West Virginia Book Festival

“Dragon Tattoo” film coming to Huntington

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Stieg Larsson’s mystery “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” and its two sequels may be the biggest literary sensation of the past few years. As usual with literary sensations (including Nicholas Sparks; did you know he’s coming to the Book Festival?), Hollywood has jumped on board, and a movie version starring Daniel Craig is scheduled for next year.

But there’s already a movie version of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” and you can catch it in Huntington this weekend, as part of the Fall International Film Festival at the Keith-Albee Performing Arts Center.

The Swedish film, which stars Michel Nyqvist and Noomi Rapace, caps the festival’s first night on Friday, at 9:45 p.m.  It’s showing again at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday and 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday, and it closes the festival at 7:45 p.m. on Oct. 7.

According to the Marshall Artists Series website, the movie is two and a half hours long. It’s in Swedish, with English subtitles. I don’t have any idea if it’s any good, so if you don’t like it, inte klandra mig — that’s Swedish for don’t blame me. Maybe if someone has seen it, he or she could enlighten us?

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Sure, you know that the 10th annual West Virginia Book Festival will bring in best-selling authors Nicholas Sparks and Diana Gabaldon, plus a dozen others who will present readings, workshops and book signings at this free event. But here are a few items you just might not know about yet:

It’s free: That’s right – it’s free. No admission fee, no tickets required. Just show up!

Appraisals of antique books: Jim Presgraves of Bookworm and Silverfish in Wytheville, Va., will offer free, informal, verbal antique book appraisals from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 16 and 17 in the Festival Marketplace, located in the Charleston Civic Center’s North Hall. Presgraves has been buying and selling books for more than 40 years. He has been an elected member of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America since 1978.

Kanawha County Public Library’s annual used book sale: Here’s where you’ll find thousands of bargains on books and other library materials, all arranged by category. Prices range from 50¢ to $3. Items in the Collector’s Corner – an area with rare and collectible books – will be individually priced. Bring cash, personal checks or your Visa, MasterCard or American Express card. The book sale is located in the South Hall, and hours of operation are: Oct. 16, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Oct. 17, noon to 4 p.m.

Activities for teens: Teen author E. Lockhart has had to cancel her scheduled engagement, but Jim Benton, author/illustrator of more than 20 books, including “It’s Happy Bunny,” “Franny K. Stein” and “Dear Dumb Diary,” will speak at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 17. He’ll talk about his career and how the creative process works.

In addition, Kanawha County Public Library’s Teen Zone booth in the Festival Marketplace will feature a Book Festival scavenger hunt. Stop by the booth for more information, plus a prize drawing and demonstrations of some of the library’s electronic resources. Be sure to bring your camera or phone to take a picture with cardboard cutouts of Edward and Jacob from the “Twilight” series.

Activities for children: Word Play is what we call the area in West Hall II that’s devoted to free hands-on activity stations for children. Here’s where children can practice reading in a cozy corner or to trained therapy dogs, work up a sweat with Zumba, play games, meet a variety of colorful mascots and create crafts, among other fun activities. Participating community organizations include Kanawha County Master Gardeners; Kanawha County Public Library; ZumbAtomic, sponsored by KEYS 4 HealthyKids; Pioneer Federal Credit Union; South Charleston Public Library; Tales to Tails; and West Virginia Public Broadcasting.

Trick-or-treat: On Oct. 16, many of our vendors in the Festival Marketplace (North Hall) will have treats for children who visit their booths in their Halloween costumes. For a complete list of participating vendors, visit our website at www.wvbookfestival.org.

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

Sparks’ “Safe Haven” tops best-seller lists

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You don’t get a chance very often to see the guy with the No. 1 best-selling book in America.

Unless you come to this year’s West Virginia Book Festival, that is.

Nicholas Sparks’ latest novel, “Safe Haven,” tops the hardcover fiction lists of The New York Times and USA Today, and probably a few others out there. The book was released Sept. 14.

Sparks is set to appear at the Charleston Civic Center at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 16. His appearance, like the rest of the Book Festival, is presented free of charge.

“Flags of Our Fathers” author coming to town

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If the West Virginia Book Festival on Oct. 16 and 17 doesn’t satisfy your book lust, another opportunity comes along just a few days later.

Author James Bradley, best known for his best-selling “Flags of Our Fathers,” will speak at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 21 at the state Culture Center in Charleston. As part of the West Virginia Humanities Council‘s McCreight Lecture series, the event is free.

