Wednesday, August 28, 2019

This May Be the Year I Go Back to the Texas Book Festival


Warning: Opinion Piece Approaching

It's almost (what used to be) my favorite time of the book year again. The Texas Book Festival is happening in Austin on October 26-27, and for many years was an event I anticipated almost exactly the way I anticipated Christmas morning when I was six years old. I started attending the festival just a couple of years after Barbara Bush started it up while she and George W were living in the Texas Governor's Mansion, a much simpler time in more ways than one as it turns out.


A $100 "Festival Friends Pass" Gets Priority Access
Austin itself was a simpler place with a lot less traffic and a festival small enough for attendees to attend just about any session that they had an interest in. There was always going to be some overlap of sessions that made it hard to choose which one to attend, of course, but back in those days sessions were not "Selling Out" more than two months before the magic weekend (see Malcolm Gladwell, below). That, however, was before attendance went up so drastically (doubled, tripled, quadrupled?) without any seating-increase for the "big name author" sessions that the odds of getting in the door became pretty heavily stacked against anyone without a connection of some sort or a willingness to pay for a Disney World-like "fast pass."

And don't even get me started on the politics of the event and the city because that's another case of well-enough-not-being-left-alone. I reached a tipping point a couple of years ago when at least 75% of the sessions I attended featured authors and/or interviewers who spent much of their allotted time making snide remarks about one particular political party and its supporters. I mean, I get it, Austin is almost certainly the most liberal city in Texas, but unless I'm in a session about a political book, or one featuring a politician turned author, I'm not there to listen to the kind of nonsense I can get on any cable news channel right from my favorite chair the other 363 days of the year. So, I quit going to the book festival.


ALREADY Sold Out
Today, though, I've run across a list of the 300 or so authors who will be at the festival in late October, and there are a bunch of them I'd love to see: Tim O'Brien, Craig Johnson, Karl Malantes, Alexander McCall Smith, Stephen Harrigan and Malcolm Gladwell (I do realize these are all men), among them. Gladwell, however, is already sold out at $35 a pop for his October 26 appearance at a local church, and I have to assume that will be his only festival appearance. I do see that John Grisham's event that morning in the same venue still has some tickets available - and it gratifies my heart a bit to see that Gladwell has outsold Grisham (it's probably wrong to feel that way...but I do). 

And there are others on my list, including three women: Oscar Cásares, Joe Landsdale, Attica Locke, Elizabeth McCracken, and Leila Meacham. Douglas Brinkley, who used to be a must-see historian for me before he jumped off the political-craziness cliff, will also be there, I see. The good news about having 300 authors show up in one place on the same weekend is that I always leave the festival having discovered a dozen or so interesting new-to-me writers. That's always fun, so this will probably be the year I head back to Austin. I'll have to wait and see what kind of mood I'm in in October.

12 comments:

  1. Don't let any mood stop you! If you are well enough, then go for it! The three I would most like to see are AMS, Grisham, and Gladwell. Looking forward to your pictures and commentaries!

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    1. Thanks for the encouragement, Nan. I just want to escape politics so badly that I particularly resent it when it encroaches on something like a book festival, the one place I can usually most escape the real world for a few hours at a time. I've seen Grisham a time or two, but I'm particularly intrigued this year by Smith, Gladwell, and Johnson. But Gladwell is already impossible...

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    2. I escape politics every day. I don't read the news. It is surprisingly easy to not know what is going on. Somehow people got through life years ago with only occasional "news" and that's how I do it now. Once in a while I'll catch a snippet and if I am interested, I'll do some reading. There's such pressure now to know what is happening every minute. I prefer to spend my time in a different ways.

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    3. I think you're right, Nan. We just can't escape the noise anymore unless we make a special, concerted effort to do so. You have to consciously decide to tune-out the world these days if you are to have any peace of mind. With tablets, smart phones, smart watches, etc. that's not easy to do. I absolutely love exploring new tech products, so it is really difficult for me to do it.

      I don't watch the news as such anymore but I check in with one hour of cable chat a day that sort of keeps me basically informed. They take a humorous, mocking approach to both sides, so I enjoy the interplay.

      I've found myself "unfollowing" folks on Twitter who profess to be "book people" but who spend most of their tweets talking one-sided politics. I've pretty much completely given up Facebook for the same reason, and haven't used that app in months.

      It does get better when you tune out all the baloney being screamed so publicly nowadays. I swear, I don't think anyone has any shame anymore or even stops to think about what they are saying before they push the send-button. I'm calmer overall than I've been in years, and I'd like to keep it that way; that's why I'm still not entirely sure that I'll make the 2019 book festival in Austin.

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  2. I share your wish to escape politics, Sam. It's all pervading at the moment and there's no escape anywhere. If you decide to go again will look forward to your posts and hope that you enjoy it.

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    1. It must be unbearable for you guys now with this whole suspension of Parliament thing goin on, Cath. I can just imagine the chatter going on; it's almost like static in the background of life these days.

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    2. It is totally unbearable. Twitter is toxic at the moment, luckily Facebook not so much although I was expecting it to be. I don't have heaps of followers so that probably helps. I'm not on either of them as much as I was, can barely watch the news and some nights just don't bother. I like Nan's approach to be honest and am slowly adopting it. Keeping to my books and jigsaw puzzles. And busy with family at the moment which helps. You're right when you say no one has any shame any more... especially some celebrities. One extremely famous author has had to remove a tweet he posted about the PM and apologise, for instance. The world has gone mad.

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    3. One of the saddest things about all of this is that I've lost respect for a handful of authors whom I've respected for decades because they've demonstrated on Twitter just how vicious and un-empathetic they really are. In three or four cases, I can't even read them anymore because I can't get those Tweets out of my mind.

      I wonder if we can ever put the genie back in the bottle so that things can get back to normal again. I have to say that I doubt it.

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  3. Me too, Sam. And various comedians, TV presenters, and so on. One female comedian thought it was ok to 'joke' about throwing acid in the face of Nigel Farage. Now I don't care what your politics are, or you support, that is *never* OK. The well known author I mentioned, well the BBC has dramatised one of his very famous books, for the autumn. I was going to watch but I will not now. I know it's a small, insignificant protest and nobody will give a damn, but I feel better about myself for doing it.

    If I'm going to be honest, I don't think things will ever be the same again after this. In both our countries. But, silver linings and all that, I sense that our two countries will draw closer somehow. I hope so.

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    1. We have that in common, Cath. I just cannot support the art of those I can't respect. I have a short list of actors, authors, politicians, talk show hosts, etc. that I will most likely never read, watch, or listen to ever again. I can be pretty stubborn - and I have a long memory. (Not always a good thing, I know.)

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  4. I generally pass on these kinds of events. Too many people, too much chaos. I like serene book browsing :) I went to the National Book Festival in D.C. last year and it was absolutely insane. There were a few favorite authors I got to hear speak, but otherwise, it was too crazy to really be enjoyable.

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    1. I am always terribly disappointed when one of my favorite small-arena events reaches the tipping point where the crowds and the change in tone of the event cause me to wonder why I'm there. That's happened with a couple of music festivals I attended for years - and with the Texas Book Festival.

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