West Virginia Book Festival

Read To Me Day can be every day

Photo by Chip Ellis. Donna Campbell of Appalachian Power reads to Ashley Owens' second-grade class at Weimer Elementary in St. Albans on Thursday.

Thursday was Read to Me Day, and hundreds of people throughout West Virginia went into classrooms to read to kids.

The Charleston Gazette’s Davin White went to Weimer Elementary in St. Albans, where Appalachian Power employees were reading to kids (as  they were at numerous schools throughout the region). They read “Once Upon a Baby Brother” by local author (and West Virginia Book Festival presenter) Sarah Sullivan.

In Barboursville, Marshall University freshmen Andrew Weber and Denton Mow were among those reading, according to Bill Rosenberger of the Herald-Dispatch. So was local pastor Josh Perry, who said:

“Of all the skills that have been cultivated in my life, nothing compares to reading. … I couldn’t imagine how small the world must be to those who don’t read. It makes a person more interesting, more articulate and influential. It essentially sets them up to love learning and to be able to continue learning long after the formal training stops.

Well said.

You know what’s wrong with Read to Me Day, though? It’s only one day. Kids ought to be read to every day.

To that end, several groups used the day to announce a long-term project called Read WV. The project aims to “encourage children and the adults in their lives to make reading a priority early in life and to ensure that children read every day,” according to the state Department of Education, one of the partners in the program. Joining them are Read Aloud West Virginia, the West Virginia Library Commission, the Imagination Library of West Virginia and American Electric Power (parent company of Appalachian Power).

For a start, the program offers a few online resources that adults can use to help kids learn to love reading.

National Book Award fiction winner set in W.Va.

The National Book Awards were announced today, and the winner of the fiction prize is set in West Virginia.

“Lord of Misrule,” by Jaimy Gordon, is set in the world of West Virginia horse racing in the early 1970s. Gordon, who was born and raised in Baltimore, took a series of jobs after college in the late 1960s “intended to boost her life experience,” according to Western Michigan University, where Gordon is a professor of English.

Among those jobs was as a groom and hot-walker (someone who walks horses after races to let them cool down gradually) at the race track in Charles Town in the Eastern Panhandle.

The description of the book from the National Book Foundation website:

At the rock-bottom end of the sport of kings sits the ruthless and often violent world of cheap horse racing, where trainers and jockeys, grooms and hotwalkers, loan sharks and touts all struggle to take an edge, or prove their luck, or just survive. Lord of Misrule follows five characters—scarred and lonely dreamers in the American grain—through a year and four races at Indian Mound Downs, downriver from Wheeling, West Virginia.

Horseman Tommy Hansel has a scheme to rescue his failing stable: He’ll ship four unknown but ready horses to Indian Mound Downs, run them in cheap claiming races at long odds, and then get out fast before anyone notices. The problem is, at this rundown riverfront half-mile racetrack in the Northern Panhandle, everybody notices—veteran groom Medicine Ed, Kidstuff the blacksmith, old lady “gyp” Deucey Gifford, stall superintendent Suitcase Smithers, eventually even the ruled-off “racetrack financier” Two-Tie and the ominous leading trainer, Joe Dale Bigg. But no one bothers to factor in Tommy Hansel’s go-fer girlfriend, Maggie Koderer. Like the beautiful, used-up, tragic horses she comes to love, Maggie has just enough heart to wire everyone’s flagging hopes back to the source of all luck.

Walter Dean Myers, a Martinsburg native nominated in the young people’s literature category for “Lockdown,” did not win. That award went to “Mockingbird” by Kathryn Erskine.

Other winners were “Just Kids,” singer Patti Smith’s memoir of her relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, in the non-fiction category; and “Lighthead” by Terrance Mayes in the poetry category.

You may recall that West Virginia native Jayne Anne Phillips was a finalist for the National Book Award in fiction last year for her novel “Lark and Termite.” Phillips, of course, was at the West Virginia Book Festival last month.

West Virginia Book Festival: The Numbers

Photo by Vic Burkhammer. About 2,500 people gathered in the Charleston Civic Center's coliseum to hear Nicholas Sparks at last month's West Virginia Book Festival.

