West Virginia Book Festival

Author/illustrator Jim Benton and local children’s author Sarah Sullivan are two of the featured authors at the West Virginia Book Festival this fall at the Charleston Civic Center.

Benton is the New York Times bestselling author/illustrator of more than 20 books, including “It’s Happy Bunny,” “Franny K. Stein” and “Dear Dumb Diary.” His presentation, “The Compulsive Creator,” begins at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17. He’ll talk about his career and how the creative process works.

Benton has received many awards, including the Gryphon’s honor award, the Eleanor Cameron award, the Addy award and the Lima award. He is the creator of many licensed properties, some for big kids, some for little kids and some for adults. New projects include “Kissy Doodles” and “jOkObO,” which highlight his sketchbook drawings and paintings. Benton lives in Michigan with his wife and two children.

Sullivan is the author of four picture books. Her latest, “Once Upon a Baby Brother,” was published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in June. “Passing the Music Down,” a story inspired by two old-time fiddler players, is forthcoming from Candlewick in 2011. Sullivan will speak at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16. Her talk, “From Old-Time Fiddle Players to the Marvinosaurus: Writing for Children and Young Adults,” will feature a behind-the-scenes look at the process of creating books for children and young adults.

Sullivan holds an MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College where she won the Harcourt Post-Graduate Scholarship. A former lawyer, she now writes and teaches full-time. She and her husband Rick have three grown children and one grandson.

Daniel Woodrell and country noir

My first encounter with Daniel Woodrell was in the late 1990s, when I read his novel “Give Us A Kiss.” I had seen it somewhere praised and described as “hillbilly noir” and, well, I like noir and I live in West Virginia, so …

“Give Us A Kiss” – subtitled “A Country Noir” — is set in the Ozark Mountains of southern Missouri and Arkansas, like many of Woodrell’s books (he’s from there). In the story, a novelist native to the Ozarks returns from L.A. and falls back in with his drug-dealing brother – and falls for his brother’s girlfriend’s teenage daughter, who has “red cowgirl boots [that] went up her bare legs like flame licks from hell.” The story is dark, as good noir must be, but it’s also kind of rollicking. With chapter titles like “Cast A Goomer” and “Mingled Grease Bucket,” it’s even a little cartoonish in places.

There is nothing cartoonish about “Winter’s Bone,” Woodrell’s latest novel, published in 2006. It seems strange to laud a book as both stark and lyrical, but that’s exactly what “Winter’s Bone” is, in exactly the way that Hammett and Chandler are. Characters are described in a few strokes, and the action is often stripped down to its essentials, but the story is peppered with dead-on descriptions of people and places, especially sketches of winter that the Scandinavian mystery novelists so in vogue now would love. Several times, I would read a phrase, a piece of dialogue or a description of a place and think, “Yes. That’s exactly right.”

The story’s heroine is Ree Dolly, a teenage girl trying to hold her family and home together. Her two younger brothers are growing up, her mother has lost her mind, and her father has skipped out on his bail. The family will lose their home if Ree can’t find him. Her strongest ally is her extremely scary Uncle Teardrop (so named for his tattoo), who’s a meth dealer – but in Ree’s neighborhood, just about everyone is a meth dealer or user, or both. (Her clan, the Dollys, were the antagonists in “Give Us A Kiss.”)

Here’s Ree talking about the power that names have within the Dolly clan:

“If you named a son Milton it was a decision that attempted to chart the life he’d live before he ever stepped into it, for among Dollys the name carried expectations and history. Some names could rise to walk many paths in many directions, but Jessups, Arthurs, Haslams and Miltons were born to walk only the beaten Dolly path to the shadowed place, live and die in keeping with those bloodline customs held fiercest.”

The film version of “Winter’s Bone” won the grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year, and got fantastic reviews – so, of course, it never came to Charleston. (Not that I’m bitter.)

Woodrell’s books aren’t for everyone. People almost never end up happily ever after; if they’re lucky, they’re not any worse off than they were before. But if any of this sounds interesting to you, do yourself a favor and read “Winter’s Bone” before you see the movie. If you like it, move on to Woodrell’s other works, among them “Give Us A Kiss,” “The Death of Sweet Mister” and “Tomato Red.”

WVU fans score guest speaker at Book Festival

Mountaineer sports fans will have a special treat at the West Virginia Book Festival. John Antonik, longtime WVU Athletic Department official, will talk about his new book, “Roll Out the Carpet: 101 Seasons of West Virginia University Basketball,” at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Charleston Civic Center.

Published by WVU Press, “Roll out the Carpet” overflows with accounts of nail-biting tension leading to buzzer-beating shots, thrilling game-saving moments, and rich, intimate details of the superstar players and coaches that built an institution of gold and blue. With unparalleled insider access, Antonik details the vibrant history of the players, coaches and fans that created the finest moments of Mountaineer basketball.

