West Virginia Book Festival

Video of the Week: Brian Floca

In our efforts to showcase people coming to the 2011 West Virginia Book Festival, we have cruelly overlooked children’s illustrator and author Brian Floca. We rectify that error this week, with a brief video from the Brooklyn Public Library featuring Floca. (There are several more videos of Floca on YouTube, so hunt around a little if you’re so inclined.

Volunteers sought for festival

Organizers of the West Virginia Book Festival are seeking volunteers to assist with the event. The West Virginia Book Festival, an annual, two-day event celebrating books and reading, is scheduled for Oct. 22 and 23 at the Charleston Civic Center.

Volunteers will help in a variety of ways, including set-up, break-down, assisting authors and presenters and assisting with the used book sale, Festival Marketplace, children’s programs, crafts and information tables. The deadline for volunteers to apply is Aug. 19.

The festival will offer something for all age groups. Several authors are scheduled to participate in book signings, readings, workshops and panel discussions. Activities for children include special programs, crafts and more. The Kanawha County Public Library system’s annual used book sale will be held both days. Admission to the festival is free.

Volunteer applications are available online at  www.wvbookfestival.org. Visit the website or call 304-343-4646, ext. 273, for more information.

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, Segal-Davis Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Wal-Mart and Borders Express at Charleston Town Center. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.

Man Booker longlist contains some surprises

Some interesting stuff in the announcement earlier today of the “longlist” of contenders for the Man Booker Prize, the annual award for the best fiction from the British Commonwealth (that means Canada, Australia, South Africa, et al., but no United States) and Ireland.

The early favorite is Alan Hollinghurst, whose last novel, “The Line of Beauty,” won the prize seven years ago. He’s nominated this time for “The Stranger’s Child.” Other favorites are Julian Barnes for “The Sense of an Ending” and Sebastian Barry for “On Canaan’s Side.” Barnes and Barry have been “shortlisted” for the prize before, and they, along with Hollinghurst, are fixtures in the English literary establishment.

But as the Guardian newspaper in London points out, the story may be the books that weren’t expected to make the list. Consider:

| Three Canadian books: “The Sisters Brothers” by Patrick deWitt, “Half Blood Blues” by Esi Edugyan and “Far to Go” by Alison Pick.

| One book, “A Cupboard Full of Coats” by Yvvette Edwards, that sneaked under the literary radar of all the major British newspapers’ book review sections.

| A couple of thrillers, “Derby Day” by D.J. Taylor and “Snowdrops” by A.D. Miller.

| Some forays into “genre” fiction: “The Testament of Jessie Lamb,” by Jane Rogers, is science fiction, and deWitt’s book is described by the Guardian as a “blackly comic western.”

As Ion Trewin, Man Booker literary director, told the Guardian:

“[The longlist] seems to me to be as far-ranging in subject matter as I can recall. One of the things that’s changed over the years is that it used to be very much, quote, ‘literary fiction’. Now, if it’s particularly good, what you might call genre [is] no bar to it being listed.”

If you think you’re a bad writer, take heart: you’re not the worst … at least, not this year. The “winners” of the annual Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, which recognized the worst prose in America, have been announced. From The Associated Press:

Sue Fondrie of Oshkosh, Wis., won the 2011 Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest for her sentence comparing forgotten memories to dead sparrows, said San Jose State University Prof. Scott Rice. The contestant asks writers to submit the worst possible opening sentences to imaginary novels.

Fondrie wrote: “Cheryl’s mind turned like the vanes of a wind-powered turbine, chopping her sparrow-like thoughts into bloody pieces that fell onto a growing pile of forgotten memories.”

The University of Wisconsin professor’s 26-word sentence is the shortest grand prize winner in the contest’s 29-year history, Rice said.

Contest judges liked that Fondrie’s entry reminded them of the 1960s hit song “The Windmills of Your Mind,” which Rice described as an image that “made no more sense then than it does now.”

The contest is named after British author Edward George Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1830 novel “Paul Clifford” begins with the oft-quoted opening line “It was a dark and stormy night.”

The contest solicits entries in a variety of categories. John Doble of New York won in the historical fiction category:

“Napoleon’s ship tossed and turned as the emperor, listening while his generals squabbled as they always did, splashed the tepid waters in his bathtub.”

To take the prize for best purple prose, Mike Pedersen of North Berwick, Maine, relied on a thesaurus’-worth of synonyms:

“As his small boat scudded before a brisk breeze under a sapphire sky dappled with cerulean clouds with indigo bases, through cobalt seas that deepened to navy nearer the boat and faded to azure at the horizon, Ian was at a loss as to why he felt blue.”

I’m still a fan of last year’s gerbil-themed winner, but this year’s winners are, undoubtedly, pretty bad.

I’m not big on repeating posts on the blog, but one of my favorite posts since I’ve been doing this was last year’s look at “Too Many Cooks,” the Nero Wolfe mystery by Rex Stout that was set in West Virginia, at a fictional resort very much like The Greenbrier.

So if you missed it when it was first published a year ago, what better time to check it out than the week of the second Greenbrier Classic golf tournament. Here you go. And if any of you have read the book since last year, I’d be interested in what you thought of it.

Library of Congress exhibit returns to W.Va.

The three great Americans shown above — Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman and Peter Parker — make a triumphant return to West Virginia this weekend.

The “Gateway to Knowledge” traveling exhibit from the Library of Congress will be at the Raleigh County Public Library in Beckley on Friday and Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (Before it gets there, it’ll be at the Boyd County Public Library, just across the state line in Ashland, Ky., on Tuesday and Wednesday.)