5 Charter Presenters who created the West Virginia Book Festival

24 hours one Nicholas Sparks fan drove to make his way from Colorado

26 poetry lovers who listened to Irene McKinney, West Virginia’s Poet Laureate since 1994

30 sports fans who heard John Antonik recount 101 seasons of WVU basketball

31 people who attended New York Times best-selling author/illustrator Jim Benton’s session

35 future writers who learned how to craft a memoir from Mary Kuykendall-Weber

41 people who attended Heidi Durrow’s presentation about The Girl Who Fell from the Sky

45 attendees who learned about how children’s books are created from Sarah Sullivan

90 history buffs who heard John J. Fox III discuss his book The Confederate Alamo

66 attendees who listened to Jayne Anne Phillips discuss her novel, Lark and Termite

73 adults who heard Carmen Deedy talk about how she came to love the library

84 people who heard humor from the mountains in the WV Storytellers Guild concert

100 aspiring authors who learned 10 strategies to write a novel from Meredith Sue Willis

110 people who heard former Secretary of State Ken Hechler speak

171 people who volunteered their time to make this a successful event

250+ Civil War history buffs who listened to Dr. James Robertson’s presentation

400 adoring fans who visited with Outlander series creator Diana Gabaldon

900 people who were counted entering the Civic Center in one half-hour on Saturday

1,400 boxes of books sold at the Kanawha County Public Library’s annual Used Book Sale

2,500 devoted fans who heard Nicholas Sparks talk about his books

10 wonderful years of the hugely successful West Virginia Book Festival

The Book Sale Bible

Photo by Chris Dorst

Some of you may remember that during the live blog from last month’s West Virginia Book Festival, we mentioned a 1720 German-language Martin Luther Bible in the collector’s corner at the Kanawha County Public Library’s annual book sale. The Bible was bought shortly afterward, and we didn’t know who got it.

Now we know: Marilyn and Kim Walbe bought the Bible and presented it to First Presbyterian Church in Charleston for their archives. I talked to Marilyn Walbe (as well as Betty Damewood, who’s putting together the First Presby archives) for a story in Saturday’s Gazette-Mail.

This is a version of the “Martin Luther Bible,” so named because it was translated by Luther, the German theologian whose questioning of the Church led to the Protestant Reformation. (You can see the words “Doct. Martin Luther” in red on the title page in the photo up there, about a third of the way down the page.) Luther’s Bible was the first translated into the everyday language of Germans; he also provided assistance to William Tyndale, the printer whose original English translation of the Bible came out a few years before Luther’s German version.

But this particular Luther Bible isn’t German after all; it’s Swiss, printed in Basel nearly 200 years after Luther’s translation. That appealed to Marilyn Walbe, who has citizenship in Switzerland.

Photo by Chris Dorst. Marilyn Walbe examines the Basel Bible.

I did some research on the 1720 Basel Bible — OK, I took a few minutes to Google it — and found references to a couple of other copies, one in a museum in Cincinnati and one at the Lancaster Mennonite Historical Society in Pennsylvania (it’s the Lein family Bible in that link).

So next year, when you’re piling up your $2 hardback mysteries and $1 paperback romances at the book sale, remember to take a quick trip through the collector’s corner. Who knows what you might find?

The sound of memories: A von Trapp daughter looks back

“Memories Before and After The Sound of Music” by Agathe von Trapp, First Harper, 212 pages. plus photographs, $13.99 paperback.

Forty-five years ago, three young ministers and their wives packed themselves into a Nash Rambler on a cold winter’s day to make the short run from Clifton Forge, Va., to Roanoke. We were off to see “The Sound of Music,” starring Julie Andrews and Christopher Plummer.

The story, so well known to most Americans, was of a severe young widower, who found a suitable governess for his large family in a prospective Catholic Sister named Maria. In the warm theater, we heard songs such as “The Hills are Alive,” cute ditties such as “Do Re Me,” and a sentimental ballad “Edelweiss.” It was the story of the triumph of the human spirit, as the von Trapp family fled the Nazis and found freedom in Switzerland.

The viewers loved it. I loved it. But was it real? Did Maria love Georg? In high school I sat in a teacher’s living room and listened to an old 78 rpm record. Out of the speaker came the most marvelous sounds. It was the von Trapp family. There were no sweet ditties. There were no hills alive “with the sound of music”. Instead, there were madrigals, sacred songs and a few other pieces, sung by pure and trained voices. Their conductor, I learned, was Father Franz Wasner, a priest. Yes, Maria was there. Georg may have been there. A young woman named Agathe von Trapp was present.

It is Agathe’s book, originally published by a lesser-known publisher, and this year released in paperback by First Harper, that may tell a truer story than the 1965 film.

Agathe, born in 1913, and the eldest daughter of Captain von Trapp and his first wife, also named Agathe, has told the story of the musical von Trapps in a straightforward way. The von Trapps were, indeed a musical family, well before the arrival of the governess who would become the second mother to seven children, and the birth mother of an additional three children. Their father, a violinist and other family members, knew many folk songs, and through their association with the Catholic Church had heard sacred songs. Maria, governess and second mother, enlarged the musical vocabulary of the children, who were in their teens.