A native of New Martinsville, Antonik earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sport management from West Virginia University. He is also the author of “West Virginia University Football Vault: The History of the Mountaineers.”

Antonik joined the WVU athletic staff in 1991, serving as associate sports information director and directing the community relations program. In 1999, he assumed his current role as director of new media. He is responsible for all facets of the department’s web services program, including editorial oversight, content development and site design. Antonik is sponsored by WVU Press.

In addition to Antonik, the West Virginia Book Festival line-up includes, among others: New York Times best-selling authors Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon; Civil War historian James Robertson; children’s author Carmen Deedy; and E. Lockhart, author of books for teens.

The West Virginia Book Festival, scheduled for Oct. 16 and 17, is an annual, two-day event celebrating books and reading presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail. For more information, visit http://www.wvbookfestival.org.

Silly Summer Reading: “The Chopin Manuscript”: UPDATED

I’ll admit it – I picked this novel up just because of the musical connection.

I couldn’t resist the lure of deadly secrets hidden in musical manuscripts, a tense car-jacking to the sounds of Schoenberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” on the radio, and musicologists and piano tuners as starring characters.

Here’s one of my favorite lines from the book:

“Like the assault of the sudden vehement chord in Haydn’s Surprise Symphony, fear struck the piano tuner.”

Are you smiling or groaning?  Both?

Beyond being a musical thriller, “The Chopin Manuscript” has an unusual concept. It’s a collaborative novel, with chapters by 15 different authors. Jeffrey Deaver wrote three chapters — one at the beginning and two providing the conclusion — while each other writer only penned one.  I’m not familiar with any of these authors, but friends say that they are a big deal. I am outside my traditional genres here (science fiction and fantasy).

While I wasn’t too bothered by changes in style, I did get a bit lost in the number of characters and the continual plot twists. Probably because of all these complications, I never became very attached to any of the characters – one author would set up Faust as a villain, another as a secret hero, and then the following writers would flip him back and forth a few times (no, I’m not telling you where they landed).

Someone asked me if this book was “’The DaVinci Code’ of classical music.”  I am happy to report that it is not. It’s a much more lighthearted endeavor, with no grand important narrative or point to prove, which is refreshing. But I do still wish it was a bit more coherent.

The audiobook version, read by Alfred Molina, has won several awards. I plan to give it a listen soon.  It might make it even harder to keep track of all the characters, but it could also be a lot of fun.

“The Chopin Manuscript” is available at the Kanawha County Public Library on CD and as a large-print book.

UPDATE: Editor’s Note: For some more musical book suggestions, check out Mona’s post at the Classically Speaking blog on West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s website.

“A Kingdom Strange,” by James Horn

“A Kingdom Strange: The Brief and Tragic History of the Lost Colony of Roanoke” by James Horn. Basic Books, 296 pages, $26, hardcover.

James Horn, the author of this brief history of the lost Roanoke colony, is vice president of research and historical interpretation for the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He has written five books, one concerning the later Jamestown, Va., settlement.

The Outer Banks, which stretch along the North Carolina coast for 200 miles, bear mysterious names, some from the original inhabitants. Readers may know of Cape Hatteras, Manteo, Roanoke and Kitty Hawk.

Roanoke was one of the earliest English settlements in the region, earlier than the 1607 founding date of Jamestown. In 1587, adventurer John White brought 120 English settlers to Roanoke Island, hoping not only to get a British toehold in an area populated by “Indian” tribes, but also to bring the benefits of the Anglican Church to those deemed benighted souls.

The story of Roanoke Island and its colony is both a mystery and a tragedy.

When John White returned from England some years later to visit, and perhaps to resupply the settlement, there were no people present. Only the remains of some primitive structures remained. It is a tragic story because it seems that the settlers may have been removed, and possibly eliminated by the Native American original settlers. All that remained was the word CROATOAN, carved upon a post.

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A few reading-related items

Been away from the blog for a few days, and here are some things that caught my eye:

| Dwight Garner,  one of the book reviewers for The New York Times and longtime editor at the Times Book Review, is a Fairmont native (he mentioned it in a story this past weekend on the changes at The Greenbrier). I’ve been reading his reviews (and his posts at the Times Paper Cuts book blog) for years, but had no idea he was from just down the road, or up the road, depending on where you are. (And yes, I know, he misspelled Chelyan in the story. I sympathize; it took me forever to quit writing Cheylan.)

| The Gazette’s Julie Robinson wrote about some Italian food inspired by “Eat Pray Love,” which was a book before Julia Roberts ever got involved. There are several recipes in there, and I’m in favor of anything wrapped in prosciutto.

| Frank Kermode, one of the giants of 20th-century literary criticism in Great Britain, died Tuesday. I read him in college, and for anyone who’s into Shakespeare, I recommend his 2001 book “Shakespeare’s Language.”

| According to a recent Washington Post report, luxury hotels have found a new way to pamper their clients — by giving them stuff to read, either digitally or via the traditional dead-tree medium. Harvard Library Director Robert Darnton (who has appeared here before) says that being given a Kindle “could be the equivalent of a traveler in the 19th century who stops off in a reading club.” But really, if you’re that concerned about a literary theme to your lodging, this is probably the place for you.

