You’d never know the Book is considered an endangered species if you wandered across the Texas Book Festival.
Don’t tell the thousands of people swarming the Texas Capitol, its grounds and the many tents sprawling across the Texas Capitol grounds and spilling down several blocks of Congress Avenue. Every year, like migratory birds, they flock to the festival to hear and meet writers, buy books and get them signed, and celebrate reading of all kinds. There are books, authors, publishers, kids’ entertainment, music and even cooking demonstrations. You could even get fresh poetry from the folks at Typewriter Rodeo!
The best part? It’s free!
Of course, from beginning to end, it’s really all about the books.
Powers of Two — Joshua Wolf Shenk
Newspaper Blackout — Austin Kleon
Broke Not Broken — Jesse Sublett & Broadus Spivey
Monday, Monday — Elizabeth Crook
Debbie Doesn’t Do It Anymore and Rose Gold — Walter Mosley
My Sunday purchases (not shown):
A Most Imperfect Union: A Contrarian History of the United States — Ilan Stavans
The Flatlanders — John T. Davis
Of course, behind every book, there’s an author (or two or three). Hearing a favorite author read and discuss their work gives the reader a glance behind the curtains.
For example, Walter Mosley, in talking about killing Easy Rawlins off in Blonde Ambition, explained, “I didn’t know he was going to drive off that cliff.” He told of his realization that the series needed to shift from telling the stories of his father’s time — 50s and early-to-mid-60s L.A. — to the stories of his own time, starting with late 60s psychedelia, Whiskey-a-Go-Go and Black Power memories. That’s why Easy’s back and a whole lot of us fans are happy about that. Mosley also spoke of his early influences — “comic books, Jack Kirby” — and upcoming novels — another Leonid McGill story on the way, maybe a sequel to Blue Light, one of his science fiction novels.
I admit one of my favorite parts of the festival remains the Music Tent. Some appear in conjunction with a book release, like Jesse Sublett (Broke, Not Broken) and John T. Davis (The Flatlanders: John read, Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore performed). Other performers included festival openers Annie & Kate, a young duo bravely serenading Saturday morning’s early arrivals; next-generation blues-rocking Peterson Brothers; Who Do featuring author Lawrence Wright; and Sunday’s closer, Bob “Lost Gonzo” Livingston telling Texas tales, tall and true.
All weekend long, I encountered new friends and old acquaintances. The casual atmosphere melts traditional barriers between authors and readers. I visited with Austin Kleon as he rested against a fence in the shade, and shook Tavis Smiley’s hand as he exited his book signing. Spotting Butch & Jimmie Dale walking over to sign the Flatlanders, I stopped them to reminisce about the old Alamo Lounge twilight hour shows where I’d first seen them in the late 70s.
TBF runs on volunteer power, and this year, I put in a couple of shifts helping out: helping set up chairs for the Music Tent on Saturday morning and acting as an author escort on Sunday morning. Next year, I may volunteer more time — but then again, I love just roaming the grounds and enjoying panel presentations, musical sets, and book signings.
But then again, escorting “my” author, Ilan Stavans, gave me a chance to visit at length with an author whose work is new to me. That’s almost like discovering a New World — or, in this instance, discovering a different way of looking at the Same Old World.
Isn’t that what books are for?