COVER- Joie de livre: 15th Book Fest, 15 hot lit picks

Seems like only yesterday that the Virginia Festival of the Book was an infant, and now, at 15– it's an adolescent– a very mature adolescent. With the tougher economic diet, the four-day March 18-22 event lost its baby fat and is a bit trimmer this year– down from 171 programs last year to 131, although still with far too many choices for book lovers, most of them free.

Like a precocious teen, the book fest keeps trying new things. Last year, it showed a pubescent interest in sex (tantric!). This year the Festival of the Book offers a more sophisticated wine-and-cheese interlude with David Baldacci and Adriana Trigiani– although that sold out long ago. Hiphop makes the scene, and another music and poetry event– Rita Dove and Boyd Tinsley at the Paramount– is such a good idea that you wonder why no one thought of it sooner.

For those who are stressed and wondering whether they'll get into the traditionally packed headline events like John Grisham at Culbreth on Saturday, March 21, this year the book fest offers a $15 Headline Event pass that guarantees a spot. Otherwise, free tickets will be distributed an hour early; first come, first served.

There's literally something for everyone, and to narrow our 15 picks for the 15th anniversary, here are a few festival topics we won't have time to attend– although you certainly may want to: 

- Oceans– three events scheduled March 20.

- Crime Wave for mystery fans (but if we went, we'd choose the March 21 luncheon with Brad Meltzer).

- Doctors who write.

- Poetry, although New Yorker poetry editor Paul Muldoon headlines March 18, and we've heard buzz about Richmond native Sam Witt.

- Edgar Allan Poe with relative Harry Poe.

- Sold-out events like the Festival Luncheon with Trigiani. (Get on the list for notice of tickets for next year.)

- How to get published– more than a dozen events there.

- Weaving with former local Liz Gipson March 20 at the Needle Lady.

Full Virginia Festival of the Book schedule is available at

Kids count too at the 15th annual Virginia Festival of the Book with lots of family friendly fun for young readers of all ages. Topping this list is StoryFest, an all-day Saturday event with readings and hands-on activities especially for children. Other kid lit events happen throughout the festival. Here are a few of our favorites:

Abraham Lincoln's 200th Birthday: Creating Paperbag Art. Retired Charlottesville Schools principal Mozelle Booker enlivens the early life of the 16th president with puppets and Ann Donegan Johnson's book, The Story of Abraham Lincoln. Afterward, artist John Trippel helps kids celebrate Abe's birthday by creating their own image of Lincoln's life.


6pm Wednesday, March 18, Carver Recreation Center.

I Dig George! (Washington, That Is). Noelle Hall was working at Ferry Farm, the Spotsylvania County boyhood home of another famous president, when she met an unusual archaeologist. Through her picture book, I Dig George: A Story of Ferry Farm, and its companion activity book, Hall tells the story of Digger the groundhog as he reveals how this nitty-gritty science uncovers secrets about the place where George Washington grew up. 

10am Saturday, March 21, Village School.

Connecting Kids with Nature. We like the idea of getting the kids out of the house and away from the TV. Radford University English professor, avid outdoorsman, and father of two Rick Van Noy helps kids get outside and into nature with tips from his book, A Natural Sense of Wonder. 

Noon Saturday, March 21, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports.

 The Art of Making a Children's Book: An Activity for Children. Children's book author and illustrator Anna Alter and local watercolor artist Lee Alter team up for a celebration of books and art. Anna shows kids how she creates picture books like her What Can You Do with an Old Red Shoe? and Abigail Spells. Then Lee, Anna's mom, leads kids in creating their own illustrations. (For children wishing to participate in the art activity, a $5 donation is suggested.) 

12:30pm Saturday, March 21, McGuffey Art Center.


HipHop Speaks to Children. Performer and former Hook music writer Damani Harrison, Burley Middle School P.E. and dance teacher Troy Stephen, and African drummer William "Whit" Whitten get kids moving to the poetic beat of hiphop with music, drumming, dancing, and stories. Participants are asked to bring new or gently used books to contribute to "Feeding Body and Mind," a program that helps feed both the body and the mind by collecting new and used books and distributes them to emergency food bank recipients. 

2pm Saturday, March 21, Carver Recreation Center.


Hook's picks 

1. Stories from the Civil Rights Movement. The panel line-up may be heavy on the white guys, but UVA law profs Richard Bonnie and Mildred Wigfall Robinson co-edited a collection of 40 essays written by people who were in school when one of the most influential Supreme Court decisions was made. It's called Law Touched Our Hearts: A Generation Remembers Brown v. Board of Education. With Freedom's Main Line: The Journey of Reconciliation and the Freedom Rides author Derek Catsam, and Peter Wallenstein, who wrote Higher Education and the Civil Rights Movement. [An unsung Civil Rights hero, John A. Stokes, who helped lead the Farmville student strike in 1951, will be talking at another event at Walton Middle School open only to students].

Noon Thursday, March 19, at UVA Bookstore

2. Demagogues and Change: A Discussion of the Current State of our Democracy. If current events haven't already scared the heck out of you, check this out. Former John Edwards foreign policy advisor Michael Signer has written Demagogue: The Fight to Save Democracy from Its Worst Enemies, and in between weighing in on every Constitutional issue that arises, Rutherford Institute prez John Whitehead has written The Change Manifesto: Join the Block by Block Movement to Remake America. Moderated by sorely missed former Daily Progress political expert Bob Gibson, now head of the Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership.

