West Virginia Book Festival

Clear your schedule — Free Comic Book Day

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Saturday is Free Comic Book Day. I’m just sayin’.

If you wanted to grab the kid (or not) and head to a local comic book shop, it should be a nice day to reminisce with old friends and make some new ones, both in our actual universe and others. You can check for participating shops by ZIP code at the Free Comic Book Day website. I see stores in South Charleston, Huntington, Beckley, Morgantown, Fairmont, the Parkersburg area and near Wheeling and Martinsburg.

Pretty much everything you need to know about the event at Lost Legion Games & Comics/The Rifleman in South Charleston is in this gazz story. That includes appearances by local writer and filmmaker Danny Boyd (author of the Chillers graphic novel) and Jason Pell (creator of the Zombie Highway comic).

Of course, serious readers of this blog respect art in all its forms, so I don’t have to go into any justifications of comic books or graphic novels as either art or literature.  However, if you want a deeper look at how this art form grew out of the early 20th-century and how the Forces of Darkness moved to suppress it, let me draw your attention to a book from a few years back, “The Ten-Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How it Changed America” by David Hajdu.

But you don’t need that book to enjoy Free Comic Book Day.

You also don’t really need to know all the ways comic book reading is good for kids. Reading for fun improves fluency, which comes in handy Monday morning when kids are reading for school. Reading fiction to the point of being absorbed in characters and the story has recently been shown to be beneficial in other ways that have to do with compassion and experience. When teaching and testing young people on reading comprehension, teachers sometimes break stories into sections or panels, so students can identify events and how they relate.

Of course, I don’t tell the kids this, but if there are any reluctant readers in your family, kids who just haven’t yet found a book they love to read, the comic book versions of movie, TV and game characters can ease them into reading for fun.

It’s great that all that happens, but that’s not what I’m thinking about when I’m catching up with my beloved Spidey, or evaluating an issue of Young Justice or Superman Family Adventures for our very young nieces and nephews. I’m enjoying the art, the action, the characters, the humor. I’m mulling over ethical quandries and scientific possibilities. I’m looking backward and forward, inside and out. And having a good time doing it.

Happy Free Comic Book Day.

World Book Night is here

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 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?

Kanawha library fundraiser set for Saturday

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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.

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Jon Meacham in 2010. AP photo

One final reminder about Jon Meacham, author, historian, editor, and speaker at the Gazette-WVU Festival of Ideas at the Clay Center in Charleston on Tuesday evening.

The early pages of “American Lion,” Meacham’s Pulitzer Prize-winning history of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, find Old Hickory at home in Tennessee, preparing for the trip to Washington after a bruising presidential campaign. Meacham writes that Jackson “knew his election was inspiring both reverence and loathing.”

To illustrate the antipathy Jackson faced in some quarters, Meacham quotes a letter from a Jackson supporter in West Virginia — well, it would be West Virginia in a few decades. Meacham writes:

Some Americans thought of the president-elect as a second Father of His Country. Others wanted him dead. One Revolutionary War veteran, David Coons of Harpers Ferry, Virginia, was hearing rumors of ambush and assassination plots against Jackson. To Coons, Jackson was coming to rule as a tribune of the people, but to others Jackson seemed dangerous — so dangerous, in fact, that he was worth killing. “There are a portion of malicious and unprincipled men who have made hard threats with regard to you, men whose baseness would (in my opinion) prompt them to do anything,” Coons wrote Jackson.

Show’s at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. It’s free. Read the Gazette’s interview with Meacham from a couple of weeks ago if you don’t want to go in cold. See you there.

State Poetry Out Loud finals this weekend

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If this man is in town …

… it must be time for the state Poetry Out Loud finals.

That’s actor (and Beckley native) Chris Sarandon, who will be hosting the finals for the sixth straight year on Saturday. He’ll be joined by West Virginia poet laureate Marc Harshman and jazz duo Charlie Hunter and Scott Amendola.

But since you can’t have finals without semifinals, those will be held on Friday. According to the state Division of Culture and History, there will be 30 high school students from 23 counties participating, and Charleston poet Crystal Good will be there. The top 10 students will advance to Saturday’s finals.

The state winner will get $200 and a trip to the national Poetry Out Loud finals at the end of April, and his or her school will get $500 to buy poetry books; the runner-up gets $100 and his or her school gets $200. Last year’s competition was won by Bruce McCuskey of Nitro High School.

Below is a list of participating students and their schools. If your local school isn’t involved, well, there’s always next year.

