The Tucson Festival of Books has come and gone once again, and it was as lovely as ever. There was sunny Tucson weather this weekend, which made for a bright and warm festival experience. However, the festival really began on Friday night, with the “Author’s Table” dinner.
The Author’s Table Dinner
I was lucky enough to be able to get two tickets to the Author’s Table event, the official kick-off to the Tucson Festival of Books — or, as the organizers call it, TFOB. I went to the dinner last year as well, and so was much looking forward to the event. The evening began with a reception in the University of Arizona bookstore, where we were treated to drinks, finger-food, and music. The food was excellent, especially these tomato-mozzarella skewers that were essentially a caprese salad on a stick. However, the main course was still to come. We made our way to the Arizona Ballroom, where an huge array of tables were laid out for the hundreds of guests, supporters, and authors.
I was excited to find that the authors at my table were Larry McMurtry and Diana Ossana, the writers behind such works as Lonesome Dove, Terms of Endearment, Pretty Boy Floyd, and Brokeback Mountain — for which the pair won an Oscar. Imagine my disappointment when they essentially ignored all of us at the table for the entire meal. When I smiled and tried to start a conversation with Ossana, I received only a nod as she pointedly got out her iphone and proceeded to play with it for the remainder of the meal. I kid you not; the woman was on her phone, doing who knows what, for the whole meal. She didn’t even eat. McMurtry was slightly too far away for me to talk to, but I watched him turn down multiple fans who approached him for autographs. To be fair, both did do signings and meet-and-greets during the festival itself, however. The pair received the Founders’ Award from the TFOB committee, and their acceptance speech only irked me even more, because it seemed they put on the gracious, charming act only for the cameras and the spotlight. [UPDATE 3/13/2012: Since posting this, Diana Ossana reached out to me and explained that her young niece, to whom she is the legal guardian, was home sick with a fever on the evening of the event. Ossana chose to come despite this, and was on her phone communicating with the woman watching her niece. I clearly did not know this at the time, and I apologize for my strongly-worded, uninformed judgement. Diana, I hope your niece is feeling better!]
On the flip side, the vast majority of the other authors were personable, kind, and more than happy to interact with their fans and fellow festival attendees. I spoke with Robert Dugoni (the author who had been at my table last year), and I have to say that he is one of the nicest authors I’ve ever met. Despite meeting me only once a full year earlier, Dugoni remembered that I was a schoolteacher and that my sister and father were doctors. I was very impressed that he remembered so much, and he told me to tell my family hello from him. On top of being so kind, Dugoni is a legitimately talented author. He writes crime/courtroom thrillers, and I highly recommend people read his works. He autographed a copy of Wrongful Death for me, and more of his books are on my list to buy as soon as I whittle down my current stack.
Another author that made the evening special was RL Stine. Boyfriend and I were extremely excited to hear that he was going to be at the dinner, and only got mildly stalker-esque in order to speak with him. I find it hard to believe anyone would not have heard of RL Stine, but to refresh your memory in case you forgot: he wrote an insane number of books in the Goosebumps and Fear Street series. Boyfriend and I both read many of his books as children, and were somewhat starstruck to see the man that scared the pants off us when we were little. I cannot say enough good things about RL Stine. When we introduced ourselves and mentioned that we were fans, he laughed and said he couldn’t believe his readers were all grown up. He signed autographs and took several photos, and didn’t even get impatient when my flash messed up and I had to retake them. He is truly a classy individual.
Overall, the dinner was a great deal of fun. Writer and cartoonist David Fitzsimmons was a witty and intelligent speaker as always, as was keynote speaker Luis Alberto Urrea. It was a blast getting to be at the event that jump starts the official festival.
The Festival of Books
The festival itself is almost beyond words. There is simply so much to see and do, it’s difficult to cram it all into one weekend, let alone one blog post. The festival was close to my house, so I walked there with a friend. We dove into the crowd, which was so thick at some points that it was actually difficult to move around. None of my photos taken from the ground do it justice; if you want to get an idea of the crowds, look at the photo gallery on the Arizona Daily Star’s website here.
We wandered in and out of several tents and booths, but our first major stop was at the Bookmans tent. Bookmans set up a miniature outdoor version of their beloved second-hand bookstore right on the U of A mall. They were even accepting trade credit just like they do in the store! I was quite impressed, and ended up purchasing four books, as well as getting a free canvas tote bag that says “Shop Local, Shop Bookmans” on it. There were quite a few booksellers I’d never heard of before, as well as independent publishers and authors with tents. There was a large food and snack pavilion, with many local eateries offering up all kinds of food to the throngs of book-lovers. Though we meandered through many of the tents, we took a long pause inside the Literacy Connects tent. It was beautiful. there were posters, streamers, handmade cards, and a literacy scroll that people could sign in support of literacy programs nation-wide.
A few of the best photos:
The other posters contained upbeat messages such as: “I Heart Books!”, “Literacy connects us”, and “Literacy lets you reach for the stars!” All very noble and wonderful ideas, with lots of volunteers in a network of organizations trying their best to make sure those words will always remain true.
I purchased several more books throughout the day, and was able to meet and briefly speak with Jennifer Lee Carrell, author of Shakespeare themed books set in modern times such as Interred With Their Bones and Haunt Me Still. Both are fun reads, especially for English buffs and Shakespeare fans, and Carrell assured me that she has new projects in the works. I can’t wait to see what they will be!
Another stall that I was a huge fan of was not that of a bookseller, but rather the fun and funky
world of Steam Crow. Based in Peoria, Arizona, they are a whimsical steampunk monster factory. They have a huge array of merchandise, much of it filled with puns, comics, and literary winks. I bought a shirt for Boyfriend with a drawing of Cthulu on the front and text that read “I Lovecraft you.” (If you don’t know who H.P. Lovecraft is, go look him up now, please.) I also got some buttons that say things like “Word Nerd” and “Adorkable.” They also had hilarious posters with cartoon images of food with pithy little quotes underneath the drawing. Some of my favorites included a frowning bowl of soup that said “Miso Angry” and a Chinese-food carton that said “Take Me Out.” Funny and cute. You can’t ask for much more than that.You should check them out at www.steamcrow.com.
Though there is so much that I have not even begun to describe — from author talks to circus acts to dancing to model rockets — let me close by sharing with you one last group that I became acquainted with at the festival: the Jane Austen Society of North America. We all know I love me some Austen, and I was excited to learn about the regional group of JASNA here in Tucson. They meet on a regular basis to discuss her works and life, and even have a celebratory tea on Austen’s birthday. That, in my opinion is quintessential TFOB: book lovers meeting book lovers. A celebration of all things literary. And, perhaps most importantly, a recognition that the written word still carries great weight in our society.
It was a wonderful weekend, and I’m already looking forward to the Tucson Festival of Books 2013.