2pm Thursday, March 19, UVa Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections

3. Extraordinary Journeys: A Fiction Panel. Every book fest features at least one panel with the funny fiction writers– even though this one isn't billed as such. We've talked to Rodes Fishburne [see Facetime p. 26] and his local kin, who say he could have done stand-up, and Susan Gregg Gilmore's title, Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen, indicates a sense of humor. With Washington and Lee prof Domnica Radulescu, whose Train to Trieste documents a young girl's flight from Romania. 

2pm Thursday, March 19, Barnes & Noble 

4. Spying. Cool. Harriet the Spy fans will hardly be able to resist Fred Hitz's Why Spy: Espionage in an Age of Uncertainty and James Olson's Fair Play: The Moral Dilemmas of Spying. 

6pm Thursday, March 19, Barnes & Noble

5. The Art of Historical Fiction: A Conversation with Alan Cheuse and Mary Doria Russell. We're intrigued with Russell, the paleoanthropologist who taught gross anatomy at Case Western Reserve School of Dentistry before switching gears to write critically acclaimed novels [see Facetime p. 27]. With NPR/book fest regular Cheuse, this headliner will be taped for broadcast on Sarah McConnell's With Good Reason.

8pm Thursday, March 19, Culbreth Theatre

6. The Late-Night Story Slam. Not sure what a story slam is? Neither are we, but it features some of our favorite local raconteurs like Paul Curreri, Stevie Jay, Browning Porter, Fran Smith, and Mariflo Stevens spinning true tales, and the audience gets to vote on who lives... or who dies. Okay, who wins. No storytellers will be harmed at this event.

10pm Thursday, March 19, R2 at Rapture

7. Jack Kerouac's America. Gordon Ball wears a military uniform at Virginia Military Institute, where he teaches, but he used to hang out with Allen Ginsberg, and has written several books about the Beat poet. Hilary Holladay is the director of the Kerouac Center for American Studies at the Lowell campus of U-Mass, and Matt Theado has written a book on Kerouac. 

2pm Friday, March 20, Gravity Lounge

8. Book Review Superstars. We're unabashed Michael Dirda fans [See Hot Seat, p. 28], and it was only our 15-picks constraint that limits us from mentioning the Washington Post reviewer's other event March 20 (10am Central Library). He's with NPR's Alan Cheuse, WETA's Bethanne Kelly Patrick and Louis Bayard.

4pm Friday, March 20, UVA Bookstore

9. What Should Book Collectors Collect Now, and Why. Two reasons to check out an otherwise incredibly dry-sounding event: 1. Terry Belanger, founding director of Rare Book School and 2005 MacArthur award winner is a self-admitted genius at self promotion [see Facetime p. 24]. 2. The Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections is one of the most beautiful buildings on Grounds. 

4pm Friday, March 20, at the aforementioned Harrison Institute/Small Special Collections.

10. Another Music: An Evening with Rita Dove and Boyd Tinsley. Former poet laureate Rita Dove. DMB violinist Boyd Tinsley. Do we really need to say anything more? Hint: Get your $10 ticket now before this event sells out.

8pm Friday, March 20, Paramount Theater

11. Annual Book Fair. Publishers and authors, including one of Sweden's 10 women of the year, transsexual Li Sam, who flies in to be at the fest at her own expense. Free coffee in the morning!

9am to 4pm Saturday, March 21, Omni atrium

12. The Quick and the Undead: Vampires. We love bloodsuckers, especially hot ones. Mario Acevedo's books like Jailbait Zombie are the pulp fiction of vampire lit. And we like the sound The Dead Travel Fast by Eric Nuzum and Once Dead, Twice Shy by Kim Harrison, both of whom will be here.

2pm Saturday, March 21, Albemarle County Office Building

13. Nice Jewish Girls Gone Wild. Long ago, we subscribed to an obscure Hollywood magazine called Movieline that used Martha Frankel, who inserted herself into whatever celebrity profile she wrote, so that we ended up remembering more about Martha Frankel than Leonardo DiCaprio or Mike Tyson. That's why we would read her book, Hats & Eyeglasses: A Memoir, about growing up in a family of diehard gamblers. She's joined by Doreen Orion, who toured the U.S. in an RV fueled by martinis and wrote Queen of the Road, and Slob Proof! writer Deborah Wiener.

4pm Saturday, March 21, City Council Chambers

14. Authors' Reception. One of our favorite book fest events because it involves wine, food and writers. Daphne and Tim Reid [interviewed in next week's Hook] host– he's just written Tim and Tom: An American Comedy in Black and White– along with Katherine Neville, author of The Fire, and Director of the Center for the Book in the Library of Congress John Cole. Tickets are $35, and this has been prone to sell out the past few years. Usually at Carr's Hill, but this year the glasses clink in UVA's charming special collections library.

6pm Saturday, March 21, UVA Harrison Institute / Small Special Collections

15. Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World. Okay, we'll admit, we really don't care that much about the 1960 Olympics, but when we hear Pulitzer-Prize winning Washington Post journalist David Maraniss, we're there.

3pm Sunday, March 22, Albemarle County Office Building