Volunteers needed for Book Festival

(begin game show announcer voice)

Do you love the West Virginia Book Festival? Would you like to help with the festival in some way, but just don’t know how? Well, today’s your lucky day!

The Book Festival needs volunteers to do all sorts of stuff: set up booths, take down booths, work the used book sale, introduce speakers, staff children’s programs and information tables, bring Pam May drinks … you get the idea.

Volunteers must apply by Aug. 23, so get on it. Applications are online at the WVBF website, or call the Kanawha County Public Library at 304-343-4646, ext. 246.

The schedule is up!

Just a quick post to let you all know that the Book Festival schedule has been posted on the website. Here’s the link: www.wvbookfestival.org

Hechler, Fox added to Book Festival line-up

West Virginia’s former Secretary of State Ken Hechler and Civil War Historian John J. Fox III have been added to the line-up of the West Virginia Book Festival.

Ken Hechler

Ken Hechler

Before he came home and was elected to public office, a young Ken Hechler interrogated captured Nazi officers prior to the Nuremberg Trials in 1946. Among his subjects was Hermann Göring, Hitler’s second-in-command and head of the Luftwaffe. Hechler will discuss the experience and his manuscript on the subject, “The Enemy Side of the Hill,” at 10 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16, at the Charleston Civic Center.

Hechler is a former U.S. Congressman, political science educator and an author. His books include: “Insurgency: Personalities and Politics of the Taft Era”; “The Bridge at Remagen”; “West Virginia Memories of President Kennedy”; and “Working With Truman.” He has been a contributor to many state and national newspapers. “The Bridge at Remagen” was made into a motion picture of the same title by United Artists. His latest title is “Super Marine! The Sgt. Orland D. “Buddy” Jones Story.” At 95, Hechler is a current candidate to fill the U.S. Senate seat of Robert Byrd.

John J. Fox III

John J. Fox III

Immediately after Hechler’s talk, Fox will speak at 11:30 a.m. about his new book, “The Confederate Alamo: Bloodbath at Petersburg’s Fort Gregg.” Robert E. Lee faced the most monumental crisis of his military career on the morning of April 2, 1865. By sunrise that morning, the Union 6th Corps had punched a huge hole in Lee’s outer line, southwest of Petersburg, Va. He needed time for reinforcements to arrive from Richmond, but how could his depleted army buy that time? Amidst overwhelming odds, this suicide mission fell to a handful of Confederates who made a desperate last stand at Fort Gregg.

Fox is the author or editor of several books and articles about the Civil War. His first book, “Red Clay to Richmond: Trail of the 35th Georgia Infantry Regiment,” won two awards – the 2005 James I. Robertson Jr. Literary Prize for Confederate History and the 2006 Georgia Historical Records Advisory Board Award given by the Georgia Secretary of State. Fox was born and raised in Richmond, but both his parents are native West Virginians. He earned a degree in U.S. History from Washington & Lee University in 1981 and then served for seven years in the U.S. Army. When he is not writing or editing, he works for American Airlines as a pilot. He lives with his wife and two teenagers in Winchester, Va.

In addition to Hechler and Fox, the West Virginia Book Festival line-up includes, among others: New York Times best-selling authors Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon; Civil War historian James Robertson; children’s author Carmen Deedy; and E. Lockhart, author of books for teens.

The West Virginia Book Festival, scheduled for Oct. 16 and 17, is an annual, two-day event celebrating books and reading presented by The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., Kanawha County Public Library, the West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

Kinder vs. Maynard: A Book Festival smackdown

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about WVBF:TB is the chance to talk with some of the authors who have come to previous Book Festivals, to ask them what they’re working on now and what they remember about the festival they attended.

Among the writers I’ve contacted is Chuck Kinder, southern West Virginia native, WVU graduate, friend of Raymond Carver and James Crumley, longtime writing teacher at the University of Pittsburgh — and, of course,  the inspiration for Grady Tripp, the professor in Michael Chabon’s “Wonder Boys.”

Kinder was one of the featured authors at the Book Festival in 2002, and when I asked him about his experience, many of his recollections involved another West Virginia author, Lee Maynard. Once Maynard heard what Kinder had to say … well, I’ll let them tell the story completely, because they’re great storytellers.

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