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Check It Out

Courier Article by Pam Locker
Sunday, October 19, 2003

Southern Festival of Books Revels in Printed Word

Last weekend two book-loving friends and I stole away to Nashville, Tennessee for the Southern Festival of Books. We reveled in book talk all weekend with thousands of other Festival attendees. This annual event is truly a reader's paradise – and it's free!

All three of us had read The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown (Doubleday, 2003), so we engaged in a spirited discussion in route about secret societies, which U.S. Presidents have been Masons (and why), the meaning of the Holy Grail, the Goddess in all of us, etc. If you haven't read this thrilling conspiracy novel yet, you are out of the loop. Stop by your local Evansville Public Library branch – you just might get lucky and find a nonholdable Best Seller Express copy right there on the shelf.

Several hundred authors, from the South as well as the rest of the nation, spoke in conference rooms at the Nashville Central Library and War Memorial Plaza. The most popular authors appeared on the stage of the large War Memorial Auditorium.

There Mitch Albom, the handsome and lively young author of the estimable Tuesdays with Morrie, expressively read passages from his new novel, The Five People You Meet in Heaven (Hyperion, 2003), which currently tops most best-seller charts. Like "Morrie," this work uses the life and death of a good man to relate some poignant lessons about what is really important in this complicated and sometimes disheartening world.

Guitar-picking novelist Clyde Edgerton provided a contrast to the rather sober Albom with humorous songs and readings from Lunch at the Piccadilly (Algonquin Books, 2003). His protagonist, ninety-something Lil Olive, finds adventure when she takes up residence in the Rosehaven Convalescence Center. It's hard to take life too seriously when chortling to songs like "Fat From Shame" and "How Come I Miss You When You're With Me All the Time?"

Garrison Keillor likewise had everyone in stitches. His new novel Love Me (Viking, 2003) is semi-autobiographical and relates the tale of a Minnesota author who writes a best-seller and abandons his social worker wife for fame and fortune in Manhattan. When his second novel bombs and he develops writer's block, he reassesses his priorities. Keiller, a genius at working a crowd, is a true Midwestern gem.

Browsing at the publishers' exhibits between sessions, I purchased a copy of Book Lust by Nancy Pearl (Sasquatch Books, 2003). Pearl, a Seattle Public Library employee who started the national One Book movement, has made the news lately as the prototype for a shushing librarian bobblehead doll. In "Lust" she provides "recommended reading for every mood, moment, and reason."

The big sessions with high profile authors are exciting, but it's really in the smaller sessions that one has time to interact with the authors.

Five popular mystery and suspense authors participated in a Sisters in Crime session on writing sex and gore. Here Kate Flora, author of Liberty or Death (Forge, 2003), explained the difference between mystery and suspense. In a mystery we are trying to figure out who did it, whereas in a suspense novel we know who the perpetrator is, and all the action is involved in trying to stop him.

Another small session – but one packed to capacity – featured Sue Miller, author of The Good Mother and While I Was Gone. In a strong but sad voice she described her role as caretaker during her professor father's lingering death from Alzheimer's Disease. The Story of My Father: A Memoir (Knopf, 2003) is medical writing at its best.

I've never heard of many of the authors who speak at the Festival. Listening to several newer authors read from their works in a session entitled "Stories from the Blue Moon Café II: An Anthology of Southern Writers," I was pleased to hear that my current favorite novel, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Nieffenegger (MacAdam Cage, 2003) is a breakout hit. MacAdam, a small independent publisher, has achieved its first major success with this whimsical novel about a "chronologically impaired" man who can't control his travels through time. It's hard to describe but wonderful to read.

Pam Locker is a librarian with the Evansville-Vanderburgh Public Library. The opinions expressed in this column are personal and do not reflect policies or official recommendations of EVPL.