“Flags of Our Fathers” tells the story of the six men, including Bradley’s father, who were captured on film raising the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima in the final months of World War II.

Bradley has written two other books, “The Imperial Cruise” and “Flyboys.”

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W.Va. Poet Laureate Irene McKinney will be reading on the second day of the West Virginia Book Festival, 3:30 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 17, in Room 103 at the Charleston Civic Center.

Last spring, after she accepted the Book Festival invitation, I talked by phone with her, just as she returned home from a semester of workshops at Lynchburg College. She said she was being hired to be the director of a low-residency MFA program at W.Va. Wesleyan. Here’s some of our conversation:

BURKHAMMER: Earlier this year, you were the Thornton writer in residence at Lynchburg College.

MCKINNEY: That was a very good experience. I think the philosophy behind those kinds of residencies … they’re very competitive… I asked her and she said they got 80 applications for that position. Their idea is they want you to come and do a master class in poetry, but that’s only one night a week, from 7 to 9:30 Tuesday evening. The rest of your time is a chance for you to work on your own work. I finished up a new poetry manuscript, at least I hope it’s finished. I just mailed it out to an editor. I’m hoping that will be published within this coming year.

BURKHAMMER: Is this a collection of all new work?

MCKINNEY: Yes, it is. The last book was a selection of previous books, so there wasn’t any new work in that last book. It was a way to keep things in print, but this is all new poems.

BURKHAMMER: What are you particularly passionate about right now?

MCKINNEY: I was just talking with another person, a guy who was coordinating the West Virginia Writers Conference, and he had set up a panel on Appalachian writing. Denise Giardina and a bunch of other people are on that panel. The question he is asking is how is Appalachian literature changing?

This is something I’m very interested in, because of the kinds of things I encounter in my own work. I think it is changing, and that’s probably a good thing. Anything that’s alive is going to change. The idea that West Virginia literature has to sound a certain way, or have a certain subject matter is something we’re outgrowing. So I’m trying to write an essay on that for that conference. I’m also thinking about that in connection with this new program I’m starting at W.Va. Wesleyan, which is a low-residency MFA program. It’s a degree-granting program that’s primarily designed for people who are already grown up and maybe have a job and a family and can’t be in residence. And so they’ll come two weeks in the summer and two weeks in January and set up their semester’s program with their mentor teacher. Then there are workshops and lectures and so on that go on during that two-week period. Everbody goes back home and the student keeps in close touch with their mentor and sends them packets of work every two weeks. They get a reply from the master teacher. That’s the way they conduct their work. I expect we’re going to have a lot of students from the region enrolling in that program. I’m really looking forward to getting this launched.

BURKHAMMER: How do you think writing is changing in the region?

MCKINNEY: There’s a certain set of perceptions that have become stereotypes and a lot of skillful writers work with them and write beautiful books still holding on to that, but I want to see a lot more work that deals with our contemporary situation. There’ve been a lot of books that look to the past, and sort of revive a kind of Appalachian culture that may or may not have existed 50 years ago. For literature to remain vital, it’s got to confront what we’re all going through in our present lives. People in Appalachia, everybody in Appalachia is subject to change just like any place in America. All the cultural changes that are going on in the country at large and all the problems, drugs and all the rest of it, is just a little late to come here, but it’s problems that people have all over the country. In order to stay honest, our literature has to encompass that a lot more and work out new ways of dealing with that.

BURKHAMMER: I remember the first poem of yours I ever read was something from the Mine Report book. I was living in Morgantown, and I heard on the radio the calls for the miners to come to work at certain times, certain shifts. Have you written anything in the new book about mining?

MCKINNEY: I wrote a book which is kind of an elegy both for the miners in the recent mine disaster and the people in Haiti. It’s really about the human condition of being subject to destruction and pain, so I wanted it to be dedicated to both those groups, because pain is pain, wherever it occurs. That’s the kind of thing I mean — if we can connect a lot more with the mainstream culture without letting go of what’s uniquely ours, it’s got to make the writing stronger in the long run.

BURKHAMMER: Are you reading anything you like these days?

MCKINNEY: I’m reading a lot of younger poets, because I wanted to get up to speed on that before I taught this workshop in Lynchburg. One group of poets I’m liking a lot and it shows a lot of strength — younger black poets, and especially younger male black poets are writing some powerful stuff right now. A poet named Van Jordan, I like his work at lot. Terrance Hayes who lives in Pittsburgh … I like his work very much. It’s so highly energized … that’s the kind of work I would like to present to students within this region. I would like them to see work that is more traditionally Appalachian alongside all this other exciting work that’s coming out because I suspect that what’s going to happen is that the writing that’s going to start emerging in this generation is going to encompass both of those things, not just be set in the past and talking about historical Appalachia but contemporary Appalachia.

