The world has changed since the first celebration of the book here in 1995. Back then, no one seriously considered the feasibility of a computer replacing bound pages for one's reading pleasure. In 2010, however, Amazon sold more e-books than old-fashioned paper ones.
Bookstores were struggling then, when big chains were seen as the major threat. Locally, the ones that survived the arrival of Barnes & Noble mostly are still around.
Once, just getting a book published was a huge deal. Now, that's just the beginning, and with publishers doing zip for promotion, a writer had better be a skilled marketer, too. And he or she still might need a day job.
Ask any of the many local writers how many are supported by the sales of their books. The only one for whom we'd be confident in saying royalty checks pay the rent is John Grisham.
Despite the hardships of the literary world, people keep writing–- and reading.
And the Virginia Festival of the Book, set for March 16-20, soldiers on, beleaguered by dwindling financial support as another chief source of funding, the National Endowment for the Humanities, takes its own funding hits.
This year, the five-day event has 30 fewer programs than last year, but organizers don't see a mere 130 public events as necessarily a bad thing. "Last year people complained that there were too many choices in some time slots," says Nancy Damon, book festival program director.
There are more paid events this year–- seven out of the 130.
And here's what's sold out at press time: The Help author Kathryn Stockett in an event sponsored by John and Renee Grisham; the traditionally sold-out festival luncheon, this year with the Newshour's Jim Lehrer, and the Crime Wave luncheon with author and TV series Bones producer Kathy Reichs.
The good news: that still leaves 127 other events. For the 17th Virginia Festival of the Book, here are 17 events that caught our eye.
- Muslim Women: Perceptions and Self-Perceptions. Who are those veiled women? A panel of area experts–- UVA's Aziz Sachedina and Farzaneh Milani, Mary Baldwin's Naeema Abdel Gawad, and William and Mary's Anne Rasmussen–- take us behind the veil. 9am Wednesday, March 16, City Council Chambers.
- The Writ of Habeus Corpus and the Injustice of Wrongful Convictions. Living here in the state where allegedly false confessions convicted the Norfolk Four, we're fascinated and repulsed by wrongful convictions, the true horror stories of our age. Brandon Garrett is UVA Law's false confessions expert, and Paul Halliday is UVA's habeus corpus expert (and has a book by that name). Moderator Dahlia Lithwick is Slate's Supreme Court expert. Noon Wednesday, March 16, City Council Chambers.
- Behind Bars, Beyond Vengeance. The damage to generations of African-American men whose presence in prison far exceeds their percentage of the population is well known, but how often do you hear that turned into a success story? That would be Dwayne Betts, author of A Question of Freedom: A Memoir of Learning, Survival, and Coming of Age in Prison, who appears with Sylvia Clute, who advocates for something other than a punitive justice system. 4pm Wednesday, March 19, City Council Chambers.
- Inspirations in Philanthropy. If we had a vast fortune, we'd want to hear how Warren Buffett's sister handled it. She appears with Michael Zitz, the author of her book, Giving It All Away: The Doris Buffett Story. 4pm Wednesday, March 16, Central Library.
- Civility in a Fractured Society. How often we have thought so many of life's dramas could be avoided if only people had better manners. That may not be the reasoning of National Foundation for the Humanities chair Jim Leach, but he does see a need for civility in public discourse, and intriguingly, in the humanities. 8pm Wednesday, March 16, UVA Rotunda.
- Narratives from Survivors of Burma's Military Regime. Nobel Prize-winner Aung San Su Kyi has long fascinated and inspired us during her 15 years of house arrest, which is why we're interested in learning more about this other world that calls itself Myanmar. Charlottesville native Maggie Lemore and Zoe West wrote the book Nowhere to Be Home. 8pm Wednesday, March 16, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports.
- Daniel Mendelsohn: Cavafy at the Margins: Geography, History, Desire. Okay, we'll confess we had no idea who turn-of-the-century Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy is, but we are familiar with UVA grad Mendelsohn, whom the Economist calls the best English-writing critic around. And he translates Greek and writes his own books as well. 6pm Thursday, March 17, UVA Harrison Institute, Small Special Collections.
