West Virginia Book Festival

Ra-Ra-Ah-Ah-Ah-Ah

That’s a Lady Gaga quote for you all.

Anyway!  News item!  The Huffington Post reports that the Literary Review has released its shortlist (ha!  Sorry.) for the Bad Sex in Literature Award.  You can see the whole thing here, if you’re looking for some great holiday reading.  And a few samples, so you can see just how these books got onto the list.

As a romance reader, I’ve read my share of unappealing love scenes, but these are just … I mean … wow.  The list is a smorgasbord of literary and popular luminaries: Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, David Guterson.  The only woman on the list (let’s not read too much into that, although I already have) is Jean Auel, which, for anyone who read The Valley of the Horses at Girl Scout camp, is no surprise.

EXCEPT WHY IS THE AFFAIR, BY LEE CHILD, ON THAT LIST.  I mean, come on!  Only Jack Reacher can perfectly time … things … with the arrival of an oncoming train.  That’s not bad, people, that’s art.

Among the houses featured in John C. Allen Jr.'s "Uncommon Vernacular" is Harewood, near Charles Town. It was built for George Washington's brother, Samuel, who moved in with his family in 1770. Photo from the book by Walter Smalling Jr.

Was shopping at the Capitol Market this weekend and talked with John C. Allen Jr., who was signing copies of his beautiful and very large book, “Uncommon Vernacular: The Early Houses of Jefferson County, West Virginia, 1735-1835.” The Gazette’s Doug Imbrogno asked Allen a few questions about the book earlier this month — including whether it might encourage West Virginians, and Eastern Panhandle residents in particular, to be more cognizant of historic preservation. Allen says:

Jefferson County has a culture of preservation. Historic structures and places are revered and are sources of pride for the locals. The Civil War battlefields, homes of Revolutionary War generals, the Washington family houses, John Brown raid sites — these are an integral part of the local identity and awareness.

Most of the historic resources here, however, are agricultural in nature, such as farmhouses, barns and outbuildings. What has been lost during the rapid development in recent decades is a portion of the agricultural context for these structures. As farms turn into subdivisions, many of the historic buildings remain, but these survivors seem out of place in this modern suburban landscape.

Allen told me Saturday that his next project will be a similar book about early Berkeley County houses. If you’re near Charleston and you missed him talking about his Jefferson County book at the Capitol Market and Taylor Books this weekend, you’ll have another shot at 7 p.m. on Jan. 11 Jan. 19 at the state Culture Center. He’ll be at a reception opening an exhibit of photographs from the book.

UPDATE, Feb. 20: The exhibit with photos from “Uncommon Vernacular” is moving to Morgantown, where WVU Press and the school’s College of Creative Arts will host the exhibit from Feb. 22 to June 29.

National Book Award winners announced

The National Book Awards were announced last night, in a celebration that some call the book world’s equivalent of Oscar night.

The winners were “Salvage the Bones” by Jesmyn Ward in fiction; “The Swerve: How the World Became Modern” in non-fiction; “Head Off and Split” by Nikky Finney in poetry; and “Inside Out and Back Again” by Thanhha Lai in the young adult category.

As you know if you’ve been reading this blog, last year’s fiction winner — “Lord of Misrule” by Jaimy Gordon — was set in West Virginia. I don’t think any of this year’s winners have any direct connection to the Mountain State. But the poetry winner, Nikki Finney, is an Affrilachian poet (and a professor at the University of Kentucky). And the fiction winner, “Salvage the Bones,” did draw a comparison to Buckhannon native Jayne Anne Phillips’ “Lark and Termite” (a National Book Award finalist in 2009) from Washington Post book critic Ron Charles.

I was sort of expecting “The Tiger’s Wife” by Tea Obreht, a Yugoslavia native now living in the United States, to win the fiction prize; she’d already won the British Orange Prize for fiction by a woman. I didn’t know much about Ward’s novel, but now I’ll have to read that.

I really enjoyed Greenblatt’s biography of Shakespeare, “Will in the World,” so “The Swerve” was already on my list to read — even though Michael Dirda, my favorite book critic, wasn’t crazy about the book. He called it “a book that feels a little mushy and over-sweetened, in the way of so much popular history with an eye on the bestseller list.”

Books-A-Million officially comes to the Town Center

As promised, Books-A-Million has replaced Borders stores in the Charleston Town Center Mall and the Huntington Mall. The new stores are part of a wave of 41 new BAM stores, many in former Borders locations.

The Charleston store held a grand opening on Saturday, and West Virginia authors Michael Knost and Brian Hatcher were among those there. (Brian was doing a little magic for the kids, as you see below.) BTW, both of them talked about how good the traffic and sales were at the Woodland Press booth at last month’s West Virginia Book Festival — something festival people have heard from a lot of vendors. Brian said they sold out of the new Knost-edited anthology, “The Mothman Files” (not to worry, they’ve got more).

