West Virginia Book Festival

A look ahead at summer reading

Memorial Day is, of course, the unofficial start of summer. Last week, the Los Angeles Times helpfully published a list of some of the top books coming out over the next few months. Among those that caught my eye are “The Greater Journey,” David McCullough’s history of Americans in Paris, and new thrillers by a couple of old favorites, George Pelecanos and James Sallis.

A few more upcoming books that look promising to me are listed below (all descriptions from the LA Times list). What are some books you’re looking forward to this summer?

| “Busy Monsters, ” by William Giraldi: When a mediocre writer’s bride-to-be leaves him to search for a legendary giant squid, he treks across the continent seeking counsel from nefarious creatures on how to win back her affections.

| “Epic: John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and the Greatest Tennis Season Ever,” by Matthew Cronin: An account of the thrilling battles between two tennis legends on Wimbledon’s Centre Court and at the U.S. Open.

| “The First Detective: The Life and Revolutionary Times of Vidocq — Criminal, Spy and Private Eye, ” by James Morton
Was Eugene Vidocq the 18th century’s James Bond? The author tracks the shadowy figure whose exploits inspired novelists.

| “Embassytown,” by China Mieville: The harmonious society between humans and an enigmatic race of aliens on a distant planet is upset by political machinations in this latest tale by a first-rate builder of imaginary worlds.

| “The Big Roads: The Untold Story of the Engineers, Visionaries, and Trailblazers Who Created the American Superhighways,” by Earl Swift: Travelers hitting the highways this summer might better appreciate the asphalt beneath their tires thanks to this engrossing history of the creation of the U.S. interstate system.


Fred Powers of Bluefield, a member of the West Virginia Storytelling Guild, performs at the Vandalia Gathering on Saturday. Photo by Chip Ellis

There was more than the usual traditional Appalachian music, dancing and other events going on at this weekend’s Vandalia Gathering. Storytellers are also playing their part, as the Gazette’s Mackenzie Mays reports:

Melissa Rogers, a graduate media-arts student at Emerson College in Somerville, Mass., wants to help storytellers like (West Virginia Storytelling Guide member Fred) Powers get their voices heard with The West Virginia Storytelling Project.

The documentary-style project explores West Virginia storytelling traditions and helps to preserve the stories’ longevity, while broadening the tellers’ audience with a Web presence.

Rogers said she couldn’t think of a better place than the Vandalia Gathering to begin the production process.

West Virginia Storytelling Guild Vice President Donna Wilson said she hopes the project will build awareness about the importance of preserving traditions.

“This is a wonderful opportunity to pass on these stories to younger generations. It’s so easy to lose those things. It’s amazing how quickly people can forget,” Wilson said. “It’s important to know who you are and remember where you came from.”


Annual festival underway at Welsh book town

One of the biggest “book towns” in the world is hosting its annual arts festival as we speak. The Hay Festival, in the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye , began Thursday and runs through next week. It began as a literary festival, but has expanded to include other arts as well (and it’s now sponsored by the Daily Telegraph newspaper; here’s the Telegraph’s coverage of the festival as it happens).

Several years ago, Paul C0llins wrote an account of his family’s (temporary) move from San Francisco to Hay-on-Wye. The book, “Sixpence House,” is a very good read, and Hay-on-Wye’s eccentric “king,” Richard Booth, features prominently.

This week, as you may have heard, Lee Child was announced as the headliner for this year’s West Virginia Book Festival. So there was not a lot of debate over the subject of this Video of the Week.

Here’s the man himself, interviewed on North Carolina television a couple of years ago on “the writer’s craft”:


Historian and author David McCullough poses with art by George Catlin, one of the artists featured in his new book, "The Greater Journey," at the National Portrait Gallery, in Washington. At left are Catlin's paintings, at right is a painting of Catlin by William Fisk. AP photo

We ruminated earlier this year about David McCullough’s new book, and now it’s here. The Associated Press has an interview in which McCullough walks around the National Portrait Gallery and talks about Americans in Paris in the 19th century, which to a certain segment of the population (or maybe just me), sounds like the best interview ever.

“Here’s the painting I wanted to show you,” he says, stopping in front of an oil portrait by Abraham Archibald Anderson of a pensive, bow-tied Thomas Edison.

“This has a nice story. Edison came to the World’s Fair in Paris in 1889. That was the fair that introduced the Eiffel Tower to the world. He had some 400 of his inventions on display and was a sensation. The crowds followed him everywhere. The electric light was already transforming Paris, let alone the world. So he hid to get away from the paparazzi and the crowds. He stayed with a friend of his (Anderson), and Anderson painted this portrait of him while he was in the studio.”

The artists he discusses share two vital qualities, McCullough says. They all spent at least some time in Paris and they all are in the same business as he is. They are historians, documenting the people, the customs and the conflicts of a given era.

If the interview doesn’t whet your appetite enough, here’s an excerpt from “The Greater Journey.” Or you can check out the book’s website, but know that McCullough says in the AP interview that he didn’t even know it was there; his publisher set it up.

As Oprah goes, so goes her book club

Audience members at a May 17 taping of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" at Chicago's United Center hold up 13,000 new books — part of the more than 25,000 books donated to schools and programs serving children in need through the nonprofit organization First Book. AP photo

As every human on the planet must know by now, the final episode of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” aired earlier today. Twenty-five years ago, Winfrey began hosting a local TV morning show in Chicago that eventually grew into a multimedia behemoth.

None of which would rate a mention on a book blog, except that in September 1996, Winfrey began her “book club,” asking her viewers to read “The Deep End Of The Ocean” by Jacqueline Pritchard. Over the next 15 years, she recommended 65 books, well-known and obscure, by authors living and dead.

