I really enjoyed myself at the Southern Festival of Books this year! The weather was gloomy and drizzly, and I always hate parking downtown (garages make me claustrophobic and paying to park feels like a tax on breathing), but it was worth the hassle.
First I got to see Lauren Oliver. She’s very bubbly and youthful and entertaining, a great speaker who managed to make her small room of fans feel like a group of girlfriends. She talked a bit about the “controversy” about adults reading YA books, and said something very similar to my own opinion. She defined YA books as books about teenage protagonists in real time, ie, not adults looking back on their teen years, but kids making sense of their own experiences as they live them. And as such the books can be escapist because they allow adults to immerse themselves in the overwhelming emotions and polarized thinking of teenagers. She implied that remembering that intense way of living can be invigorating for adults, just as reading more complex adult novels can be educational for teens, complicating their developing perspectives.
Oliver’s newest book is an adult novel, her first, Rooms, and it’s about a haunted house and a rich family who lives there. Oliver was sweet enough to let me ambush her after her talk to sign her book rather than waiting in line so that I could go to the session right after hers.
That session was Jamie Poissant and Antonya Nelson. They read from their short story collections, very strange and funny stories, and talked about what it takes to get a collection of short stories published. Jamie’s such a great guy and I’m so glad he’s had so much success. Seeing him again really made me miss those writing workshops.
The following day, Saturday, I saw Brock Clarke, my old workshop teacher, read from and talk about his new book The Happiest People in the World. I’m excited to read it. It’s about spies in a small town and seems like a perfect subject for Brock’s sometimes off-the-wall style. Brock was so kind and interested in what I’ve been doing for the past 6 years. Coincidentally, I also met Trenton Lee Stewart, a friend of Brock’s who’d come up from Little Rock to get together. We talked briefly about author-read audiobooks, and I didn’t even realize that he was the author of the Mysterious Benedict Society books until afterward.
After saying good-bye to Brock, I sat in on Gary Sheytengart’s reading from his memoir Little Failure. It’s about his childhood and his family’s journey from Russia to the US in the 70’s. He’s just as funny as you’d expect.
On Sunday, the only event I went to was Lev Grossman. He got to hold forth in the big auditorium. He talked about how he wrote his Magicians trilogy with The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe on one side of his desk, and The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen on the other, which makes a lot of sense. I did get to ask him my question about parenting and balancing that with writing. He quoted someone who said that books are written with time stolen from other people. A painful truth. When he signed my book I told him that his books were the ones I’d always wanted to write, and he said he felt the same when he read certain other books like American Gods. Very reassuring.
Now I have 5 signed books that I need to read, added to the top of the endless pile!