For some of us, the thought of Naomi Wolf reading excerpts from her book Vagina: A New Biography in front of the Texas State Capitol will be worth the price of admission — especially since the festival will, as always, be free.
However, if that’s not your cup of tea, there are approximately 250 other authors coming to town the weekend of Oct. 27-28 to choose from, all of whom have published books in 2012. The line-up includes Pulitzer Prize winner Junot Diaz and experimental fiction writer Mark Z. Danielewski, as well as a bevy of celebrity authors like Wolf, Dan Rather, Chris Elliott, Phil Collins and Tony Danza.
Danielewski, whose first novel, House of Leaves, brought forth comparisons to Jorge Luis Borges, will be promoting the American release of a novella, The Fifty Year Sword .
Fiction, poetry, history, politics, young adult, biography, memoir, philosophy and cookbooks are all represented. According to Texas Book Festival Director Lidia Agraz, the selection committee received more than 1,200 books for consideration this year. Agraz said, “The committee sorted through them and selected the best of the best.”
Indeed, there are some jewels buried in the list (and I’m not just talking about folk singer Jewel, who will be coming to promote her children’s book, That’s What I’d Do). Danielewski, whose first novel, House of Leaves, brought forth comparisons to Jorge Luis Borges, will be promoting the American release of a novella, The Fifty Year Sword, that was first published in limited edition in the Netherlands in 2005.
The book is almost a work of art, with stitched illustrations, multiple colors of ink to denote different characters and other postmodern touches. In another hybrid of art and fiction, Hope Larson, a graphic novelist known for her sharp, sensitive portrayals of adolescence, has produced a graphic novelization of Madeleine L’Engle’s beloved young adult classic A Wrinkle in Time.
The memoir category looks particularly diverse and exciting this year. Perhaps most fascinating is Damien Echols, one of the “West Memphis Three,” whose memoir Life After Death recounts two decades of imprisonment for child murder following his wrongful conviction in a famous 1993 case. Echols will be appearing at the festival just a year after being released from death row.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, The Dangerous Animals Club by character actor Stephen Tobolowsky collects autobiographical essays that first earned Tobolowsky a cult following when delivered on the “Tobolowsky Files” podcast. Whether or not the stories are entirely true, as Tobolowsky (sometimes) claims, they are bizarre, wonderful and masterfully written. The opportunity to see them delivered by a guy who is vaguely reminiscent of your seventh grade science teacher will not be a disappointment.
Cheryl Strayed, who outed herself earlier this year as the salty-sweet advice columnist “Dear Sugar” on TheRumpus.net, is in the enviable position of having two fascinating memoirs out this year — Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar and Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, an Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 selection that chronicles the author’s recovery from her own traumatic life story.
Agraz, who is an avid hiker, is particularly excited that Strayed is coming. Devouring Wild on an airplane on her way home from a meeting with a publisher in New York, Agraz “just loved it, and identified with what Cheryl went through.”
Agraz is equally interested in Danza’s book, I Want to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High.
“When I first heard about it from the committee, I wasn’t too excited, I thought, oh, another book by a celebrity.” However, Agraz, who has been a strong advocate for education and literacy programs in Texas for years, was impressed by Danza’s account of teaching high school in a tough Philadelphia school, and his subsequent sense of the need for educational reform. Agraz’s third pick is Robert Caro’s The Passage of Power: The Years of Lyndon Johnson.
With Agraz's picks all falling in the nonfiction category, it’s hard not to notice that almost three times more nonfiction is represented in the festival than fiction (not counting the 70 authors of young adult and children’s books). Asked about the discrepancy, Texas Book Festival Director Lidia Agraz stated that it was merely “a reflection of interest in the writing and publishing world this year.”
Another trend that some might see as an omission: All the books represented this year were first published in paper form, despite the burgeoning e-publishing industry. When we asked Agraz whether authors would always be considered only if they had achieved print success, Agraz demurred, stating that in the future things could change. But she brought up an important aspect to the book festival that relies on the paper page.
“There’s nothing more thrilling than getting an author’s signature on a book that you enjoy. That part of the festival and of the book lover’s enjoyment, that part is not going away." So get out your highlighter and decide which author you'll be lining up to see.