Oprah Winfrey waves during her final show. AP photo

Her most well-known selection was “A Million Little Pieces,” James Frey’s memoir that turned out not to be a memoir, because many things Frey said in the book weren’t true. After his falsifications were revealed, Winfrey had Frey return to her show and excoriated him, in what she said recently was the biggest controversy in her show’s 25 years. (I think the best moment from the book club was when she chose Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” and got the extremely reclusive author to sit down for an interview.)

In the early years, Oprah’s list was heavy on current or recent literary fiction (including novels by two authors who would later come to the West Virginia Book Festival, Robert Morgan’s “Gap Creek” and Tawni O’Dell’s “Back Roads”). Her recommendations became less frequent in recent years, and they were more likely to be classic works of literature; Oprah’s last recommendation, late last year, was Charles Dickens’ “A Tale Of Two Cities” … not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Her choices weren’t universally lauded, and some authors — notably Jonathan Franzen, author of “The Corrections” — were ambivalent about their books being chosen. But if the goal is getting people to read, Oprah certainly did it. Many people who would have never heard of writers like Kaye Gibbons or Anita Shreve have read their books.

As Jonathan Galassi, president and publisher of Farrar, Straus & Giroux, told the Los Angeles Times: “It’s the ultimate book club; it’s very broad and very deep … It’s been a wonderful enhancement to publishing fiction.”

Author Sharon Flake talks with sixth-graders Joshua Harper (left) and Jeevan Murthy at Horace Mann Middle School on Wednesday. Photo by Lawrence Pierce

As Gazette reporter Mackenzie Mays reports, children’s author Sharon Flake says she can talk to kids about low self-esteem, because she’s been there.

“Children often think someone else is prettier or smarter than them. I like to point out my own pimples to the kids, so to speak,” Flake said at Horace Mann Middle School in Kanawha City on Wednesday.

“Sometimes adults forget to let kids know they understand what they’re going through. I share my own self-esteem journey.”

Flake’s novel “The Skin I’m In” is based on a seventh-grader who has a low self-esteem because of a bully at school who makes fun of her appearance. The book received the 2000 Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award for New Talent.

But Wednesday’s visit wasn’t just about pumping up students’ image of themselves. Mickey Blackwell, the school’s principal (and soon to take over as Roane County’s schools superintendent), hopes Flake’s visit “will allow kids to better understand the power of books.

“We tell the kids all the time to read, read, read. But having a well-known author here allows us to show them that connection to where books really come from,” Blackwell said. “It’s powerful for them to be able to meet the person behind the book they’re reading. Some of these kids may be authors themselves one day, and they’ll be able to look back on this experience for the rest of their lives.”

In my article for Wednesday’s Gazette about Lee Child coming to the West Virginia Book Festival, there’s a programming note from Pam May that has not been reported here:

The hours for the second day of the festival — that’s Sunday, Oct. 23 — have been changed. Things will start half an hour earlier, at 11:30 a.m., and end a couple of hours earlier, at 4 p.m.

Tables at the Kanawha County Public Library's book sale as the end of last year's West Virginia Book Festival approached.

In the past, festival organizers have asked vendors not to break down their booths and leave the festival until the end officially arrived at 6 p.m. But many vendors didn’t do that, and I understand their reasons. Some of them had long drives ahead of them and didn’t want to wait to get on the road. The last author events usually happened around 4 p.m., and after that, there wasn’t as much traffic in the marketplace.

On the other hand, it’s no good if some people are staying open until the end, and others are packing up around them. It’s like having your dinner in a restaurant where the staff is mopping around your feet an hour before closing time. Not fun.

So we’ll hope that this change will make for a more vibrant West Virginia Book Festival into the closing hours of the event.

(Saturday’s hours will stay the same, BTW. Open at 9 a.m., closed at 6 p.m.)

Lee Child

Laconic drifter Jack Reacher doesn’t want trouble, but it sure knows how to find him. Kirkus Reviews says, “Reacher is the best butt-kicker in thriller-lit.” And Lee Child, author of the 16 Jack Reacher novels, will speak at the West Virginia Book Festival at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 22, in the Charleston Civic Center Coliseum.

Child is the author of the New York Times best sellers “Persuader,” “The Enemy,” “One Shot” and “The Hard Way,” and the #1 best sellers “61 Hours,” “Gone Tomorrow,” “Bad Luck and Trouble” and “Nothing to Lose.” All his titles have been optioned for major motion pictures. A native of England and a former television director, Child lives in New York City. His latest title is “The Affair.”

The West Virginia Book Festival will be held Oct. 22 and 23. The annual, two-day event celebrates books and reading and offers something for all age groups. A variety of authors will attend, participating in book signings, readings, workshops and panel discussions. Activities for children include special programs and a section of the Marketplace filled with children’s activities. Admission to the festival is free.

The event is 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 and is sponsored by The Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Wal-Mart and Borders Express at Charleston Town Center. For  information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

Blog contributor Phyllis Wilson Moore points out that a West Virginia poet has won a national award.

“Bertha Butcher’s Coat,” by Mary Lucille DeBerry, won an honorable mention (one of three given) in the 18th annual Writer’s Digest Self-Published Book Awards, poetry division. “Life Lines” by Charles James of Elmira, N.Y., was the winner.

“Bertha Butcher’s Coat,” DeBerry’s first poetry collection, was featured on the blog last year. Phyllis wrote that it “reveals a joyful childhood spent in Harrisville, the county seat of Ritchie County, and reads like a dreamy poetic memoir.”