Sunday, April 03, 2016

The 2016 San Antonio Book Festival Was a Winner

In theory, I absolutely love book festivals.  Unfortunately, however, until just this weekend, I have been unable to test my theory anywhere but in Austin where the annual Texas Book Festival is held every October - having attended 14 of the 20 Texas Book Festivals held there to-date.  But, as of just yesterday, I can finally claim a second festival: the fourth annual San Antonio Book Festival…and what a treat that one was.

The San Antonio festival is, of course, on a smaller scale than Austin’s state festival, but it is every bit as satisfying as its big sister – and it offered something I’ve never run across it Austin: free breakfast burritos and bottles of juice from the wonderful folks at Whataburger.  (I have a bad habit of arriving at events way too early for my own comfort, but it really paid off this time because the burritos did not last all that long.)

You would never have guessed that this was only the fourth festival sponsored by the San Antonio Public Library and its more than 500 energetic volunteers.  Like I said earlier, I was there early – and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything of this magnitude set up any more quickly and efficiently than what I witnessed here.  I did use my extra 90 minutes before the festival officially kicked off to orient myself to the festival map and locate some of the more difficult (but beautiful) side venues used for sessions with authors – in particular, Coates Chapel which I believe is part of the Southwest School of Art complex.

Whitley Strieber
I started the day (technically) inside the library for a presentation and discussion from author Whitley Strieber who has a new book out called The Super Natural.  Strieber is probably the person most responsible for popularizing the whole “alien abduction” thing, and I’ve never really bought into all of that.  But, let me tell you, that if you haven’t heard the author make his case in person (and I hadn’t until this session), you probably should not yet be a naysayer.  Strieber comes across as so completely sincere and nonchalant about his supposed experiences that I walked away from the session believing every word the man said.  Now I have some reading to catch up on.

Oh, and I said “technically” inside the library because this session, and the next one I attended, were held on the third floor terrace –completely open to the elements – and it was still a very cool, though not so windy, morning with temperatures in the upper fifties.

Stephen Harrigan
My second terrace session brought in a real favorite of mine, Stephen Harrigan, who talked largely about his research for A Friend of Mr. Lincoln, my favorite 2016 book so far.  I’ve been a fan of Harrigan’s writing for a long time, particularly his books Remember Ben Clayton and The Gates of the Alamo.  The poor guy was feeling terrible, his voice was going, and he could barely control his cough sometimes, but his insights into the new book were as intriguing as they were informative.  He could not have been at all comfortable sitting at the front of the terrace where he was more exposed to the morning breeze than the rest of us were, but he soldiered on and did a terrific job – and I snagged a signed copy of A Friend of Mr. Lincoln later in the day.

Jamie Brickhouse, David Crabb
Next, I moved on to Coates Chapel for a presentation called “Laughing with Myself: Comedic Memoirs” that was anchored by authors Jamie Brickhouse and David Crabb, each of whom who have recent memoirs in which their mothers feature prominently.  I read Brickhouse’s Dangerous When Wet a few weeks ago and was so moved by it, that this was a “don’t miss” session for me.  Crabb and Brickhouse are old friends who obviously get along well, and it showed in their dual-presentation. Ironically (as Brickhouse remarked), this was probably the least chapel-friendly session imaginable, but that hardly slowed anyone down.  This was fun.  Crabb’s book (which I have not read) is titled Bad Kid and it deals with the author’s youth in San Antonio and nearby Seguin, Texas.  Brickhouse, by the way, is from Beaumont, a part of the state I know all too well, and the first part of Dangerous When Wet is about growing up in Southeast Texas. 

Paulette Jiles, John C. Kerr
My final session of the day found me back in the library for a presentation by two authors I was totally unfamiliar with beforehand: Paulette Jiles and John C. Kerr.  I decided to attend this session after discovering that their books both dealt with periods of Texas history that I find particularly appealing: Civil War Reconstruction and Indian Wars.  Kerr’s novel, published by TCU Press, is titled The Silent Shore of Memory and deals with what happened in East Texas in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War. As Kerr points out, this portion of the state had more in common with the Old South states than it did with the rest of the Texas, and it was treated accordingly – very harshly and with little mercy.  Jiles’s novel (to be published in October by William Morrow) is called News of the World and largely deals with the white and Hispanic children who were so often kidnapped by the same Indian warriors who had massacred the rest of their families.  Jiles lives on a small ranch in the very part of the state where this was happening in the 1870s, and has a natural affinity for telling the story of these children who so often refused to remain with those who rescued them. 

I was particularly intrigued by the research that both authors did and how different, but equally effective, their methods were.  And I could not wait to get my hands on copies of the two books, so you can imagine how disappointed I was to learn that publication of News of the World was still more than six months away.  But I rushed out to the Barnes & Noble tent anyway to purchase a copy of Kerr’s book and headed back to the library to have it signed.  Well you can imagine my delight when, during my conversation with the two authors about their books, Paulette Jiles offered me a galley copy of hers on the spot…and signed it for me.  So I did end up coming home with both the books, and now I can’t wait to read them.

Congratulations, San Antonio, on a book festival you should all be proud of, one that I will likely be attending again…and again.  The only suggestion I would make (and it’s a minor thing, really) is that that you have a much larger tent for the Barnes & Noble people to sell books from next year.  Many of us hit that tent in a big hurry, trying to find a book, purchase it, and make it back to the signing area before the signing is over.  Having to wade through that many people, most of them in “browse mode,” while in a legitimate hurry is frustrating. 

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