Monday, October 10, 2011

Countdown to Southern Festival of Books 2011: Less Than One Week!

As the school year goes on, I'm able to spend less and less time reading and -- therefore -- blogging. However, this Friday I'm taking a small break from teaching to attend the Southern Festival of Books, which I think is both a positive for me personally and professionally. Although many of the authors I meet or hear speak at SFB will not be authors my students and I will read this school year, the mere fact that I am going to meet authors and hear them speak about their books is important.

It will give me stories to tell my students about real writers making a living doing what they love. I also plan on going to some YA sessions, which will give me ideas about books to add to my classroom library. Above all, it will give me a jolt of inspiration as a reader and a book lover, as I feel like I've been in somewhat of a slump lately. For example, I had a fairly lazy Saturday and Sunday this week, but I haven't read a single page of a book. Not a single page! There have been times in my life when I would have jumped at the chance to consume a book -- perhaps even two! -- on a weekend like this one.

I have begun a new-ish reading tradition, that of listening to an audiobook each night before bed. Both the Audible app on my iPod touch and my iPod touch itself have sleep timers, meaning I can set it for twenty minutes and it will fade away at that point in the book, saving my place for next time. I listen pretty much every night until I fall asleep. Audible books are easy using the Audible app, and downloaded audiobooks from CDs (like Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers, which I finished listening to last week after winning it from nomadreader) are made user-friendly using iTunes on my iPod, then setting the iPod sleep timer.

In spite of my recent non-reading habits, I am excited about the Southern Festival of Books this coming weekend. For the first time ever, I am taking off work on Friday to attend the Festival on its first day. In the past, I've attended on the weekend days only. This year, authors Chris Bohjalian and River Jordan were both speaking on Friday only; I just couldn't let the opportunity pass to hear them speak.

In preparation for this year's SFB, I've done a little bit of "homework":

I listened to the audiobook version of Tom Perrotta's The Leftovers.

I read Michael Lee West's Gone With a Handsomer Man.

I ordered Chris Bohjalian's The Night Strangers and Charles Frazier's Nightwoods from Amazon (and now I'm hoping with fingers crossed that they arrive before Friday).

I had already read River Jordan's Praying for Strangers after receiving it from her publisher before its release in April.

I read Ann Patchett's State of Wonder over the summer.

And I decided against buying Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus. I realize she's gotten rave reviews for her debut novel, and I plan to attend her session to learn more. But I downloaded a Kindle sample to try it (if you haven't been doing this and you have a Kindle or the Kindle app for another e-reader, you must start immediately), and I was largely unimpressed. The whole circus aspect does absolutely nothing to entice me to read it. In my experience, there have been many books whose premises did nothing for me, though. (Life of Pi anyone? Middlesex? Even The Help, for me.)

Because of all the positive buzz, I tried it. I really did. Those Kindle samples allow you to read enough to get into the book (in hopes you'll use one-click purchasing, I'm sure). A reader confession, though? I hate books written in present tense. I really can't stand them. No one ever speaks that way. Therefore, no story told orally is ever told that way. Present tense always sounds extraordinarily awkward to me, as though I'm reading the script for a poorly-made documentary or made-for-television crime re-enactment. ("She walks down the hall. She listens.") Long story short, I might enjoy the movie once its made, but I don't think The Night Circus is for me. Perhaps Morgenstern will change my mind when I hear her speak -- that has happened to me fairly frequently at SFB. 

A book I did purchase after downloading a Kindle sample of it was Charles Frazier's Nightwoods. And frankly, no one could be more surprised by this than me. I know people everywhere praised Frazier's Cold Mountain. I tried to read the novel on multiple occasions, and never got past the first fifty pages. I was bored to tears. I never watched the entire movie, although I know people felt it was marvelous, as well. I just wasn't interested. So I don't suppose you'd call me a Frazier fan. I appreciated his talent as a writer, I just didn't enjoy his stories.

But Nightwoods is a whole different ballgame. For one thing, its setting is more recent -- the 1960s instead of the 1860s. And for another, it is a story that grabs you from the get-go. Although I've only read the first few dozen pages, I can't wait to get my hands on the printed book to continue reading about main character Luce and her dead sister's twins. Luce takes the children in after her sister's death, moving them into the old abandoned lodge she is caretaker for in the Appalachian mountains. I have no idea where the story is taking me at this point, but I am eager to find out.

Needless to say, Frazier's session was added to my schedule for the Festival this weekend.

You can view the entire schedule for SFB here, as well as registering with Humanities Tennessee and creating your own personalized schedule, like I did. The Southern Festival of Books kicks off this Friday and runs through Sunday in downtown Nashville at Legislative Plaza.

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