My guest blogger today is Stephen Doster, author of a fine new novel, Jesus Tree.
Around Nashville you occasionally see a “Save The Book” bumper sticker, courtesy of Parnassus Books, a local bookseller started by Karen Hayes and Ann Patchett after a major independent bookseller folded. The phrase, “Save The book,” stirs up a lot of connotations. In the 140-character world of Twitter and text-speak, some people fret for the future of the written word. Cell phone novels, written entirely as text messages, began in Japan in 2003 and spread to other countries at a rate that makes Ebola blush (LOL). E-readers and e-books threaten to make paperbacks and hardcovers a thing of the past. So, what about the book as we know it? Will it survive? Will we be a literate or a semi-literate society?
I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that October 11, 2014 was a good day for “the book.” In fact, it was a good day for a lot of books. On that day I attended another author panel session at the Southern Festival of Books, an annual three-day love fest for authors, publishers, and most importantly, readers, not e-readers but the actual flesh-and-blood variety. The festival encompasses three large edifices – the main library, the state capitol, and the legislative building. There are numerous author sessions occurring every hour of the festival for three days.
Saturday, October 11th was also the day #2 ranked Auburn Tigers played #3 ranked Mississippi State Bulldogs in college football – in the South, where Nashville happens to be located. It was a wet, overcast day, and I was going to an end-of-the day, closing session. But I had been to this festival before on a workday Friday, on an SEC football Saturday, and on an NFL (Titans in town) Sunday, and there had always been a good turnout for “the book.” But was that still the case? After all, e-books had another year to undermine “the book” since the 2013 festival.
The room I was going to was on the third floor of Nashville’s impressive marble and stone library. The 3:00 o’clock session was ending (packed room – a good sign!), and people were gathering outside the room for the last panel.
This particular session was titled, “The Evolution of the Southern Short Story,” featuring authors Suzzane Hudson, David Madden, and H. William (Bill) Rice. Before the session began, Belmont University Professor Devon Boan, the moderator, was discussing Bill’s book in-depth. “It’s nice when a moderator has actually read the book!” the author said. Welcome to the Southern Festival of Books.
During the session, the authors read passages from their books. Madden acted his out in a one-man play. Afterward, the audience members peppered them with questions. The discussion ranged from the evolution of short stories, or lack thereof, to post-humanism in Southern literature. Wow. Really? Auburn is playing Mississippi State, and we’re talking post-humanism? Full disclosure: I didn’t follow all of that segment of the discussion, but the fact it was going down in the South, on an SEC football Saturday, was encouraging.
But it gets better. After this session, I followed Devon and the authors to Legislative Plaza where the author signing area is located. I stopped to buy books and then made my way up the steps to the author tables in the still overcast and dreary afternoon with evening closing in. The three authors were at the same table signing books. Suzanne and Bill autographed their copies for me, then I got in David’s line. David knows a lot of people. A big guy was standing next to him talking to Devon and David as he signed books. When I got closer, the big guy reached out his hand and said, “Hi. I’m Pat Conroy. Nice to meet you.”
Pat Conroy was the keynote for the book festival and had been signing books for two hours before we got there. And there he was, still talking to authors and fans, and chatting with people like me, like we’re family. Then he said something I’ve always thought when attending this festival but never expressed. He looked out over the tables with authors from other sessions and the lines of people waiting to have their books signed. He spread his arms, taking it all in, and he said three words. “Isn’t this great?”
Yes, Pat Conroy, this is great. On a wet, overcast, SEC football Saturday, at day’s end, people still discuss books (post-humanism and all), they still buy books, and they still line up to have their favorite authors sign those books.
A good day for the book? It was a great day for the book.