I went to the Texas Book Festival in Austin two weekends ago. The weather was gorgeous and the authors were interesting and entertaining, even the ones that I wasn't that excited about seeing. The problem with the weekend, though, is that now I have a bunch of books added to my already impossibly long list of books that I want to read. When I picked the sessions for Sunday, I seriously thought about cutting out early and even not going at all, but I ended up staying all afternoon, and I am so glad that I did. What follows is a list of the authors that I saw and the books that I now want to read. (I started this post over a week ago, so excuse the lack of details for the Sunday sessions. I suck when it comes to posting regularly.)
Jane Smiley and Lucy Silag: I thought that I had read something of Smiley's, but after checking out her list of works, I'm fairly certain that I was mistaken. After hearing her talk about her writing, I definitely want to read something of hers, especially A Thousand Acres and maybe her new YA book, The Georges and the Jewels, which is what she is promoting right now. I already wanted to read her daughter's book Beautiful American, but I didn't know Silag was Smiley's daughter. I picked up an ARC of the book at last year's Texas Library Association's conference, but I haven't made time to read it yet. When I get to work tomorrow, I'm going to move it to the top of the to-read pile that I have there.
Colson Whitehead and ZZ Packer: The title of this session was About Race: Identity and American Fiction. Whitehead began by reading a very funny satirical piece about post-racial America then he read an excerpt from his most recent novel Sag Harbor. I have read and really enjoyed his earlier novel The Institutionist, and I think I started his novel John Henry Days several years ago after I saw him read here in Houston. After hearing the excerpt from Sag Harbor, I really want to read this book. ZZ Packer read from an article that she wrote about Reconstruction. The she read part of a short story from her book Drinking Coffee Elsewhere, which I have read already and highly recommend. She is currently working on a novel about the Buffalo Soldiers and Reconstruction--can't wait to read it now. After they read, there was a discussion about race and American fiction, which was very interesting.
Jim Crace, Johnathan Lethem, Robert Olen Butler, and David Eagleman: This panel was very interesting, but, unfortunately, I had to leave early to get to the location where Margaret Atwood was speaking. I was there long enough to hear each of the authors talk about their most recent books: Being Dead (Crace), Chronic City (Lethem), Hell (Butler), and Sum: Forty Tales from the Afterlife (Eagleman). It was very funny when Eagleman talked about people coming to his appearances, thinking that he was going to talk about the afterlife from a neuroscientist's point of view and being surprised that the book is fiction. I have to admit that I was one of those people. :-) I have never read any of their works, but I think now that I will definitely try to read some of them.
Margaret Atwood: She is the main reason I wanted to go to the festival. I have seen her once before. I think she was the first author that I ever went to a reading by and Alias Grace was definitely my first signed book. I LOVE Atwood's writing, and I think she is such a smart, funny woman that I don't think I would ever be disappointed by her or miss any opportunity to see her in person. I already have The Year of the Flood, and I will probably read it as soon as I finish Howard's End, the current selection of my book club.
Michael H. Marvins: Texas' Big Bend: A Photographic Adventure from the Pecos to the Rio Grande is about a place that I LOVE. I've been there twice and look forward to going back some day. I liked the photos that Marvins showed during his talk, so I bought this book--Surprise! Surprise! But it was the only book that I bought all weekend, which is really good for me.
PC Cast and Kristen Cast: This mother-daughter team are the creators of the House of Night series, a young adult vampire series. There are currently six novels available in this series: Marked, Betrayed, Chosen, Untamed, Hunted, and Tempted. I really don't like vampire stories, not even Twilight, but I went to this session anyway because some of my students have read the series and have asked if I will get it for the library. Last year, one of my co-workers read the books and said she felt like they were too mature for 7th and 8th graders. One of my 8th grade students who has read the books said she thought they would be inappropriate in our library. Still, I thought I would check out the authors, and I'm glad that I did. They were very entertaining women, who are very concerned about empowering young women. Plus the mother used to be a high school English teacher. She doesn't know it, but we bonded over both those points. According to PC, the vampirism in these books is based in biology, something about junk DNA, something that I know nothing about but it made the books sound more interesting to me than the usual vampire books. I'm going to read Marked, the first book in the series, and see if it really is too mature for my school's library.
Jonathan Safran Foer, Novella Carpenter, James Sheehan, James E. McWilliams: This panel was hosted by an Atlantic Monthly writer, Corby Kummer, and I think it was the best panel of the weekend. Each person briefly described the genesis of their most recent books: Eating Animals (Foer), Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer (Carpenter), Cooking Dirty: A Story of Life, Sex, Love and Death in the Kitchen (Sheehan), and Just Food: Where Locavores Get It Wrong and How We Can Truly Eat Responsibly (McWilliams). Kummer had obviously read all three books and asked pertinent questions, and the panelists were not afraid to voice differing opinions on how we should eat, where we should eat, and where we should shop for food. (I wish I had made notes or posted this a week ago). There was talk of factory farming and the ridiculousness of farm bills and how the farm lobby does nothing to help change the status quo. I try my best to shop locally and by free range/grass fed meat, sometimes organic and sometimes not, but I learned that all those terms don't always mean what they connote. I'm a meateater, and I can't really see myself ever giving it up completely, but this panel gave me a lot to think about, and I'm putting two of these books on my to-read list, Eating Animals and Locavores. As my regular reader(s) knows, I'm not big on non-fiction, but I think I might have to start reading more of it.
Jessica Lee Anderson, Libba Bray, and Sara Zarr: These are all young adult authors. I've read one book by Bray and one by Zarr, but I've not read their most recent works. This panel was very entertaining, thanks mostly to the antics of Bray, who definitely wanted to be the star of the panel, and the rather dry humor of Zarr, who didn't seem like she wanted to play second fiddle to bray. I was especially interested in hearing/seeing Zarr because she is a self-professed (former?) struggling reader and an admitted slow reader (me too!) who writes realistic fiction, which is much more to my taste than all the vampire/fantasy novels that everyone and their dog is writing these days. After hearing these authors, I think I would like to read all of their most recent works: Border Crossing (Anderson), Going Bovine (Bray)--is that a great title or what!--and Once Was Lost (Zarr). This was the last panel of the weekend for me.
I had a really great time at the Texas Book Festival, and I was pretty geeky impressed by the fact that I was sitting in the Senate chamber and House chamber for some of theses panels. My final assessment of the weekend's events: I'm never going to get my to-read list down to a manageable number.