There was an escape into freedom. After having lived in a number of places due to the uncertain political times in which they lived, the family first immigrated to Italy, in which they held citizenship due to the boundaries drawn after World War I. They were residents of Trieste, an Austrian city which became part of  Italy after The Great War.

Continue reading…

World War II and the London Blitz

Veterans Day is coming up, and if you’re so inclined, there are countless books about military history and endeavors that you could dive into. In the past around this time of year, I’ve read Barbara Tuchman’s “The Guns of August” (about the beginnings of World War I) and Margaret MacMillan’s “Paris 1919” (about the aftermath of the war and the Treaty of Versailles), to name a couple.

But I found some military history in an unexpected place this year — a couple of huge historical science fiction novels by award-winning author Connie Willis. “Blackout” was released earlier this year, and “All Clear” came out last month. They’re part of a premise that Willis developed almost 30 years ago: at a future Oxford University, time travel has been invented and historians send themselves into the past to directly observe events.

Willis first wrote about these historians in the short story “Fire Watch” (which is available for free online), and followed with two novels: “Doomsday Book” (set in 14th-century England during a plague outbreak; a terrific read, but not the most uplifting story) and “To Say Nothing of the Dog” (a much more humorous and romantic story from Victorian England, as might be surmised from the title appropriated from Jerome K. Jerome). “Fire Watch” is set at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London during the Blitz in the early years of World War II, and “Blackout” and “All Clear” refer to events in that story. (That’s St. Paul’s at the top, standing amid the rubble of surrounding neighborhoods.)

“Blackout” and “All Clear” are Willis’ first novels since 2002. They were supposed to be one novel, but the story kept growing. Summarizing a plot with so many twists isn’t really possible, but essentially, three historians find themselves trapped for unknown reasons in England during World War II, and have to figure out how to stay alive, how to get home and how not to change the course of history while doing it.

I said at the beginning that I’d found some military history in these books, but that might not be exactly right. The historical detail from Willis is amazing, but except for a couple of scenes from the rescue of the British army at Dunkirk, there’s not much traditional military action. Then again, all of England was a war zone. People were killed and buildings bombed into rubble every night during the Blitz, and every Londoner was part of the war in an extremely personal way.

In “Blackout,” we get views of several scenes of World War II England: Dunkirk, the Blitz in London and the resulting evacuation of the city’s children to the countryside; the ambulance drivers who tended to the wounded after German rocket attacks; and even a snippet of a joyous Trafalgar Square on V-E Day. Similar scenes are part of “All Clear,” but much more of that story is set in London during the Blitz.

Michael Dirda of The Washington Post, the best book reviewer alive, says of “Blackout”:

If you’re a science-fiction fan, you’ll want to read this book by one of the most honored writers in the field (10 Hugos, six Nebulas); if you’re interested in World War II, you should pick up “Blackout” for its you-are-there authenticity; and if you just like to read, you’ll find here a novelist who can plot like Agatha Christie and whose books possess a bounce and stylishness that Preston Sturges might envy.

Just don’t think you’re going to get through these books quickly. They are big, and dense with detail, and it’ll take you a while. But they’re worth it.

Dogs, bugs and other Book Festival notes

A couple of recent West Virginia Book Festival-related notes from around the blogosphere:

| For the past couple of years, one of the big hits in the Word Play children’s area has been Bailey, the reading therapy dog who’s part of the “Sit, Stay, Read” program “Tales to Tails: Read to the Dogs” program. In a nutshell, kids who have trouble reading can read to therapy dogs like Bailey, and by reading to a completely nonjudgmental audience, they gain confidence and become better readers. (I’ve seen Bailey in action, and that dog is the best audience ever.)

Danny Pettry, a recreational therapist who’s a Beckley native and a Marshall University graduate, was at this year’s festival and talks about Bailey and reading therapy dogs on his blog, which is named after a couple of other dogs, Sam and Izzy. (That’s his photo of Bailey up there.)

| Roxie Munro, an author/artist who was at the Book Festival in 2009, was featured on the Through the Looking Glass Book Review blog, run by editor Marya Jansen-Gruber. Munro talks about her process when starting a book … and it involves cleaning, as well as other stuff that she does before getting down to serious writing. (Her latest nonfiction book for kids, “Hatch,” is due out in February.)

The crime of the decade!

Crime novel, that is.

As 2010 comes to a close, expect to see a lot of “Best of the Decade” lists.  Mystery writers are on top of their game, it seems.  At this year’s Bouchercon World Mystery Convention (only the biggest event for mystery writers and the readers who love them!), many many awards were announced, including the Best Mystery/Crime Novel of the Decade.

So who was the winner?  It’s a mystery!*

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

The Guards by Ken Bruen

The Lincoln Lawyer by Michael Connelly

Mystic River by Dennis Lehane

Still Life by Louise Penny

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

*JK, it was The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.