Category Archives: Current Events

“Mourning his loss as a man and a king”

Irish poet Seamus Heaney has passed away today at the age of 74. Seamus HeaneyThe Nobel laureate is considered one of the greatest Irish poets, and his work is felt by many to capture the essence of Ireland and the Irish condition. Heaney won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995, and was also awarded the Golden Wreath of Poetry, the E.M. Forster Award, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, the PEN Translation Prize, T. S. Eliot Prize and the Whitbread Prize twice over the course of his career.

Heaney’s poetry collections include Death of a Naturalist, Door into the DarkNorth, Seeing Things, The Spirit Level, and Electric Light, among others. He also wrote prose and plays, as well as did extensive work translating poetry.

Along with his incredible body of poetry, Heaney is also famous for his excellent translation of the Old English epic Beowulf, from which I offer the final lines in his memory:

young Heaney“They extolled his heroic nature and exploits

and gave thanks for his greatness; which is the proper thing,

for a man should praise a prince whom he holds dear

and cherish his memory when that moment comes

when he has to be conveyed from his bodily home.”


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Tucson Festival of Books 2013

The Tucson Festival of Books was this past weekend, and it was once again a great success. The weather wasn’t as nice as I had hoped, as Saturday was cold and rainy, but there was still a strong turnout. The attendance was once again on track to be well over 100,000, though I haven’t seen a final figure anywhere.

The Author’s Table Dinner

On Friday, I was once again lucky enough to attend the kickoff dinner for the festival. It was wonderful!

The ballroom where the Author's Table dinner was held

The ballroom where the Author’s Table dinner was held

Lights projected letters onto the ceiling of the ballroom

Lights projected letters onto the ceiling of the ballroom

J.A. Jance, a graduate of the University of Arizona, was the emcee this year. She is the author of dozens of thrillers and mystery novels, some of which are even set in Arizona.

J.A. Jance opening the festivities

J.A. Jance opening the festivities

Both of my parents have read nearly all of her novels, and I’ve read quite a few myself. I definitely recommend them!

R.L. Stine receiving the Founders' Award

R.L. Stine receiving the Founders’ Award

R.L. Stine received the Founders’ Award, and gave a lovely speech. He was quite funny and self-effacing, including when he read some of his fan mail; one of the letters, in its entirety, read: “Dear R.L. Stine, You are my second-favorite author.” That was it. Another letter informed R.L. Stine that the writer had read 40 of his novels, and found them boring. Stine went on to discuss how he had gotten into written scary books (Goosebumps, Fear Street, etc.) and how grateful he was for his career and all the young readers that propelled him to success. Once again, I was impressed by his kindness, humility, and humor.

R.L. Stine

R.L. Stine

The keynote speaker was Alan Zweibel. Zweibel was one of the original writers for Saturday Night Live, along with many other television shows such as Monk and Curb Your Enthusiasm. He has written books and plays as well, and has won many awards for his work. As might have been expected, Zweibel’s speech was laugh-out-loud funny. He talked about how he got started as a comedy writer, selling jokes for $7 apiece to stand-up comics, and how he used to have to haggle with comedians who only wanted to pay him based off how much of a laugh his jokes got.

Alan Zweibel

Alan Zweibel

Zweibel went on to explain how Lorne Michaels found him in a comedy club, and hired him to write for SNL. Zweibel wrote for the show from 1975 through 1980. On his first day, Zweibel was so intimidated by all the comedy greats that he met in the studio for SNL that he panicked and hid behind a potted plant. A young woman named Gilda Radner saw him behind the plant and crouched down to speak to him, forming an immediate friendship that lasted until her death in 1989.

One of the funniest parts of Zweibel’s speech was when he talked about arguing with the woman who worked as the network’s censor, telling them what they could and couldn’t say on the air. Zweibel even talked her into allowing them to say “bitch” on air, after successfully convincing her that they were using the word as an adverb, rather than calling someone a bitch. He wasn’t sure if she believed him, or just couldn’t figure out how to debate him, but “bitch” stayed in the sketch. Zweibel also won debates by telling her she was being sexist when she tried to block “blue balls” shortly after allowing “pussy whip” — though both terms were masked in jokes that referred to blue cheese and cats, respectively.

After coming offstage, Zweibel shook hands, spoke with people, and took photos. He was charming, and just as funny offstage as on. The entire night was light-hearted and fun, with both speakers telling lots of jokes and amusing anecdotes. It was a wonderful evening, and got everyone very excited for the festival the next day.

