a few more I’m sure I’ve missed. It was… unusual.


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