West Virginia Book Festival

Happy birthday, Shakespeare

As best as anyone knows, William Shakespeare was born on this date, 449 years ago, in Stratford-upon-Avon. There are historical records that show he died on this date, 397 years ago, in the same town.

I used the occasion two years ago to write about the man and his impact on what we read today. Last year, Dawn Miller wrote about reading Shakespeare to kids as a volunteer for Read Aloud West Virginia.

This year? I’m just going to remember the people who helped me learn to love Shakespeare. And I’m going to post this photo that I took at the Globe Theater replica in London a few years ago, because it makes me happy every time I see it.

And I’m going to honor his memory the best way I know how. I’m going to read him.

World Book Night is here

 If you’re walking on the street today and someone hands you a book, don’t assume they’re a crackpot or promoting some religious order. They might be celebrating World Book Night.

Started two years ago in the United Kingdom, the annual event spread to the U.S. and other counties last year. The World Book Night group picks a bunch of books (32 this year) and asks volunteers to sign up to hand them out, for free, in their communities. Libraries and bookstores serve as conduits to get the books to the volunteers. The books span every genre; plenty of fiction, but also some history, and biography, and poetry, and children’s books.

(Why April 23? Because it’s Shakespeare’s death date and (presumed) birth date, and Cervantes’ death date, and Barcelona does this on April 23, and how many reasons do you need to hand out free books?)

For the second year, the Kanawha County Public Library is serving as a distribution point for World Book Night. Melissa Minsker, who’s handling the event for the library, said about a dozen volunteers will be giving out books. At least a couple are planning to go the the Charleston Town Center Mall, but some will be headed elsewhere. Melissa also says the books are specially bound and easily identifiable as World Book Night copies.

A (very) quick online search reveals a few other places in West Virginia that are participating. On their Facebook page, Hearthstone Books in Bluefield mentioned that they had someone come in to pick up her books to distribute. Kerri’s Korner Bookstore in Fairmont was trying to get involved as well. The Barnes and Noble store in Morgantown had an event planned that appears to have been cancelled, but the Gilmer Public Library in Glenville was taking part. I’m sure that’s not a comprehensive list.

World Book Night has already kicked off with special author events at bookstores and libraries around the country; in all, there are 28 such events this year, way up from last year’s two. None of those are in West Virginia, but maybe we’ll have one here next year?

Susan Maguire, novelist

Susan Maguire, aka Sarah Title, and her novel “Kentucky Home.” Photo by Chip Ellis.

I don’t mind telling you, it’s been a little gloomy here on the West Virginia Book Festival blog lately. So it is a real, unalloyed pleasure to report some good news.

Readers of this blog may know one of our contributors, Susan Maguire, for her love of Judy Blume, her completely different love for Jack Reacher, or her always interesting and often hilarious thoughts on any number of subjects.

As of this past Thursday, you can know her as something else: a published novelist. Her first book, the romance novel “Kentucky Home,” has been published by Kensington Books under Susan’s nom de plume, Sarah Title.

Elizabeth Gaucher interviewed Susan for the Sunday Gazette-Mail about her “double life: mild-mannered librarian by day, steamy romance writer by night.” (About that: I wouldn’t say I know Susan well, but mild-mannered is not the first adjective that comes to mind.)

Anyway, Susan talks about her book, and being a romance novelist — and the difference, or lack thereof, between that and being a novelist in general:

“There is sort of a dismissal of all kinds of genre fiction — that it’s predictable and it’s not meaningful. I don’t like to compare it to literary fiction because I think that makes both kinds of writing come out losing. I think all kinds of reading are valuable,” she said.

“People are attracted to the romance formula because it’s comforting. But, in the right hands, it’s also interesting because you know you have to get from point A to point B, and there are a lot of different ways to get there.”

Kanawha library fundraiser set for Saturday

Kanawha County Public Library board member Cheryl Morgan fluffs up a “dress-up” wicker basket full of outfits and accessories for little girls. The basket will be among those sold at a silent auction at the library’s annual fundraiser on Saturday. Photo by Chip Ellis.

If you’re reading this, chances are you know that this year’s West Virginia Book Festival was cancelled because funding for the Kanawha County Public Library, the festival’s main sponsor, is likely to be severely cut by the members of the Kanawha County school board.

But a looming financial hit for the library means a lot more than no Book Festival in October. It could mean several libraries in the county will close completely. It could mean a lot of librarians and others will lose their jobs.

So what can you do? Well, if you’re in the Charleston area on Saturday — and if you’re one of those who believes that libraries are an important, even essential, part of the community — you can come to the library’s “A Tisket, A Tasket, A Literary Basket” fundraiser at 6 p.m. at the auditorium in the NiSource Gas Transmission building at 1700 MacCorkle Ave. S.E.

The annual event features a silent auction for themed baskets full of goodies, including at least one book in each basket. Gazette features editor Rosalie Earle wrote about preparations for the fundraiser a few weeks ago, and event chairwoman Cheryl Morgan told her that they already had 76 baskets — 11 more than they’ve ever had.

In past years, the fundraiser has been specifically for children’s programming, including children’s authors at the Book Festival. But Ghee Gossard, chairwoman of the Friends of The Library Foundation of Kanawha County (which puts on the event), told Rosalie, “We think it’s best that the library use their discretion as to where our money goes.”

You can check out many of the offerings at the library’s website. And maybe we’ll see you there on Saturday night.