As for the new store itself, it’ll look pretty familiar to anyone who was in the old Borders Express store. Same basic setup, looked like some of the same people working there — and that’s a good thing. I always found it a well-run, well-stocked store (given the space limitations).

Thanks for another outstanding festival

This post was written by Alan Engelbert, Kanawha County Public Library Director.

Last month, thousands of people gathered in the Charleston Civic Center to celebrate books, authors, reading and a sports legend. The 11th Annual West Virginia Book Festival brought in people from all over West Virginia and many other states to enjoy two days in Charleston, filling hotel rooms, restaurants and stores, while being entertained and enlightened by authors and illustrators from the Mountain State and across the nation.

The West Virginia Book Festival appeals to people of all ages. Children were spellbound by Erin Turner’s stories about ghosts and monsters in West Virginia and were inspired to create their own monsters by decorating masks after the presentation. They also saw how picture books are illustrated and learned about kindness, friendship and respect in two anti-bullying programs presented by Bright Star Touring Theatre.

There were workshops for teachers, programs for aspiring writers and presentations by storytellers and humorists. A packed audience was mesmerized by Gerald Blaine and Clint Hill, authors of The Kennedy Detail, as they told about their work as secret service agents for the Kennedy family, including detailed information about what really happened the day President Kennedy was assassinated.

Lee Child talked about the creation of Jack Reacher, the fictional hero in 17 books he has written. The audience also learned that Mr. Child’s book One Shot is currently being made into a movie starring Tom Cruise. After autographing books for hundreds of his fans, Mr. Child met briefly with Jerry West and discovered that Mr. West is an avid fan of the Jack Reacher novels.

Saturday’s program ended with a presentation by basketball legend Jerry West, who was interviewed onstage by Senator Joe Manchin. Mr. West talked about his current book, West by West, and then spent four hours meeting with fans and signing copies of his book.

On Sunday, Dave Pelzer, author of A Child Called It, encouraged his audience to overcome the disappointments of their past and take responsibility for their own happiness. He spent time with the audience before and after his program, signing books and hearing how his story has inspired them to live fuller lives.

Each morning, there was a long line of people waiting for the used book sale to open. The sale is a wonderful way for the library to raise funds while giving people the opportunity to buy books at greatly reduced prices. Every year, local teachers come to the book sale to purchase books for their classroom. The Word Play area also provided dozens of activities for children, and there were 57 vendors in the sold-out marketplace.

Pam May, WV Book Festival Chairperson and Marketing Supervisor at Kanawha County Public Library, works closely with the festival committee throughout the year to plan the event. Nearly 200 volunteers are recruited to work before, during and after the weekend.

An event of this size, that reaches thousands of people in the community, would not be possible without the help of the numerous presenters and sponsors who provide support. This year’s book festival was presented by Kanawha County Public Library, The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Inc., West Virginia Humanities Council, The Charleston Gazette and the Charleston Daily Mail. Sponsors were the Martha Gaines and Russell Wehrle Memorial Foundation, Segal and Davis Family Foundation, Pamela D. Tarr and Gary Hart, The Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County, Target, Walmart, BB&T West Virginia Foundation, West Virginia Library Commission, West Virginia Center for the Book and Borders Express.

Thank you to everyone who made the 11th Annual West Virginia Book Festival such a success. I appreciate all of the staff, volunteers, authors, presenters, sponsors and vendors who made this event possible. And thank you to everyone who attended. I look forward to seeing you at next year’s book festival on Oct. 13 and 14 and welcome you to visit Kanawha County Public Library throughout the year.

Christmas is coming, and so is Jan Brett

Jan Brett's Christmas tour bus, coming to Beckley next week.

The work of a longtime children’s author and illustrator is on display in West Virginia right now — and the author herself is coming next week to join in the celebration.

Jan Brett and friend.

“The World of Jan Brett,” an interactive exhibit featuring the words and illustrations of the award-winning storyteller, has been at the Youth Museum of Southern West Virginia in Beckley since July. Brett released her latest book, “Home for Christmas,” last week. She’ll be in Beckley on Nov. 9 at 4:30 p.m. to talk about that book — and another collaboration, “The Night Before Christmas Deluxe Book and DVD Edition with the Boston Pops Orchestra.”

That’s a natural, since her husband Joe has played the double bass for 50 seasons with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as the Gazette’s Sara Busse reported last month.

She brings props, too — including one used by the main character, Rollo the runaway troll, in “Home for Christmas.”

“I’ll bring the antler we found,” she said, referring to a moose antler that she discovered on a research trip to Sweden. “It takes a long time to get up the mountain, but whoosh, Rollo can get down the mountain more quickly if he has the antler to ride on. I’m fascinated by an act of physics that kinda changed things.”