BURKHAMMER: Thank you for talking with me. I’ll see you at the W.Va. Book Festival.

“True Believer” by Nicholas Sparks

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I’m going to try very hard not to make this one of those reviews that are all I-don’t-usually-read-books-like-this-but-I-did-and-I-was-pleasantly-surprised-by-how-this-book-didn’t-suck.  Although that not-very-succinctly sums up my Sparks situation.

First (or second, at this point), let me say that I have not avoided Nicholas Sparks because I am too highbrow and fancy for his work.  I ain’t highbrow.

I read romance novels.

Which, really, is why I have avoided Nicholas Sparks.  He ain’t a romance writer, no matter what other reviewers say.  See, the thing about romance, and the thing I like most about them, is that there is a nice predictable and always very happy ending, wherein the attractive hero and heroine get together forever and yay! sunshine, etc.

This, from what I had been led to understand, does not often happen in Nicholas Sparks books.  My impression is that a sense of nobility, moral upstandingness, or death by cancer keeps the endings of Sparks novels from being truly happy.  Bittersweet, maybe, but not the sunshine kind of happy I like.

But curiosity (and the Book Festival) made me take a second look, and I happened upon “True Believer.”  There is no mention of tragedy on the jacket copy, so I felt reasonably safe to dig in.

And guess what!  I liked it.

“True Believer” is the story of hotshot science journalist Jeremy Marsh, who, in an effort to become more TV-friendly, has made a career out of debunking the supposedly supernatural.  Which brings him to Boone Creek, North Carolina, where a sinking cemetery was supposedly cursed by former slaves and now emits strange lights on foggy nights.  Boone Creek will be familiar to many of us in West Virginia – a small town abandoned by industry, whose charm is not readily apparent to big city hotshot journalists.  This leads Jeremy to clash with the town librarian, Lexie Darnell, although her grandmother, Doris, seems willing to give him a chance and cook him some delicious food.

Things I loved about the book:

| Sparks really captures the attitude of city folk toward small towns, especially New Yorkers, who think that, because they have easy access to everything, there’s no reason to live in the middle of nowhere.

| The love story!  Jeremy and Lexie definitely fit the romance novel mode of prickle-at-first-sight, but then, you know.  Love.  Also, Lexie admires Jeremy’s shoulders a lot.  They seem broad!

| The villain, such as he is, is named Tom Gherkin.  “Like the pickle, but you can call me Tom.”  (Although he is usually called Mayor Gherkin.)

| The heroine is a librarian.

Things I didn’t love as much:

| There’s no way a struggling small town library would have such a well-appointed rare book room!

This is a very gentle book.  There is some emotional angst, which is natural when two people with broken hearts are trying to pretend they are not falling in love.  But the truth behind the lights is not nefarious and (SPOILER!) nobody dies. The supporting cast of characters is as charming as the setting, and I found myself picking up the book when there were other things I should have been doing.  (Like – don’t tell my boss – working at my desk.)  And I didn’t cry at the end!  I did get choked up at one part toward the end, but it wasn’t the tearjerker I was expecting.  It was a love story, but there was a lot about family and family history, community, the plight of small towns, Southern cooking, and seeing things we need to see, even if they are not really there.  And, of course, sometimes they are.

For the Sparks fans out there (and I suspect there are a few) – which one should I tackle next?

And don’t forget, Nicholas Sparks is coming HERE to CHARLESTON, y’all.  Saturday, Oct. 16 at 2:30 at the West Virginia Book Festival.  See you there.

Ron Rash at the top of the short story world

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Ron Rash came to the West Virginia Book Festival in 2006. I don’t know what it cost to get him here, but if we want him back, it might cost a little more.

Rash has won the sixth annual Frank O’Connor Award, which is the richest prize for short fiction in the world. This year’s prize money is 30,000 euros. At the current exchange rate, that’s $40,203.03.

Rash won for “Burning Bright,” a collection of stories set in Appalachia, ranging from the Civil War to the present day. As the Guardian newspaper in London reports:

Judge Nadine O’Regan, arts and books editor for the Sunday Business Post, said that Burning Bright was “technically absolutely beautiful – incredibly well-wrought”. “It’s a very understated collection of short stories in many respects. He tends to compress an awful lot into his sentences, and says an awful lot in a very distilled way,” she said.

