COVER- Sweet 16: 16th Book Fest; 16 lit picks

Every time we turn around, someone else has a Kindle, and although they don't always know how to use it, the emergence of the e-reader— iPad, anyone?— continues to raise the question, is the book defunct? 

And every year in March, the Virginia Festival of the Book comes along to dispel the notion that reading books has gone the way of the eight-track tape. 

Last year's attendance, despite the wobbly economy, was the most yet at 20,675. Maybe it helps that most of the events are free; maybe people are just craving the simpler pleasures that a book affords.

This year's 16th book fest, March 17 to 21, is a cram-packed 206 events spread over five days and has 353 participants. Whether your taste is history, mystery, or porn, there's literally something for everyone. Well, except maybe for the porn, although often there are erotic options. 

This year, there's less sex and more religion, perhaps a sign the Virginia Festival of the Book is prayin' that the funding of its parent, the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, doesn't get obliterated in by cost-cutters in Richmond. 

The book fest's website has a nifty book bag in which you can select items you might be interested in and keep track of them. We went in clicking away to come up with the Hook's Sweet 16 picks– and ended up with 59 items on our first go-round. Brutal editing ensued.

For headliner events at Culbreth that can be sold out, this year the festival offers guaranteed seats for $10 for those whose must-see list includes Maud Casey, Alice Randall, Elizabeth Benedict, or Nikki Giovanni.

One notable difference for 2010 is that the festival luncheon on Thursday, March 18, with Michael Malone still has tickets available. This is an event that usually sells out within about 10 minutes after tickets go on sale. Is this a sign of the economic downturn where people are more hesitant to drop $50 a ticket for lunch– or a sign that people really aren't sure who Michael Malone is? (He was an Emmy-winning head writer for the soap  One Life to Live and wrote a bestseller called The Killing Club.}

Malone currently teaches at Duke and lives in Hillsborough, which we just realized is a hotbed for Virginia Festival of the Book writers: Lee Smith and Hal Crowther also live there, as does Elizabeth Edwards, who is not coming to this year's fest but would be a great catch. Plus all those Hillsborough writers could carpool.

To help narrow toward our entirely subjective Sweet 16, here are events that we won't be attending, but very well may be on your list of picks.

- Crime Wave events, of which there are 24 writers, Tickets are still available for the $50 Crime Wave lunch on Saturday, March 20, with Julia Spencer-Fleming.

- How to get published. There are 38 events on Saturday, March 20, including legal advice, and if we had a manuscript in our grubby hands that we were trying to get published, we'd be there. But we don't.

- Youth and family events. And that includes anything about Sesame Street, of which there are three events, two with "Maria" (Sonia Manzano).

- Poetry with 38 poets, although we are kind of intrigued by the Palestinian-American doctor Fady Joudah and hear Mary Crockett Hill is great.

-Self-help events, even if they include Jackie Gingrich Cushman, daughter of Newt.   

Hook picks

1. Cemeteries as History: Lynchburg and Arlington 

Find cemeteries soothing, contemplative spots? We do, too, as well as fascinating glimpses into the past. Lynchburg's Old City Cemetery is indeed the oldest continuously operated public graveyard in Virginia, according to its website, and on the National Register of Historic Places. Landscape architect Jane White, who wrote Once Upon a Time: A Cemetery Story, has been a director of the Lynchburg cemetery, and did the award-winning restoration for Harlem Renaissance poet Anne Spencer. What's haunting about Arlington is that for General Robert E. Lee, the cemetery truly meant you can't go home again. Smithsonian contributing editor Robert Poole wrote On Hallowed Ground, The Story of Arlington National Cemetery. Moderated by local history writer Rick Britton.

2pm Wednesday, March 17, City Council Chambers 

2. The Crash of '08 And Its Aftermath

We've read numerous articles about it, and we're still trying to understand what the heck mortgage-based derivatives are. Surely these guys can shed light on what happened to bring this economy to its knees. UVA prof Herman Schwartz wrote Subprime Nation: American Power, Global Capital, and the Housing Bubble. Hunter Lewis also is a local, and his books have been critically acclaimed for their readability, even when they have those long, colon-inducing titles, such as his most recent, Where Keynes Went Wrong: And Why World Governments Keep Creating Inflation, Bubbles, and Busts.