As the exhibit did when it came to Charleston last year, it will feature the history of the Library of Congress, including Jefferson’s donation of his books after the U.S. Capitol was burned by British troops in 1814. Facsimiles of such artifacts as the Declaration of Independence rough draft, in Jefferson’s hand with edits by John Adams and Benjamin Franklin; Whitman’s manuscript for “Leaves of Grass”; and drawings from the comic book that introduced Parker’s alter-ego, the Amazing Spider-Man.

And did I mention it’s in an 18-wheeler? It’s in an 18-wheeler.

You run into book references in the darnedest places.

Went to the gorgeous PNC Park in Pittsburgh earlier this month to see the (ahem) first-place Pirates. When each player came up to bat, the scoreboard showed some personal trivia about him: hometown, favorite singer, favorite ballplayer growing up, etc. The categories varied slightly for each player, and I was pleasantly surprised that two players listed their favorite book.

Andrew McCutchen (left) and Charlie Morton.

Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates’ all-star center fielder, listed “Of Mice And Men” by John Steinbeck. But I was more interested by the choice of that night’s starting pitcher, Charlie Morton, who chose “Where The Red Fern Grows,” the children’s classic by Wilson Rawls. The story is about a boy who trains hunting dogs, and Morton’s new dog was kind of a running joke among some Pirates fans last year (when we needed a good joke), so it makes sense as far as that goes.

I don’t know if other teams do this sort of thing — and I don’t know if the Pirates emphasize it during their special kids’ days on Sundays — but it seems like a good idea.

Local writers to mark Borders closing

The Borders Express store at the Charleston Town Center Mall on Friday. Mall marketing director Lisa McCracken said the store is set to close in September. "We're sorry to see them go," McCracken said. She said mall staff are searching for a store to replace Borders, but doubts the mall will get another bookstore. Photo by Lawrence Pierce

Borders began liquidating its stores across the country today, including its few stores in West Virginia. A few local writers don’t want the store at the Charleston Town Center Mall to go without some recognition. From a news release:

As book readers mourn the liquidation of 399 Borders stores nationwide, at a time when liquidators have stopped all future functions at the failing book giant, a group of regional authors have received special permission to gather for one final event-to host a book-signing and farewell reception at Borders Express at Charleston Town Center this Sat., July 23, from 4-6 p.m.

“This marks the end of an era-a story with a sad ending. Borders has been extremely supportive and loyal to state publishers and authors,” said Keith Davis, CEO of Woodland Press, a Chapmanville-based book publisher. “Over the years they’ve hosted hundreds of book events involving local writers and storytellers, so many that we have come to look at the local store’s managers and employees almost like family. This news has been a bitter pill for us to swallow.”

Among the regional authors who will join Davis at the farewell engagement, and be on hand to autograph their respective books, will be Bram Stoker Award-winner Michael Knost, Brian J. Hatcher, Ellen Thompson McCloud, Jessie Grayson, Frank Larnerd and others.

“It’s heartbreaking for the entire literary community to see this happen,” said Michael Knost, an award-winning editor and writer from Logan County. “We hope the public will join us in saying ‘thank you’ to Borders for all they have meant to the state.” “We want to show our support and deep concern to a business that’s been good to all of us,” Davis added. “We’ll really miss the Charleston location, as well as the others in Barboursville, Parkersburg, Morgantown, Ashland and other locations.”

Refreshments will be on hand for staff and the public during the Sat. event. At a time when local bookstore managers and employees are preparing to start a new chapter in their lives, the public is invited to come out and express their heartfelt support during this event. The store will remain open throughout the liquidation phase, which is expected to last through September.

The most recent addition to this fall’s West Virginia Book Festival lineup is the subject of our Video of the Week. The director of the Letters About Literature program, Catherine Gourley, was announced Thursday as a presenter at the festival.

Among the programs involved with Letters About Literature is an annual writing contest, in which students write letters to authors explaining how the author’s work has changed the students’ view of thsmselves or the world around them.

At last year’s National Book Festival, the national winners of the contest read their letters — and a couple of them read with the authors whom they wrote to on the stage with them. Talk about pressure.


Catherine Gourley. Photo by Stephen Barrett

The national director of Letters About Literature, a reading promotion program of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress, will conduct an interactive workshop for educators at the West Virginia Book Festival in October.

Catherine Gourley’s workshop, scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 23, at 11:30 a.m. at the Charleston Civic Center, is intended for teachers who work with students in grades 4 through 12. It includes reading and writing activities that explore reflective writing, authors and themes that are more likely to produce meaningful reader responses and helping children make the leap from decoding information to becoming fluent readers. Gourley’s presentation is being sponsored by the West Virginia Library Commission.

Gourley is also the principal writer for The Story of Movies, a visual literacy outreach program for middle school children produced by The Film Foundation, Los Angeles and New York City. She has presented both nationally and internationally at educational conferences and book festivals, addressing issues of visual and print literacy respective to children and young adults.

A nationally published, award-winning author of books for young adults, Gourley’s most recent title is “The Horrors of Andersonville: Life and Death in a Civil War Prison,” which the Junior Library Guild selected for its best books list of 2010. Gourley lives in Woodbridge, Va., with her husband.

Best-selling thriller writer Lee Child, former Secret Service agents Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill, and self-help author Dave Pelzer have already been announced as part of the line-up for the festival, which will be held Oct. 22 and 23 at the Charleston Civic Center.

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 lectures. 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, Segal-Davis Foundation, Pam Tarr and Gary Hart, Wal-Mart and Borders Express at Charleston Town Center. For more information, visit www.wvbookfestival.org.