I love volunteering for the Miami Book Fair.

For one week I get to focus on reading and authors.  I meet authors I’ve long admired and learn about authors I’ve managed to miss.  And in the process I catch glimpses into the world of the writer and of the book publishing industry.

This year I attended a literary death match held at Bardot, a local trendy night spot.   Four new young, published authors read from their works and competed for the praise of the judges and the adoration of the assembled masses.  In the meantime, a pop-up book exchange allowed the crowd a chance to pick through older books to find unread treasures.  I ended up with a slim volume by Isaac Asimov and a paperback by Joyce Carol Oates.  Who says reading isn’t cool?

Couldn’t resist having my photo taken with Da Chen.

But my highlight was meeting Da Chen, a Chinese memoirist and novelist, currently living in the U.S.

Not only was I introduced to writing about China and Chinese cultural that is engaging and authentic,  but Da Chen himself is a delightful human being.  I am now savoring his latest novel, My Last Empress.  And enjoying the personal Chinese calligraphy he did for me in lieu of signing the book (which I managed to forget to have with me).

Miami is often dismissed as a city with “no culture” and a superficial, brainless population.   But in 1984 Mitch Kaplan, a local book store owner, started a modest book fair which with the support of the Miami-Dade Community College and the residents of Miami has been transformed into the largest book fair in the U.S.   Now authors and people come from all over to participate and enjoy what the Miami Book Fair has to offer.

The bad news is that it’s over for this year.  And like a child after Christmas, I hate that I’ll have to wait a whole year before it rolls around again.

In the meantime, I’ll just have to content myself with all the new reading I’ve lined up to do.