Sunday, March 30, 2008


So today was the last day of the Virginia Festival of the Book, but I officially finished last night at the fancy-schmancy authors’ reception at Carr’s Hill, where the president of UVA lives.

Like every year, I get all excited and start marking off my festival program as if I’ve mastered the human need to eat, not to mention take care of the boy, do my job, and all the rest. You could literally pack your schedule from ten in the morning until nine at night. Me, I went to four events, and I got sort of overwhelmed with brain overload and social contact as I do every year.

But I love the festival for the simple fact there there are an awful lot of fascinating books that I might have never discovered. I know writers, but mostly through Brain, Child. In my civilian life, most of my pals are teachers or professors or stay-at-home mothers. We, like most of America, get book recommendations from various media and whatever the bookstores decide should be facing out or placed on a table. If nobody decides that a certain book is The Next Big Thing (and it’s not motherhood-related), chances are excellent I won’t hear about it.

The festival provides this great serendipity. On the bus home from the reception last night, I got to talking with Carleen Brice, whose first novel is Orange Mint and Honey. We had a nice conversation (shared with another lady) and I looked her book up. Here’s a description from Publisher’s Weekly: “In Brice's accomplished debut, African-American Shay Dixon, a burnt-out grad student, has a visitation/fantasy/fever dream featuring Nina Simone, the high priestess of soul, who counsels Shay to go home. To do that, she must face Nona, the drunken failure of a mother she's not spoken to in seven years and blames for a harrowing childhood that left her emotionally scarred. Still, she takes Nina's advice, heads home to Denver and discovers that Nona's now an A.A. member with a good job, a lovely home and an adorable three-year-old girl, Sunny, Shay's half-sister. Their reconciliation is complicated by Shay's stubborn anger, Nona's A.A. sponsorship of a troubled young woman and Shay's sexual awakening. Brice's straightforward prose is dead-on in describing the challenges Shay and her mother face as they reconnect.”

I ordered that baby up toute de suite.

I went to the panel on which Logan Ward (who wrote See You in a Hundred Years) was speaking. I hadn’t heard of the other panelists, but I was totally charmed by historian Scott E. Caspar’s talk about his book Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon. Johnson was born a slave at Mount Vernon and, after the Civil War, returned to the historical home to work as an employee. Caspar pieced together Johnson’s life through a paper trail and the book is her story but also that of race and segregation in the nineteenth-century. It sounds super, and I ordered that one, too.

Okay, one more example: I’d planned on going to the panel on monsters at Friday at six, but Caleb’s school had its fundraiser and Steph and her family were in town. So I bought the books instead, and I’m about halfway through Paul Bibeau's Sundays with Vlad. It’s a nonfiction quest that looks at the historical and literary Draculas; the quest takes him all over the place, from the problem Romania has with promoting Dracula for tourist money to intellectual property law to the subculture of vampire-obsessed folk. His writing is funny and smart. This is so going to be a cult classic, at minimum.
And hey! I got to meet Elizabeth McCullough at Cville Words. My first reaction upon seeing her nametag at the reception was to make finger guns at her, as if I were Isaac the bartender from "The Love Boat." I can’t take myself anywhere.


Paul Bibeau said...

Thanks so much for the kind words! I'm glad you like the book. That Book Fair thingy was a blast. Your book sounds like a fun read as well, and I will tackle it soon. I'm a little jealous I didn't think of the idea first.

Gina said...

You've totally opened the door for a book recommendation, and I can't resist! I just read Kevin Kling's "The Dog says How" - finished it in one day, and highly recommend it.

He's a native Minnesotan, and since I'm living here now I'm fascinated with all things Minnesotan. However, I think his stories can be appreciated anywhere and by anyone.

Carleen Brice said...

What Paul said. :) How often do you get to sit on a bus and strike up a conversation with other writers? Maybe in NYC, but here it's pretty rare. The whole weekend I kept feeling like I found the folks from my home planet!

Jennifer said...

Hey, thanks, Paul and Carleen! It *was* a lovely weekend. I'm sorry that I missed BOTH of your events. Paul (if you're the Paul I'm remembering) I think we took the same fiction writing class in college, although I hope very much that no one remembers my fiction stylings. Carleen, I can't wait for the book delivery.

And, Gina, you know I'm a sucker for an essay collection!

Paul Bibeau said...

Was it Sydney Blair's class? Gimme a title or rough description of a story...

Jennifer said...

It probably was Sydney's class. I remember you writing something that had to do with both vampires and Scientology. And maybe Taco Bell?

Paul Bibeau said...

That sounds like me. The day Tom Cruise does a remake of "Interview" with Taco Bell product placement is the day that I achieve nirvana. Tell me about your themes.

Jennifer said...

Oh, my stories were probably earnestly written tableaux of the American family. But always from the perspective of the nineteen-year-old daughter, who happens to be a college student but is not named Jennifer. That's how you could tell it was fiction.

Really, it's for the best that you don't remember. I barely do, althought I could tell you whatever you wanted to know about the first season of The Real World.