So Little time

This post is not cardiologist-approved

Suspense fiction fans love to encounter surprises and mystery in books they’ve chosen.

But not like this.  Co-worker Carolyn handed me a still-new copy of a popular thriller, outlining the customer complaint:  someone had taken it upon himself/herself to cross out and “revise” phrases throughout.  Surprise!

Not that it matters, but the grammatical edits weren’t even correct.  And the mystery was, as Chip put it, “what would possess anyone to think that was a good idea?”

Still muttering over the disruptive markups, I spotted one of our regular customers strolling by the reference desk.   What a great opportunity to share my little outrage!

But this patron hadn’t received the Scribbling is Bad memo.  He curiously flipped pages, assessed the inky text interruptions, and grinned.  “I have to disagree”, he shrugged, “Ever since Gutenberg, print has been one-dimensional and non-participatory.  And now someone has made this copy interactive.”

Fine.  Customer approval always makes our day.  But I still can’t bring myself to equate a defaced library book with “interactivity”–especially when September, promising fall and its beloved festivities (even beyond football, I mean) is nearly here. Mingling in outdoor vistas, sampling new delicacies, marveling at creative talent:  now that’s interaction.

The State Fair of Texas opens this year on September 27.  Check out SFT’s timeline for an enlightening scan of innovations, celebrities, and organizational changes reflecting a microcosm of Texas life.  But you’ll have to wait until September 2 to learn whether deep fried versions of Nutella, Thanksgiving dinner, King Ranch casserole, or another crispy delight/cardiac health threat snagged this year’s coveted Big Tex Choice Award.

This week’s Scout Report sported–in addition to its always-impressive slate of educational links like Pew Internet’s Infographics and American Biology Teacher–a feature devoted to that notorious annual phenomenon: the national buffet of state fair fried food specialties (try saying that three times fast).

Atlantic Wire’s photo spread of trendsetting fair fare may leave you wondering how many more iterations of the corn dog are possible (also how you, too, can get your hands on Cocoa Cheese Bites).  The Scout Report staff even highlighted this portal for state-fair-winning recipes.  Compared to the Deep Fried Hot Dog Wrapped in French Fries, pie sounds like health food.

You should award Round Rock Arts Council’s popular Chalk Walk (a feast for your eyes) a spot in your  calendar for October 4-5.  Texas Book Festival will crown the October 26-27 weekend.  Stay tuned for soon-to-be-revealed announcements of author appearances and events, but you can go ahead and contribute to the cause or register to be an event volunteer now.

Even before these rewarding events, there’s another chance to engage in a mass effort–remotely.  Work From Home Day (9/10/13) challenges Austin-area esidents to improve air quality by “removing 20,000 cars from city roads” for one day.   Round Rock Public Library’s online resources stand ready to support our cardholders in that effort.

And, to prepare for the later festivities, why not accessorize your green telecommute with a verdant, leafy lunch?

Yes, Yoda, there is a "try"

Those Texas Book Festival planners are geniuses.  Imagine not only producing a weekend of superb literary presentations but also conjuring up October weather that feels like October? 

I, however, am not brilliant and consequently found myself at TBF with 25 precious minutes available for reading–and no book.  The advance copy of Amity Gaige’s Schroder intended for that purpose was left basking in the gloom of the parking garage.

At least I’d arrived early for this speaker and secured an auditorium seat fronting the upper section.  Unearthing paper and pen, I spent the interval savoring the novelty of leg room and generating character names for my book.  National Novel Writing Month begins this week; thank goodness I finally have the skeleton (how appropriate) of a plot.

The story line involves a couple dozen individuals–people resembling the array of citizenry streaming into that very location, I realized.  Inventorying the audience, I cast my novel by identifying types like those in the story and engineering monikers to suit each one’s persona.

If you were present, you could end up in my fictional creation (sort of), but no one would ever know.  Besides, if this NaNoWriMo result achieves the quality of last year’s effort, I’ll hit “delete” and vaporize it as soon the word count is verified.  Having learned much from the previous experience, I’m striving for a standard above “no one should ever see this”.  Aim high: that’s my motto.                                      

Contently scribbling notes for a tale not fated to enrich humankind, I’d awaited a presentation by David Shapard, creator of annotated Jane Austen novels.  Shapard contended that Jane Austen could be the greatest English-language novelist ever.  Was it symmetry, balance, or irony provoking that auditorium to simultaneously host evidence of the best and the worst in fiction?

Shapard also noted– supporting his “greatest” assertion–that critics’ esteem for Austen’s work has (remarkably) not fluctuated over time.  And I mentally applauded Shapard’s assertion that Austen’s “good” characters are not dull.  Having earlier quoted a couple of snarky one-liners mined from Austen’s correspondence, Shapard conjectured that Austen characters were sometimes allowed to publicly overstep and later repent, much in the way that the author herself may have.  Goodness, Shapard maintains, was “an achievement”.

