November 9th, 2008 | by JOHN MINERVINI News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, Multnomah County

TOME RAIDER: Live at Wordstock, Day 2 >> Live Wire!, Comics and Politics Panel, H.W. Brands

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Each week, WW writer John Minervini brings you the latest in book reviews, author Q&A's and Portland literary gossip. Click here to join the Tome Raider mailing list.

Remember Who Framed Roger Rabbit? The scene where Judge Doom is describing his vision to demolish Toontown and build a giant freeway? Here's a clip to refresh your memory:

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Well, imagine that Christopher Lloyd had been talking about a book fair—and that he wasn't so horribly sinister—and you've got a good idea of the Wordstock exhibitor's hall at the Portland Convention Center. It's books, books as far as the eye can see, eight lanes of beautiful books from here to Pasadena! And seriously, you can't turn your head without seeing somebody famous, or at least somebody dressed up silly. (Click here to check out WW's must-see guide to Wordstock).

Here's a recap of some of the best events from Day 2. Let's start with the crown jewel:

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Jonathan Coulton and John Hodgman perform at the fourth annual Live Wire! Wordstock Extravaganza.

Live Wire!: 8 pm @ the Aladdin Theater

There's just something about Courtenay. Although Live Wire! Host Courtenay Hameister's questions to her guests may seem deceptively casual and unrehearsed, she nevertheless consistently manages to coax poignant and funny answers out of these musicians, writers and celebrities.


    “I believe there is phantom limb pleasure, but people don't call their doctors about it that often.” - Lynda Barry




That was certainly true at last night's (Nov. 8) fourth annual Live Wire! Wordstock Extravaganza at McMenamin's Aladdin Theater. Guests were world slam poetry champion Anis Mojgani, NPR crazy lady Sandra Tsing Loh, This I Believe producer Jay Allison, songwriter McKinley, cartoonist Lynda Barry, graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel, minor TV celebrity & evil genius John Hodgman, troubadour Jonathan Coulton and musical guests The Long Winters. Whew.

Despite being three hours long—it lasted from 8 to 11 pm—the show was a hit. Highlights included a Hemingway video game skit, in which players develop level-by-level from a talented journalist into an embittered, overweight, impotent celebrity novelist; a discussion of phantom limbs with Lynda Barry; a surprisingly frank discourse on fame by John Hodgman; and a joint musical number by Hogdman, Coulton, and the Long Winters. Perhaps toasting Steve Martin's The Jerk, they sang the darling ballad “You Belong to Me.”

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The program was unified by a series of so-so monologues lampooning NPR's This I Believe. Who knows? Maybe they played better on the radio. Other themes included rampant Obama jingo and a seemingly reticent Alison Bechdel. Was she cranky? And seriously, can we declare a moratorium on blatant shilling for Barack ovations? Portland has been shouting its approval for a week, and frankly, we're hoarse. Time to take all that energy and use it to hold the Obamadministration accountable.


    “I think that here in Portland, there has always been a lot less emphasis on...law and order. And that goes all the way back to...Paul Bunyan or whoever.” - The Long Winters' John Roderick




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From left to right: Patrick Rosenkranz, Spain Rodriguez, Alison Bechdel and David Wolk at a panel on comics and politics

Comics and Politics Panel: 1 pm @ the University of Oregon Stage

No one knew quite what to expect from this star-studded panel—including Spain Rodriguez (Trashman), Alison Bechdel (Dykes to Watch Out For), Patrick Rosenkranz (Rebel Visions) and moderator Douglas Wolk—but people sure showed up in droves. The audience seating area at the University of Oregon's nonfiction stage was just about full, packed with a diverse crowd of conservative-looking grandmas, glossy hipsters, balding middle-aged comic geeks, weird dreadlocky people and stylish lesbians.


    “Arm the vagrants!” - Spain Rodriguez, remembering a slogan of New York political activists the Resurgence Youth Movement.




The panel was interesting, but I don't know if you could call it a success. The problem was twofold: a mopy Alison Bechdel and a characteristically politically incorrect Spain Rodriguez. Bechdel seemed to bristle at the fact that some of her slides had not made it into the powerpoint, and she gave mainly clipped answers to Wolk's questions for the rest of the hour. Rodriguez kept trying to engage her by telling random (and borderline inappropriate) stories about life on the Lower East Side and his flamboyant gay acquaintances. But that just seemed to make Bechdel recede farther into her shell. Ultimately, the announced topic—comics and politics—suffered because of this bad blood.

One fun observation. At times, when graphic artists talk, the rhythm of their speech mimics the cadence of cells in a comic strip. Rodriguez especially seemed as though he were talking in speech bubbles, with discrete thoughts separated by percussive uh-uh-uh's that might as well have been dividing one illustration from another.

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Historian HW Brands and his new book, Traitor to his Class

H.W. Brands: 12 pm @ the University of Oregon Stage

The University of Oregon nonfiction stage was definitely yesterday's hot ticket. In addition to hosting the comics and politics panel, it also boasted Band of Brothers veteran Don Malarkey, NPR's Jay Allison and historian H.W. Brands. Brands recently wrote Traitor to His Class (Doubleday, 896 pages, $35), a book that is rapidly becoming the authoritative one-volume biography of Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

On the face of it, a reading from a presidential biography didn't sound as stimulating as some of the other events going on at the same time—for instance, a discussion with NYT-bestselling mystery writer Philip Margolin (Columbia Sportswear Stage). But on a whim, I decided to give the historian a chance.

It was worth it. Brands, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin, really knows how to work a crowd—or rather, a lecture hall. He focused on the relationship between FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt, telling illuminating and intimate stories about the private lives of America's first power couple. His historiography was made all the more relevant by the recent presidential run of Hillary Clinton (an Eleanor for the new millennium) and the current political climate facing President-Elect Barack Obama, who has already promised a few solutions reminiscent of Roosevelt's New Deal.


    “I think it's possible that Theodore Roosevelt wrote more books during his life than Franklin Roosevelt ever read.” - HW Brands




Wordstock attendees were particularly interested to learn that FDR, for all his populist wisdom, wasn't a reader. Brands doubted aloud if he could name fifty books that Roosevelt had read in his entire life, excluding dime mysteries.
 
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