Book Festival Highlights

I’ve been involved in all eight Vegas Valley Book Festivals and this was by far the best. Large, energetic crowds, lots of families checking out the children’s book fair, plenty of interesting panel discussions, a chance to catch up with old friends I only see once a year.


The highlights for me:


Indian author Indu Sundaresen reading a passage from “In the Convent of Little Flowers,” her new collection of short stories, in a soft, lilting voice that left the audience mesmerized.


Participating in a panel discussion with H. Lee Barnes, Vu Tran, John L. Smith and the other authors of the Las Vegas serial mystery novel “Restless City,” before a packed auditorium in the Historic Fifth Street School. Moderator Geoff Schumacher, who also served   as editor of this inaugural project from CityLife Books, did an excellent job of keeping the conversation moving and fielding questions from the fully-engaged crowd (many in their 20s and 30s, a sign of optimism that the printed word may have a future after all).


Afterwards, we all stuck around and signed each other’s books, acting like the fans we truly are. Kudos to Stephens Press (CityLife’s parent company) for publishing the book and for the outstanding cover design. I’m honored to have been a part of this project. Also, big props to Vu Tran, who did a masterful job of wrapping up the final chapter in an emotionally-satisfying way. I’m thankful I didn’t have to bat cleanup.


John L. Smith and daughter Amelia speaking at the Clark County Library about her five-year battle with cancer, chronicled in their book, “Amelia’s Long Journey.” Amelia, now confined to a wheelchair, might be the bravest person I know. The love and support between father and daughter is palpable, and something that profoundly touched every member of the audience. It’s an experience none of us will soon forget.


And speaking of unforgettable experiences, E. L. Doctorow, possibly the greatest living American writer, delivering a gentle, self- effacing and altogether riveting closing keynote address. Doctorow spent much of the time exploring the sense of discovery that is the most mytical part of the writing process, interspersed with humorous autobiographical stories that made the evening come alive.


One quick example: Doctorow’s first novel, “Welcome to Hard Times,” took place in the old west, even though he had never ventured beyond Ohio. After publication, one Texas reader took exception to a scene in which a character cooked up and ate a prairie dog haunch.


“Young man,” she wrote, “when you said Jenks enjoyed the roasted haunch of a praire dog, I knew you’d never been west of the Hudson. Because the haunch of a prairie dog wouldn’t fill a teaspoon.”


“She had me,” Doctorow said with a sly grin. “I’d never seen a prairie dog. So I did the only thing I could do. I wrote back and said, ‘That’s true of prairie dogs today, but in the 1870’s…'”


A big, appreciative laugh from the audience, one of many elicited by this master storyteller. A most fitting end to a wonderful five-day celebration of the written word.