When authors are rock stars: the Texas Book Festival

Last weekend was the fourteenth annual Texas Book Festival, one of my favorite events of the year. The TBF, held in and around the State Capitol, is sort of the literary equivalent of the ACL Music Festival in Zilker Park, without the dirt, pot smoke, and bleeding from the ears.

The TBF offers the public a chance to see favorite authors in the flesh (and discover new favorites) via readings, signings, panel discussions, award programs, etc. This year, my favorite session featured Dayton Duncan, Ken Burns’ collaborator on the PBS documentary series The National Parks: America’s Best Idea and the author of the beautiful companion volume of the same name.

Duncan spoke eloquently and emotionally (he actually wept a couple of times) about the importance and beauty of these treasures. I had sworn that I wasn’t going to buy any books at this year’s festival—the stack of unread books on my bedside table had long since reached life-threatening heights—but I couldn’t resist buying Duncan’s book… along with Brenda Wineapple’s White Heat: The Friendship of Emily Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson, for Heather. Still, I think I showed admirable restraint; two books, by my standards, is nothing—nothing!

Among the other notables appearing at this year’s festival were Woody Tasch (An Inquiry into the Nature of Slow Money: Investing as if Food, Farms, and Fertility Mattered), Douglas Brinkley (Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America), and Barbara Ehrenreich (Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America), as well as Richard Russo, Corby Kummer, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jane Smiley, Margaret Atwood, Taylor Branch, Jeannette Walls, Jonathan Lethem, David Liss, and (an old family favorite) Rosemary Wells.

In previous years, the smorgasbord of scribblers has included heavyweights like Robert Caro, William Least Heat-Moon, Richard Price, ZZ Packer, Rick Bragg, Bud Shrake, Sherman Alexie, Roy Blount Jr., and Christopher Buckley. Local literary luminaries like Sarah Bird, Bill Wittliff, H. W. Brands, Kinky Friedman, Amanda Eyre Ward, Jim Magnuson, John Burnett, and Dick Holland usually put in an appearance as well. In fact, as used to be the case when I was young and foolish and still insisted on attending the ACL Festival, my main problem is always that so many people I want to see are scheduled to go on at the same time.

Basically, it’s just a big ol’ literary theme park, with great food (this year’s vendors included Ruby’s BBQ and Torchy’s Tacos), live music, cooking demonstrations, entertainment for the kiddies, and just about everything else a bibliophile could ask for. Plus it’s at the State Capitol, which is a totally cool building, and when the weather’s gorgeous, as it was last weekend, there’s just no better way to spend a weekend. Best of all, and unlike the ACL Festival, admission is free!

What we’re reading
Jeffrey Greene, Water from Stone: The Story of Selah, Bamberger Ranch Preserve
Martin: Adam Gopnik, Angels and Ages: A Short Book about Darwin, Lincoln, and Modern Life

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