2pm Wednesday, March 17, UVa Bookstore

3. Irreducible Near-Death Experiences and Modern Views of Consciousness

Bruce Greyson has written the Handbook of Near Death Experience with his colleagues at UVA's center for paranormal study (0fficial name: Division of Perceptual Studies), founded by the late reincarnation expert Dr. Ian Stevenson in 1967 and tucked away under the Department of Psychiatry and Neurobehaviol Sciences. Panelists Emily Williams Kelly and Edward F. Kelly are colleagues and co-authors of Irreducible Mind: Toward a Psychology for the 21st Century, along with Michael Grosso, who also wrote Experiencing the Next World Now.  

4pm Wednesday, March 17, Central Library

4. Bible Babel and Holy Curiosity: Questions and Answers about the Bible

Kristin Swenson is getting lots of buzz for her eminently readable Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time, and is currently taking a break from her religious studies teaching at VCU as a visiting fellow at the Virginia Foundation for Humanities. Pastor Winn Collier of newly forming church All Souls, author of Holy Curiosity: Encountering Jesus' Provocative Questions, tackles some of the tough questions in his writings, like "What about oral sex?" and "What does the Bible say about tattoos?"

6pm Wednesday, March 17, Barnes & Noble

5. How Plants Have Shaped World Knowledge

National Geographic books writer Catherine Herbert Howell, author of Flora Mirabilis, discusses how plants have shaped world knowledge, health, wealth, and beauty– and maybe even an economic crisis or two. Think tobacco, sugar cane, or opium poppies.

2pm Thursday, March 18, New Dominion Bookshop

6. Mass Shootings: The Prism of the Press

Is it always the media's fault? Jack Censor (yep, that's really his name) is a dean at George Mason University and wrote In Search of the D.C. Sniper: Fear and the Media, and journalist Dave Cullen spent 10 years covering Columbine, before writing the book, Columbine.  

2pm Thursday, March 18, City Council Chambers

7. Reporting from the Front Lines of Pakistan and Afghanistan

The region has got to be the toughest reporting beat in the world, unless maybe it's Juarez, Mexico, which J. Malcolm Garcia, author of The Khaaijee: A Chronicle of Friendship and War in Kabul, also has covered for Virginia Quarterly Review, the sponsor of this event. Nicholas Schmidle is another VQR contributor, as well as the Washington Post and New Republic, and he's written To Live or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan. Moderated by Virginia Quarterly editor Ted Genoways, who devoted an issue in 2008 to the war in Iraq. 

4pm Thursday, March 18, UVA Harrison Institute / Small Special Collections

8. Social Justice: The Power of Individuals

The civil rights movement didn't really have a lot of white southern boys, particularly if their granddaddy was in the Klan, as Bob Zellner's was. The author of The Wrong Side of Murder Creek joins fellow native Alabamian Paul Gaston, professor emeritus of history at UVA, who got beat up during a Charlottesville sit-in. Gaston's latest book is Coming of Age in Utopia, and he documents Mr. Jefferson's University's often painful disentangling from its embrace of white privilege.

6pm Thursday, March 18, City Council Chambers

9. Will Jesus Buy Me A Double-Wide?

Sometimes you just have to go by a title. Karen Spears Zacharias is no stranger to trailers, having had several milestones occur in them. She's also a former crime reporter whose work has appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, and on National Public Radio. Zacharias was raised a Baptist, but says she switched to Nazarene because "they drink more than the Baptist." Jeff Foxworthy loves her new book, the aforementioned Will Jesus Buy Me A Double-Wide?  

6pm Thursday, March 18, Barnes & Noble

10. Mentors, Muses & Monsters: Writers on Their Influences

This event takes its title from moderator and critically acclaimed novelist Elizabeth Benedict's latest book. She's also written the definitive The Joy of Writing Sex: A Guide for Fiction Writers, and one of the authors she consulted was Charlottesville's own John Casey, who's on the panel with his writing daughter, Maud Casey. Also on board is Alice Randall, whose parody of Gone with the Wind, The Wind Done Gone, had Margaret Mitchell's estate seeking an injunction. Randall's latest book is Rebel Yell, which she discusses in a March 19 panel. She lives in Nashville and is the first African American to have written a number one country song. Ten dollars guarantees a seat, and free tickets will be available after noon March 18.

