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Chapter 9 - That's What They Said or Savannah Book Festival Part Two

Holly George-Warren

Last week I told you about the books I read in preparation for the Savannah Book Festival. Usually by December of the previous year the good people at SBF have started to announce the slate of authors. They do this every Tuesday through December and the beginning of January. That is when I start plotting my reads. That way I go into the festival knowing exactly who I want to see and have a good understanding of the book which is being showcased.

One of the best parts of the festival, of course, is being able to listen to the authors talk about their works. While there are always many authors on the schedule (this year 43 not including the opening address, keynote speaker and closing address which are paid events), it is impossible to see them all. That, in part, is why I read the books ahead of time so I can decide early on who to see. Sometimes I will read a book that sounds interesting and decide not to see the author because the book didn't wow me. That happened this year with the book, All This Could Be Yours by Jamie Attenberg.

Here are a few vignettes from the author talks I did attend.

Cassandra King Conroy - Although she is a frequent speaker, Conroy seemed a little nervous in front of the crowd at first. Once she got into talking about her life with Pat Conroy, clearly a man she loves and admires, she relaxed. One of the best stories she told of their time together, and which wasn't in the book, was a trip they took to New England. At some point they saw a statue to a famous writer and Pat told her, "Don't let them do that to me." Of course she asked why and Conroy replied, "It would just give the pigeons a chance to do what the critics have been doing to me for years." When asked if they could put up a statue to Pat Conroy in Beaufort's Waterfront Park, Cassandra King's response was a resounding "No." She also told us that Beach Music had been optioned for film and Pat was fired from writing the screenplay. The reason - the film makers said he didn't know the story! Reading her book, Tell Me a Story just made me want to read even more Pat Conroy stories.

Holly George-Warren - I reviewed her book Janis a few weeks ago and, while I loved the book, she was not my first choice on the schedule, (Casey Cep and her book about Harper Lee's final trial was), we were closed out of our first choice and so had a backup plan. Holly George-Warren was a terrific speaker with great credentials. She grew up in a small town in North Carolina and was fascinated by the music she heard on the radio. After graduating from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, she moved to New York City and started her career as a fact checker for Rolling Stone magazine. One thing lead to another and she became Rolling Stone's book editor. She currently sits on the nominating committee of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Janis Joplin, she recalled, has been painted in the media as a blues mama, self-destructive, weak and flawed. In reality she was a hard worker, a perfectionist, and a musician who attempted always to give her best. While writing her book George-Warren had full access to the artifacts Laura Joplin, Janis' sister, had amassed including hundreds of letters Janis wrote to her family. She was allowed access without editorial oversight which certainly speaks to the respect Holly George-Warren holds in her industry.

Dominic Smith - Smith previously published The Last Painting of Sarah DeVos which I haven't read but picked up at the festival. His talk was around his current book, The Electric Hotel, a book about the early days of silent films. He said he likes to write about "gaps in history" so when he came across information that identified that 75% of silent films are gone forever, he was intrigued. That made him question why and what if one of the historic films was sequestered in a place (an old trunk under the director's bed) that no one knew about. Smith talked a little bit about his previous book which deals with women painters in the world of the Old Masters. He stated that as a historical novelist it is hard to animate the past but he doesn't want to treat his his readers as tourists. If The Electric Hotel is any indication of that, the reader becomes totally involved in the time period.

On Sunday morning Claire and I were waiting for breakfast and a woman behind us complained about the festival and indicated that she thought there should be more nonfiction writers (by my count there were at least 15, maybe more). I asked if she had read the books before she saw the authors. She said she had not. I told her I found that I had a better experience when I did and she indicated she had never considered that before! The only challenge I found was that sometimes two authors you want to see are in the same time slot so you have to prioritize and have a back up plan.

If you are a book junkie I think you should consider going to the Savannah book festival next year. It always takes place on Valentine's weekend as close to that date as possible so I expect it will be February 11 through 14 in 2021. I can guarantee a wonderful time in a beautiful city!

Do you think Bookends should organize a trip next year to the Savannah Book Festival? Let me know!

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