"Book & Glasses"

“Book & Glasses”

"Read" installation

“Read” installation

The Festival of Books

I just about had a temper tantrum when I woke up to clouds and gusting winds on Saturday morning. When a drizzle kicked him, I actually started pouting and flopped on my bed very dramatically.

I was determined to go to the festival regardless, though, so I donned my raincoat, grabbed a plastic bag to protect any books I bought from the rain, and headed over the University of Arizona campus. Despite the nasty weather (it rained off and on the whole five hours I was there), many people still came to enjoy the events. Many of the same vendors were there, including Bookmans and Steam Crow. (Lots of literary love to them!) I especially like the Bookmans tote this year; it has an illustration of a Lucha Libre fighter with a “Reader 4 Life” tattoo, and in big pink letters says “Vivan los Libros”.

TFOB & RenFest 2013 024 TFOB & RenFest 2013 025The Literacy Connects tent was beautiful again this year. It had two giant white boards where people could write and draw about why reading was important, or what books they liked and why. Photos can do justice much better than my descriptions:

Literacy Connects

Literacy Connects

the link between literacy and poverty/crime

the link between literacy and poverty/crime

Books rule!

Books rule!

Reading connects people to their dreams

Reading connects people to their dreams

reading together makes families stronger

reading together makes families stronger

Myles adding to the wall

Myles adding to the wall

I love books! (Also, in the corner: "I love reading like Snape loves Lily.")

I love books! (Also, in the corner: “I love reading like Snape loves Lily.”)

Myles' drawing of Cthulhu

Myles’ drawing of Cthulhu

my friend Erin with her Cat in the Hat illustration

my friend Erin with her Cat in the Hat illustration

The range of events was astounding. There were readings, book signings, writing seminars, question-and-answer sessions, and so much more. On top of all the strictly literary events, there were musical performances, food vendors, science experiments, games, characters in costume, and art of all kinds. The festival is truly a little bit of everything, bound together by a common love of books and passion for literacy. After wandering happily around the tents and events, it was time for me to report for my volunteer shift at the English Department tent. I was working the table to both give information about the fabulous English department, as well as to sell raffle tickets for a print from an 1870 magazine depicting the all of the characters from Charles Dickens’ novels.

Despite the crummy weather, I had a blast. The weather on Sunday was much better, though, and so I’m sure many people had an absolutely perfect day.

Until next year — happy reading!

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An Evening with David Sedaris

2012-11-15 Sedaris flyerThis is a bit belated, but I had to write about the wonderful “Evening with David Sedaris” that I attended on November 27. To begin with, I am a huge David Sedaris fan. I own all of his books, and listen to him on NPR every time he’s on; it’s not the holidays unless I giggle over “The Santaland Diaries” with a cup of cocoa.

I had the great pleasure of seeing him read several years ago, and afterward had him sign my copies of Naked and Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. I was dead last in the signing line, and waited for nearly an hour. When it was at long last my turn, Sedaris was gracious and charming, asking me about my life and encouraging me in my literary and authorial pursuits. He gave me a packet of lettuce seeds as a gift. When I got home, I looked in my books and was delighted to see that in one, he had written, “Betsy, it’s so wonderful to finally meet you in person. — David Sedaris” and in the other, “Betsy, I look forward to reading your work someday. — David Sedaris.”

This time, I arrived at the reading early enough to get in line for the limited number of signings he was doing before his show. When I stepped up to him clutching my copy of Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris surveyed my dress and boots and said, “You look lovely! I like your dress. It’s so nice when people dress up for these things.” I almost floated away, because I had in fact put a considerable amount of planning into my outfit. I thanked him, and told him how excited I was to hear him read again. He asked when I saw him last, and I told him about being last in line and getting the packet of lettuce seeds, which I still have tucked away inside the cover of Naked.

As I spoke, he signed my book, then looked up and said, “Well, we have a relationship! We have a tradition now! Let me see what I have to give you.” He rummaged around in a large bag, then pulled out a what looked like a bound pamphlet. “This,” Sedaris said, “is a copy of a short story I read once in Amsterdam, but never published. It went over well, though, so they asked me to print a limited number of them and publish them alone.” I was delighted to be given another story, and he signed it with a flourish. “Enjoy the show. See you again soon!” he said as I thanked him profusely. 2012-11-27 Sedaris signing

I was positively pink with excitement, and I was completely over the moon when I saw what Sedaris had inscribed in my book: “To Betsy — We meet again, enchantress. — David Sedaris.”