8pm Thursday, March 18

11. The Uncommon History of Many Things–from Cars to Human Cells

You may have read about Rebecca Skloot's The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which has been getting all sorts of press lately. Cells were taken from Lacks, a poor black woman, in 1951 without permission when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. The cells are still alive today, known as HeLa to scientists, and they've been vital to medical advancements over the past half century. Also on this panel is Jason Vuics, who wrote the intriguingly titled The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History, and former Charlottesvillian Bethanne Patrick, author of the National Geographic book An Uncommon History of Common Things.

10am Friday, March 19, City Council Chambers

12. Appalachia and the South in the 20th Century

We've long been fascinated/haunted by the displacement of families to build the Shenandoah National Park. So is Virginia Tech prof Katrina Powell, whose Answer at Once: Letters of Mountain Families in Shenandoah National Park, 1934-1938 dispels the notion of ignorant, moonshine-swilling hillbillies. Not that moonshine-swilling isn't an important part of our history, as Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine author Max Watman can no doubt attest. David A. Taylor's Soul of A People: The WPA Writers' Project Uncovers Depression America has been called one of the best books of 2009– and it's also a documentary. With White Masculinity in the Recent South guy Trent Watts, there's a lot to talk about in a short amount of time.

6pm Friday, March 19, City Council Chambers

13. Where Does America Go From Here?

Please, someone tell us. And this is the group to weigh in: Hal Crowther, husband of Lee Smith and author of Cathedrals of Kudzu, David Swanson, if he doesn't get arrested protesting John Yoo the day before, Dahlia Lithwick, Slate senior editor who whips out chick lit on her vacation, and Washington Post associate editor Bob Kaiser, who's written So Damn Much Money. WVTF Charlottesville bureau chief Sandy Hausman moderates.

2pm Saturday, March 20, New Dominion Bookshop

14. A Conversation from Left and Right: With Hendrik Hertzberg and Richard Brookhiser

Let the games begin. On the left, New Yorker senior editor Hendrik Hertzberg, author of Obamanos!, and on the right, from the National Review, Richard Brookhiser, who wrote Right Time, Right Place: Coming of Age with William F. Buckley Jr. and the Conservative Movement. Sorensen Institute director/former Daily Progress political reporter Bob Gibson moderates.

4pm Saturday, March 20, UVA Culbreth Theatre

15. American Accents: An Evening with Four Distinguished Authors

Colum McCann just won the National Book Award for Let the Great World Spin. Grundy native Lee Smith was last at the book fest in 2007, and we're confident she'll be as charming and amusing talking about her new book, Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger, as she was then. E. Ethelbert Miller calls himself a literary activist– and he's a poet. His latest collection is the The Fifth Inning, and before that wrote How We Sleep on the Nights We Don't Make Love. Elizabeth Strout, who won the 2009 Pulitizer for Olive Kitteridge, completes the literary all-star line-up. With Good Reason host Sarah McConnell moderates. One of the few not-free events, tickets are $10. 

8pm Saturday, March 20, Paramount Theater

16. Class in America

Michael Rosen is a community organizer with several formers on his resume: real estate developer, CEO in the public and private sector, and prof at NYU.  He owns the penthouse in his book What Else but Home: Seven Boys and an American Journey Between the Projects and the Penthouse. UVA director of studies in women and gender Kath Weston's stories came from crossing the country by bus and ended up in Traveling Light: On the Road with America's Poor. Women of all socio-economic levels end up in the exam room of West Virginia nurse-midwife Patricia Harman, and in her book, The Blue Cotton Gown: A Midwife's Memoir.

1:30pm Sunday, March 21, UVA Bookstore


1 comment

Great write-up. I've been looking forward to this festival for nearly a year, and now I'm really psyched.

Thanks for including my session on your list (#6). I'm looking forward to what Jack has to say. I always learn a lot at these fests.

I'm just frustrated by all the authors I'm going to miss. I'm doing some other events in Virginia and can only stay in town one night.

I would really like to hear Rebecca Skloot. I'm so impressed by what she has done.