En route to the next venue amid readers, authors, event organizers–achievers all–I considered why NaNoWriMo authors sign on for a grueling month-long writing assignment practically guaranteed to engender a document that’s, er, flawed.   The reason:  success can follow only the act of putting oneself out there and awaiting the consequences.

And if the result seems a universe away from Jane Austen?  Well, NaNo is an achievement in itself.   At least, you’ll have proven Yoda wrong.

TBF or not TBF?

Last weekend’s Texas Book Festival was, in the words of local Barnes & Noble public relations manager Frank Campbell, “the perfect storm”.  Owing to ideal weather, immediate follow-up to ACL, and over 200 notable authors on site, TBF 2010 was pleasantly swarming.   I’ve heard that events predicted to be minor draws brought in overflow audiences, while top attractions generally surpassed those high expectations.    

Attendees are resolving to show up earlier for events next year; competition for most any seat now appears to be a given.  And the wait is worth it.  The prospect of hobnobbing with fellow booklovers and acclaimed authors–for free!–on the Capitol grounds offers unique value.  

For the best possible TBF experience, you would enjoy volunteering, as I did.  Volunteers can get closer to the action; some festival-goers will even covet your free T-shirt!  Second, do your homework.  TBF is a vast undertaking, offering more options than you can manage.  Study the schedule beforehand on the TBF website or in the Statesman‘s festival guide and do some prioritizing, factoring in wait times and distances between venues.

And there’s a third strategy:  share your insights with others.  You can catch de-briefings on speakers you missed, follow up online, and acquire reading suggestions (not to mention gift-giving ideas).

Some of the best bits I heard at or about the festival:

  • Attendees at chef Alton Brown’s packed Central Market session raved about Brown’s contagious enthusiasm and consideration (obliging everyone with autographs and scooting parents with young children to the head of line).

  • Amanda Hesser (Essential New York Times Cookbook and sold us on the NYT compilation, which I hadn’t realized is not just a Craig Claiborne update; it includes significant historical and reader-contributed content. Ms. Hesser didn’t miss a beat when asked (probably for the millionth time) how she stays “rail-thin” even though she bakes constantly.

  • Leila Meacham (author of Roses) referring to the tradition of Southerners sacrificing all for one’s property or plantation: “Back then, you were your land. Today, some ladies are their handbags.”

  • Jane Roberts Wood (author of the Lucy Richards trilogy and the recent Out the Summerhill Road), delightedly acknowledging this note from a reader: “I think your characters drink too much!”

  • And the author escort for Doug Chernack and Mike Bender, creators of Awkward Family Photos, claimed that she has never laughed so much or so hard in her entire life.

What not to miss at the festival

What would induce someone to give up a day off to volunteer for Texas Book Festival?  Probably not the official volunteer T-shirt.  TBF uniforms feature a different classy color each year, along with, alas, the customary tubelike fit.  Those of us who fall between the intended-for-guys sizes can select one of two silhouettes: “shrink wrap” or “rectangle”.  If Stacy and Clinton from What Not to Wear ever spot me in my festival knitwear, they’re sure to follow up with a WNTW Volunteer Edition.

On the plus side, volunteer shirts qualify you for impressive perks.  The wearer is immediately identified with one of the nation’s top literary events–instant prestige.  Even if you haven’t published a novel, discovered the next new voice in fiction, or escorted a famous author around the Capitol grounds yet, your apparel proclaims that you are Part of It All.  To avoid getting an important writer lost en route to the book signing tent, I have elected not to escort. Selling logo merchandise in the tents has been fun in previous years, but this time I went for my dream job:  Capitol Monitor.

CMs basically consult their festival schedules to confirm program times; point out restrooms; check for open beverages; record attendance; and watch the doors once seating capacity has been attained.  I’m not sure which aspect of Capitol Monitoring I appreciated most.  For one thing, being a CM means that you are in the capitol, and I am a major fan of that gorgeous edifice.  Opening the House Chamber portal to let in latecomers, I turned the same doorknob that generations of legendary Texans reached for in their own comings and goings.

The “monitor” part is also rewarding, though, because CMs remain on hand throughout the program.  Thus, I witnessed former Rolling Stone writer Jancee Dunn’s response to a delightful panel discussion question.  To an audience member’s inquiry of which musical mega-star was the nicest, Ms. Dunn instantly named Barry White.  A chorus of “Ohhhhh, Barry White!” erupted from attendees and panelists, and the briefest of Barry White love-fests played out before the session could resume. 

Later, during Taylor Branch’s Clinton Tapes program in the House Chamber, I managed to stop gaping at those vintage star-shaped chandeliers long enough to enjoy both the author’s commentary and the range of Q&A topics posed by listeners.  One gentleman was two spaces too far back in the question queue; the author had to leave in order to keep his appointment at the autograph tent.  Graciously accepting that his queries would go unasked for the present, the young man told me what he’d wanted to say.  Both points were excellent, and now I’m curious about them, as well. 


I need to check out Branch’s new book, hoping that the answers are within–and also pencil in Texas Book Festival on my 2010 calendar.  The T-shirt is inevitable, but at least I can wear cute shoes.