I could have happily ended the night at that point, but there was still his reading. As always, Sedaris was both hilarious and heartfelt, turning such such moments as waiting in a coffee shop, getting a colonoscopy, or seeing a plastic bag full of water hung in a doorway into sidesplittingly funny commentary on not just himself and his loved ones, but society in general. I laughed so hard that I was in tears at several points.

I can’t praise David Sedaris enough as an author or as a person. I can’t wait for his next book, and hopefully, his next live reading!


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Happy Thanksgiving!

I wanted to give thanks today for the many wonderful things in my life today, as I know I have many things for which to be grateful.

I am grateful for my family, loved ones and friends, and for their continued health and happiness. I am grateful for my dog, who is happier (and chubbier) than I ever could have imagined when I took him home from the pound two years ago.

I am grateful to have been born in a place, time, and family that has given me so many opportunities to pursue my dreams and find my passions. I am grateful for the education I have received and continue to work for.

I am grateful for books and literature, which continue to open up worlds for me, and for the authors who made it their life’s work to set words on paper. I am grateful for libraries, and I hope that they never die out. I am grateful for my own well-stocked bookshelves, and my continued ability to pack new material onto them. I am grateful for reading and writing, and will work to continue spreading those skills and appreciation for them through my teaching.

Before you rush off to the over-the-top sales of Black Friday, take a moment to remember all the wonderful things in your life for which you ought to be thankful.

Happy Thanksgiving! (And of course, happy reading!)

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We Say Goodbye to Another Literary Giant

Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, passed away yesterday at age 91. Bradbury, though most famous for his science fiction works, saw a marked difference between the works that he deemed fantasy versus those he called science-fiction: fantasy is about things that would not happen, while science fiction might very well come to pass. Despite critics and readers alike lauding him for his breath of life into the science fiction genre, Bradbury preferred to consider himself a fantasy writer. Whatever category he falls into, however, I genuinely believe Bradbury dominates. His work has been unparalleled for decades, and I imagine it will remain so far into the future.

Bradbury was a prolific author, and much is to be said for his elegant prose, imagination, and often jarringly accurate vision. I’ve only ever reviewed one of his books, Fahrenheit 451, on this blog (read it here), but Bradbury was quite prolific, and not one of his novels or short stories is remotely dull. Two excellent obituaries can be read in the LA Times and the Seattle Times. While he may be overlooked sometimes in the current digitized age, I hope Bradbury knows he and his work will never be forgotten. I, for one, will forever relish the feel of the pages of a book, that smell that is peculiar to newly printed and bound novels, and the lasting enjoyment that comes from reading. As long as there are other bibliophiles like me, we will never let the printed word lose its vitality and importance.

Even in sadness, but especially in Bradbury’s memory — happy reading!

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Goodbye, and thanks for all the books

Maurice Sendak passed away yesterday (May 8, 2012) at age 83. There is nothing I can say that thousands of people haven’t already said about him and his work. All I can say is this: his work was an integral part of my childhood. His books were read to me from infancy; I dreamed of his vivid and inspiring illustrations. I pretended on a fairly regular basis to be Max, and sailing off to see the Wild Things. I still own my well-loved copies of Where the Wild Things Are and In the Night Kitchen.

As I grew older, I came to realize that his books were not for children: they are for everybody. As an adult, I still look to Sendak’s books to remind me of the love, creativity, passion, and imagination that make life vibrant and exciting. I am a lifelong fan of Maurice Sendak — even more so after learning more about him as a person and an author. He was funny, creative, biting, unapologetic and wonderfully confident. Sendak knew what was important to him; he also knew what was important for children to know and feel.  It was this in particular that moved him to write the books he did, and for that I will always be grateful.

Mr. Sendak, your vision will be missed, but your books will be treasured forever.

(For a full obituary, you should read the NY Times story on Maurice Sendak. It’s well written and you can see the full text here.)

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Tucson Festival of Books 2012

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.

RL Stine with my boyfriend!

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 Literacy Connects tent

My favorite card: “Reading is freedom.”

One of the posters: "Books are brain food!"

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

Steam Crow's tent

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

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.

Happy reading!


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