- New Fiction from Alan Cheuse, Mark Childress, Myla Goldberg and Jaimy Gordon. Jaimy Gordon is on a roll. She won the 2010 National Book Award, and has just been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner award for her tale of a seedy racetrack, Lord of Misrule. Another author whose new book, Georgia Bottoms, intrigues us is Mark Childress. NPR critic Alan Cheuse offers Song of Slaves in the Desert, and Brooklyn writer Myla Goldberg mixes mean girls and memory in The False Friend (and she has a really cool website). 8pm Thursday, March 17, Culbreth Theatre.
- UVA MFA Graduates Reading. It would be real easy to tout three National Book Award winners reading at the same time, but this trio paid good money for their degrees, and they're already making waves. Emma Rathbone picked up a rave review from the New Yorker for The Patterns of Paper Monsters, Jenny Hollowell published Everything Lovely, Effortless, Safe, Hannah Pittard has The Fates Will Find Their Way, and Paul Legault reads The Madeleine Poems. Noon Friday, March 18, UVA Bookstore.
- American Tales: Brides, Bad Money and the Badlands. Who can resist alliteration like this? Christopher Corbett wrote Poker Bride: The First Chinese in the Wild West, Roger Di Sivestro takes Theodore Roosevelt in the Badlands, and 2007 Harvard grad Ben Tarnoff has the shortest bio we've seen and just published Moneymakers: The Wicked Lives and Surprising Adventures of Three Notorious Counterfeiters. 2pm Friday, March 18, UVA Bookstore.
- Google, the New Media: The Present and Future. Siva Vaidhyanathan is the guru of all things Google and author of The Googlization of Everything– and Why We Should Worry. He's joined by UVA media studies colleagues Andrea Press and Bruce A. Williams, co-authors of The New Media Environment: An Introduction. 4pm Friday, March 18, UVA Bookstore.
- Friday Night Frights: Death Knows No Boundaries. Here's a chance to see Bones creator Kathy Reichs if you didn't get a luncheon ticket. With critically acclaimed writer/critic Louis Bayard (The School of Night), Dubliner John Connally with his latest, Nocturnes, Lee Goldberg with his TV creds and Mr. Monk on the Road, and Jennifer White, who sets her mysteries in 19th-century Istanbul. 8pm Friday, March 18, Albemarle County Office Building.
- Death: Not in My Job Description. Sample the schticks from four mystery writers. Meredith Cole (Dead in the Water) lives here, but her crime-solving photographer lives in Brooklyn; Ellen Crosby (The Viognier Vendetta) sets her mysteries in Virginia's wine country; Joanna Campbell Slan's scrapbooking housewife Kiki Lowenstein discovers a knack for sleuthing, and Irene Ziegler writes mysteries set in Florida, is the voice of GPS, and lists "excellent parallel parker" among her credentials. 10am Saturday, March 19, Omni Hotel's Lewis and Clark Room.
- Screenwriting large and small. Doesn't everyone have a screenplay lurking, or is that just in L.A.? This panels covers all the screenwriting basics. Lee Goldberg (Diagnosis Murder) takes small-screen writing. Locals Hugh Wilson (First Wives Club, Police Academy) and Paul Wagner (Out of Ireland) handle feature films and documentary writing respectively. 10am Saturday, March 19, Omni Hotel's James Monroe Room.
- Charlottesville Anarchist Book Fair. Either an anarchist book fair with writings of radicals grabs you or it doesn't, but it also might be a good chance finally to check out Random Row Books on West Main. 1pm Saturday, March 19, Random Row Books
- Imagine Ireland. Saturday night's fest brings Celtic storytellers in one of the few ticketed events: Colm Toibin (Brooklyn), 2007 Man Booker Prize winner Anne Enright (The Gathering), Kathleen Hill (Who Occupies This House: A Novel), and Kevin Holohan (The Brothers' Lot). $10 admission, 8pm Saturday, March 19, the Paramount
- An Afternoon with Scott Simon. The NPR crowd will want to hear the no-doubt-riveting account of Weekend Edition's host adopting two baby girls from China, culminating in the book, Baby, We Were Meant for Each Other. $10 admission, 2pm Sunday, March 20, the Paramount.