Aeesha Ranavaya, Cabell Midland High School, Cabell County

Dayja Legg, Capital High School, Kanawha County

Kristen Hensley, Chapmanville Regional High School, Logan County

Katherine Vandall, George Washington High School, Kanawha County

Levi Wells, Greenbrier West High School, Greenbrier County

Grace Pritt, Hurricane High School, Putnam County

Anna Rubenstein, Nitro High School, Kanawha County

Dallas Hopkins, Ripley High School, Jackson County

Tyler Hammack, Roane County High School, Roane County

Kaelyn Miragilotta, Sherman High School, Boone County

Jared Workman, Spring Valley High School, Wayne County

Peyton Humphreys, Wahama High School, Mason County

Caitlin Fowlkes, Winfield High School, Putnam County

Sarah Jones, Wirt County High School, Wirt County

Madeline Richmond, Woodrow Wilson High School, Raleigh County

Olivia Hrko, Bridgeport High School, Harrison County

Sabrina Dahlia, East Fairmont High School, Marion County

Zela Wyrosdick, Fairmont Senior High, Marion County

Luke White, Lewis County High School, Lewis County

Bronwyn Clagett, Lincoln High School, Harrison County

Timberly Robinson, Lyceum Preparatory Academy, Ohio County

Mackenzie Roberts, Magnolia High School, Wetzel County

Ashley Feliz-Redman, Martinsburg High School, Berkeley County

Autumn White, Meadow Bridge High School, Fayette County

Joshua Stretch, Monongalia Technical Education Center, Monongalia County

Tim DiFazio, Morgantown High School, Monongalia County

Amelia Sark, Richwood High School, Nicholas County

Jessica Kimble, Tyler Consolidated High School, Tyler County

Rory Morgan Williams, Webster County High School, Webster County

Jalen McCrary, Wheeling Park High School, Ohio County

Top photo by Tyler Evert, state Division of Culture and History

Jon Meacham event in Charleston previewed

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Jon Meacham, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian who’s written about Andrew Jackson, Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill in recent years, is coming to Charleston next week. He’s the speaker at the annual Charleston Gazette-West Virginia University Festival of Ideas event, and the Gazette’s Doug Imbrogno interviewed him for Sunday’s Gazette-Mail.

Among the subjects discussed by Meacham: which of the three American presidents he most admired after writing about them. While acknowledging that Roosevelt and Jefferson were great men who left the word better than they found it, Meacham said Jackson grew in his estimation as he learned more about him, because Old Hickory was a “genuinely self-made” man.

“He came from a part of white society in colonial America where his destiny was not in any way set to become the first president who was not a Virginia aristocrat or member of the Adams family. It required an effort of will on a human level that was deeply impressive.”

Meacham’s book on Jackson, “American Lion,” covers Jackson’s eight years in the presidency. That book won the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 2009. His latest, “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power,” was on several end-of-year best book lists last year. No doubt both will come up during his talk, which starts at 7:30 p.m. on March 12 at the Clay Center, followed by a reception and book signing. Admission is free.

Jon Meacham coming to Charleston

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Hope that after recent months, you’re not getting tired of Pulitzer Prize-winning biographers coming to Charleston, because there’s another one on the way.

Jon Meacham — author of last year’s “Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power” as well as “American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,” which won the Pulitzer for biography in 2009 — will speak at this year’s Charleston installment of the West Virginia University Festival of Ideas, co-sponsored by The Charleston Gazette. Meacham will be here on March 12 at the Clay Center; the time is still to be announced. The event will be free.

Meacham has also written books about the relationship between Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, the civil rights movement and the role of religion in the lives of America’s founding fathers. He’s the executive editor at Random House and used to be editor-in-chief of Newsweek magazine.

World Book Night giveaway books announced

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A burgeoning book tradition will continue next April when people across the United States (and at least three other countries) will hand out books to their fellow citizens, on World Book Night.

What books will they be handing out, you ask? The list was announced on Thursday, and there should be something for everyone in there. Current fiction and mystery, classics, history, memoirs, young adult books … you name it. There are 30 in all, and special editions will be printed for the event.

But these books won’t hand themselves out. You can apply right now to give books out in your community. Then you may get to quite literally give the gift of reading on April 23 (a date fraught with literary meaning: Shakespeare’s birthday and death day, as near as we can tell; Cervantes’ death day; the UNESCO International Day of the Book; and a book-giving holiday in Spain).

Last year was the first time that World Book Night spread to the United States, and at least a few West Virginians were among those participating.

This year, potential distributors have to specify their first, second and third choices. I was trying to narrow it down, and I was having a hard time — not to say “The Worst Hard Time,” Timothy Egan’s award-winning history of the Dust Bowl, which is one of the books on the list. I might pick that — or J.R. Moehringer’s memoir “The Tender Bar,” or Michael Lewis’ “Moneyball,” or Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” or the 50-year-old children’s classic “The Phantom Tollbooth,” or the hilarious Neil Gaiman/Terry Pratchett collaboration “Good Omens,” or … hell, I don’t know. It’s free books, and there’s not really a bad choice on the list.

On the Los Angeles Times “Jacket Copy” book blog, Carolyn Kellogg notes that some booksellers have not wholeheartedly supported World Book Night, because they don’t like what they’re selling being given away for free. But event organizers have said that the giveaway can actually increase book sales. “As the drug-dealing cliche goes,” Kellogg writes, “the first taste is always free.”

Theodore Roosevelt, literary man?: UPDATED

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You thought the literary events in Charleston had ended with last weekend’s Book Festival? Not hardly.

