A Book Lover's Paradise

The second weekend in October is highlighted on my calendar every year. This is the weekend that Humanities Tennessee hosts the Southern Festival of Books, a 3-day, free festival that offers book lovers a veritable smorgasbord of authors, publishers and booksellers. In one capacity or another, I have gone to or participated in SFB for about the past 7 years. This year was one I've enjoyed more than most.

For starters, my good friend and first independent reader (we call her the WMVR, or World's Most Voracious Reader) flew in from Florida for the weekend. I haven't seen her in a couple of years, and it was good for both of us. The two of us yutzed around the Festival on Friday and Saturday - the weather was perfect, the crowd was good, and the panels we chose to attend (see below) were entertaining and well-organized.

The WMVR doesn't read books, she devours them (that's a direct quote from her dad). And she's what we call a superfan. We writers love these people. They genuinely appreciate the effort that goes into our writing, the cultivation of our art and craft. They're well-read and knowledgeable about not only our books, but about literature in general. I stand in awe of those like the WMVR (and both my daughters, for that matter) who can read a book a day. And they encourage others to read - case in point to follow.

The first panel we attended on Friday included my sweet friend Bente Gallagher/Jennie Bentley (on the right). I've read the first two of Jennie's Do-It-Yourself mystery series, Fatal Fixer-Upper and Spackled and Spooked, and am currently reading DIY#3, Plaster and Poison. Too cute - well written and very readable. At the Festival, she talked about her new series, the Savannah Martin Real Estate series, and her first, A Cutthroat Business, is on my to-be-purchased list.

Later that afternoon we selected a panel that another writer friend was on, and discovered why The Pulpwood Queen's Book Club is "the largest 'meeting and discussing' book club in the world." Founder and Original PQ Kathy Patrick (center) was the moderator; her Friday panel featured "Great New Southern Fiction" and included (R to L) my friend River Jordan, Michael Morris (a delightful Southern gentleman), the adorable Denise Hildreth Jones, and the lovely Melissa Conroy. My bank account is not going to like me much when I drain the life out of it buying their books.

River and fellow Southern writer Susan Gregg Gilmore joined forces on Saturday morning for "Nixing the Nest: Novels of Women Ahead of Their Times." I've read Susan's wonderful second book, The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove (see this post from August), her first (Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen) is now on my TBP list, and I'm currently reading River's The Miracle of Mercy Land.

(By the way, I have a tee shirt that our beloved Mamasan from my writers' group gave me a couple of years ago that says, "So many books, so little time." Are you getting the idea that this statement is my mantra?)

After a quick lunch of delicious pulled pork on the Plaza, we trucked up to the Capitol building for the highlight of our weekend - the panel featuring my uber-fabulous Wonder Twin JT Ellison (right), the super-cool Libby Fischer Hellmann (left) and the simply spectacular Erica Spindler (center). These ladies held their audience captive for an hour and a half talking about their thrilling books. JT's I've read, of course, but now Erica and Libby have a new fan (i.e., yours truly). The WMVR has read several of Erica's books and has added Libby to her new-found authors list.

The case in point I mentioned a few minutes ago? We went up to the Signing Colonnade after JT, Libby and Erica's panel, and we were walking around the sales tables (lined up end to end to end in a rectangle about 40 feet or so long by 10 wide, stacked and stacked and stacked with books - did I not tell you it was paradise?). We stopped near JT's stacks, and the WMVR got to talking with a couple of the Festival volunteers, two young ladies about high school age, who both said they liked to read but had not brought any money with them. Turns out they attend the very high school that's featured in JT's latest book, The Immortals. JT and I were talking and perusing, and the WMVR went over to the cash register to pay for her selections. A minute later, one of the other volunteers came up, handed JT two copies of her book and asked her to sign them for the teenagers - the WMVR had purchased them each a book. As she put it, "Anything to get kids to read." How awesome is that? (JT was beside herself. She said, "She really is a neat lady, isn't she?" Yes. Yes, she is.)

All in all, the weekend was - to put it mildly - ah-MAY-zing. There's nothing like abundant sunshine, thousands of books and throngs of book-loving people to get your spirits up. Can't wait to do it all over again next year.

Sigh. So many books, so little time ...

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