“It’s a bleak collection, very bleak, but he has such attention to detail and is a real storyteller, a real craftsman.”

Although many of the stories in the collection are set in the past, the judging panel “felt the themes still really resonated”, she added. “A lot of the characters in the stories are victims of circumstance, stuck trying to navigate a path through life which is virtually impossible. And we thought that in today’s world, with the recession, people losing jobs, the stories resonated through the decades and said something to us on the judging panel about the inevitability of the path life can take when you’re caught in the grip of something much larger than you are.”

As for Rash himself, he had this to say to the Guardian:

“Sometimes I think we think of regionality in a negative way, maybe particularly in the US, but you find the universal through the particular – that’s the kind of story I’m intrigued with. The authors I grew up admiring, Faulkner and O’Connor, were able to centre their work on a very specific geographical area and use it as a conduit to the universal,” he said.

“Eudora Welty said that ‘one place understood helps us understand all places better’ and that’s what I hope my work does a bit, as well … It’s up to the reader to decide.”

Rash is the John A Parris Jr. and Dorothy Luxton Parris Distinguished Professor of Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University. Many critics believe that the short story is the best form for him, but it’s not the only one. He’s written four novels, the latest being the critically lauded “Serena,” and at least three collections of poetry.

Of the six finalists for the Frank O’Connor Award, five were American. Besides Rash, they were Laura van den Berg, “What Will the World Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us”; T.C. Boyle, “Wild Child”; Robin Black, “If I Love You I Would Tell You”; and Belle Boggs, “Mattaponi Queen.” The only non-American, David Constantine of Great Britain, was nominated for “The Shieling.”

The Frank O’Connor Award is presented by the Munster Literature Centre in Cork, Ireland. O’Connor, a famed short story writer in the mid-20th century, was raised there. The Cork City Council helps fund the prize.

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There’s some other book festival going on this weekend — the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. — and a book set in West Virginia will play a featured role.

“When the Whistle Blows” by Fran Cannon Slayton is set in Rowlesburg, where her parents grew up. The story takes a look at teenager Jimmy Cannon as he grows up in the mid- and late 1940s — more specifically, it chronicles several Halloweens in Jimmy’s life.

Slayton’s book has been selected to represent both Virginia (where she lives) and West Virginia at the National Book Festival on Saturday, according to a news release from the West Virginia Center for the Book. She’ll visit both states’ booths in the Pavilion of the States, signing books and greeting readers.

“When the Whistle Blows” was published in June 2009, and Slayton was part of last year’s West Virginia Book Festival.

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So Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman and Spiderman pull up in an 18-wheeler …

It’s no joke. A traveling exhibit from the Library of Congress, featuring those three great Americans, is coming to Charleston next weekend. The “Gateway to Knowledge” exhibit, mounted in a customized 18-wheel truck, will visit the West Virginia Center for the Book, housed at the state Capitol Complex, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Oct. 2 and noon to 6 p.m. on Oct. 3.

Now, much of the stuff they’ll be bringing isn’t the real thing, but “high-quality facsimiles,” according to a Library of Congress news release. Why? Well, that stuff is valuable, and you wouldn’t want the actual rough draft of the Declaration of Independence — written by Jefferson, with edits from Benjamin Franklin and John Adams — to come to any harm on its way to the Mountain State.

Other parts of the exhibit include Whitman’s manuscript for “Leaves of Grass,” possibly the greatest American poem; a Gutenberg Bible (one of the first books ever printed on a printing press); the Waldseemuller Map (made in 1507, it was the first map to use the word “America”); and the handwritten manuscript to jazz pioneer Jelly Roll Morton’s “Frog-i-More Rag.”

What about Spiderman, you ask? The drawings for the comic book that introduced the web-slinging wallcrawler in 1962 will also be there.

If you want to know more, call the West Virginia Center for the Book at 304-558-3978 or 800-642-9021.

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More people will now be able to hear Nicholas Sparks read from his works and answer questions at next month’s West Virginia Book Festival.

Pam May, festival chairwoman (and frequent blog contributor), says in Wednesday’s Gazette that the Sparks program has been moved to the coliseum at the Charleston Civic Center. That arena can be set up different ways, and that affects how many seats will be available, but it should be several hundred at least, possibly much more.

There are a few other tidbits in there. so check them out, and keep coming back here to WVBF:TB for the latest updates on the festival.

UPDATE: That article originally gave the wrong time for Sparks’ event. The correct time is 2:30 p.m. on Oct. 16.