Next week, Pulitzer Prize-winning Theodore Roosevelt biographer Edmund Morris will be in town to deliver the West Virginia Humanities Council’s annual McCreight Lecture. The lecture, “The Nine Lives of Theodore Roosevelt,” starts at 7:30 p.m. on Oct. 25 at the state Culture Center.

Morris is probably our current leading authority on Roosevelt. His book “The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt won the Pulitzer in 1980, and he’s followed that up with “Theodore Rex” (2001) and “Colonel Roosevelt” (2010).

The Gazette’s Doug Imbrogno talked with Morris recently, and asked him several questions about his nearly two decades researching our 26th president — including this one:

It’s hard to briefly summarize all TR (as Roosevelt was nicknamed) did with his life in the 60 years from his birth in 1858 to dying in his sleep of heart failure in 1919.

A sickly child, he reinvented himself as a vigorous governor of New York, a New York City police commissioner, an assistant secretary of the Navy, a colonel in the Rough Riders, a rancher in the Badlands and sheriff’s deputy in the Dakota Territory, a founder of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, a Nobel Prize winner, a vice president, and then a reform-minded president of the United States who almost single-handedly created the modern conservation movement.

Given all that, what did Morris learn during his long research on Roosevelt that surprised him?

“What surprised me — how funny he was, number one,” he said. “He had this delicious, lifelong sense of humor. And secondly, what I discovered in the last volume was how literary he was.”

Roosevelt authored about 40 books and wrote something like 150,000 letters, which recalls another notable world figure whose life straddled the 19th and 20th centuries — Winston Churchill.

“Roosevelt and Churchill are a very good comparison in being men of action, politicians and statesmen, and men of letters,” said Morris.

You can read the rest of the Edmund Morris interview in this Sunday’s Gazette-Mail.

UPDATE: Here’s the full interview.

Choices galore at the National Book Festival

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Children’s author Rebecca Stead talks to a full tent at the 2010 National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. AP Photo.

How do you choose among Esme Raji Codell, R.L. Stine, T.C. Boyle and Anna Dewdney?  (I’ve already eliminated Lisa Scottoline, Lein-Hang Nyugen, Donna Britt).

All these authors are on the schedule for Saturday at 4:25 pm, at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C.  If you are one of the 200,000 people expected to make an appearance at the Library of Congress’s grand party, you know that this is only one of the many choices that you’ll be making for the event.

For me, it takes a spread sheet.  It takes the cooperation of Internet Explorer and Microsoft Excel to create my chart so I can compare the various authors in the seven big tents on Saturday, and nine tents on Sunday to make my choices.  Along the way, I’ve learned that there are times when the choice is made for different reasons — like in 2008 — I really wanted to see Neil Gaiman, so I went to see Joseph Bruchac in the same tent, right before Gaiman.  Choices like this make sure I have a chair, and that I’m not standing in the rows of standing-room-only fans to see my favorite authors (a lesson I learned my first year – 2007 – when I was part of the SRO group for Sir Terry Prachett and Jack Prelutsky).

It also means that I’m going to see something that I hadn’t expected — like the person who asked a question of Joseph Bruchac and introduced herself by saying something like “Hi, I’m Lynne Cherry, and I have a question.”  My head, and the head of every other children’s librarian and children’s book lover in the room whipped around to confirm that it was indeed, Lynne Cherry, the author/illustrator of “A River Ran Wild” and “The Great Kapok Tree,” and others, asking a question of Bruchac.

And frankly, I wouldn’t have been able to watch the delight in Bruchac’s face as he stood next to the stage to see Neil Gaiman introduce “The Graveyard Book,” which wasn’t to be released for four days and later won the Newbery Medal.

There are lots of little moments like that — moments of delight that satisfy my people-watching soul as people of the book meet each other and meet the authors they admire.  I recently tried to explain to a friend of mine why I want to spend two days on the National Mall, listening to people talk about their books.  I go for the stories.  And not necessarily the ones that are written.

In the five years that I’ve been going to the National Book Festival, I’ve seen numerous authors and have uncounted memories of the moments that I spent observing them.  They are all little stories – like the audience reaction last year when Judith Viorst introduced her son, Alexander.  While seeing Alexander delighted the adults, the kids in the crowd could not grasp that this man was the young hero of their favorite story, “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day.”

So how will I decide who I’ll see at 4:25 pm on Saturday? How do you choose between three children’s authors:  Esme Raji Codell, who writes children’s books and reviews of children’s literature at her blog, PlanetEsme; R.L. Stine, the author of the Goosebumps series; Anna Dewdney, the author of “Llama, Llama, Red Pajamas”; or T.C. Boyle who has written “The Women,” “The Road to Wellness,” “The Tortilla Curtain,” and others.

 I don’t know.  It changes by the minute.  But right now, T.C. Boyle is winning.  That’s one choice made, there are at least 16 other choices to make – and a visit to the tent for the Library of Congress, the tent with all the state Library Commissions in it, and the tents of children’s games.  It will be a full day (or two) for all of us.