Saturday, April 2, 2011

The 2011 Tucson Festival of Books

The Tucson Festival of Books is an event that I look forward to each year. I attended with my wife, Katie, and my sister, Karen. Just like last year, the event did not disappoint. We went both days, Saturday and Sunday March 12-13. When we lived in the Seattle area, every year we went to the Northwest Book Fest and learned early not to waste time wandering around looking at the various booksellers and publishers’ booths, but to attend as many authors’ talks as possible.
I’ve always admired writers. One of the women authors on one of the panels asked aspiring writers in the audience which they liked best, the idea of being an author or the act of writing itself. She followed this up by saying you have to be passionate about writing to be a successful writer. I had to admit, I’ve always liked the idea of being a writer more than sitting down and writing. I pictured myself living in southern Europe or Mexico or some other exotic place, writing by day and in the evening strolling into the local village for a drink and lively Hemmingwayesque conversation with the locals. I never pictured myself at home at the kitchen table. In retirement, however, this is changing. I am rediscovering the creative flow of writing which adds immeasurably to the quality of my life. When I write regularly, I cultivate an artistic attitude that positively alters my view of the world and my day to day life.
Over 100,000 people attended the festival this year and all of them got hungry at the exact same time I did. The lines at the food booths were so long that by the time I would have gotten my food, my next venue would have been over. So I managed to find a junk food machine in one of the buildings, which I hit repeatedly between talks, receiving needed sustenance: chips, granola bars and bottled water.
This year we managed to attend 7 different author panels. You can’t attend them all, because there are too many happening simultaneously. Like last year, there were more than 400 authors and we managed to see about 20. Choosing which venues to attend is the biggest challenge.
The first panel I attended was called Borderlines and all 3 authors had recently written books that take place near the Mexican border. The authors were Thomas Cobb, who wrote Crazy Heart and Shavetail,  Phillip Caputo, A Rumor of War and 11 other books, the latest being Crossers,  and Margaret Regan a Tucson journalist who wrote The Death of Josseline.   Margaret Regan’s book is about a 14-year-old Mexican girl who dies in the Arizona desert. She and her brother crossed over into the US on their way to reunite with their mother. She became sick and the group they were traveling with decided to leave her behind. Regan’s story gives a human face to the immigrant problem. I noticed that the two male authors treated her with respect and admiration even though this is her first book. She exemplified the potential of a creative writer to affect public opinion concerning a misunderstood and sensitive issue. I hope her book is widely read.
Jeff Guinn was on another western theme panel and  talked about his current book, The Last Gunfight about the OK Corral, Tombstone and the Earp brothers. I saw him last year when he talked about his book Go Down Together, the true story of Bonnie and Clyde. There are so many books written about the west and its characters and most perpetuate a romantic myth. I like the western romantic myth as well as the next guy, but I am most interested in the characters of the west from a more accurate and truthful standpoint. Many of the real heroes don’t get much attention. Either they weren’t self promoting like Wyatt Earp or they don’t neatly fit into our preconceived ideas about the west. Characters like James Hume, the Wells Fargo Detective, and Robert Paul, the Pima county sheriff. These two guys were life long lawmen who hunted down and captured or killed numerous bad guys. But few people have even heard of them. Everyone has heard of Wyatt Earp, but was he really a hero of the west. Jeff Guinn did extensive research and said his book destroys many of the myths about that time and place in history. Someone in the audience asked him what he thought about the current town of Tombstone and their shameless promotion of the western myth. He humbly said that he realizes the town has to bring in the tourist dollar to survive, but added if the residents take the time to read his book, there probably will be another lynching and he’ll  be the victim. After he made that statement, I knew I wanted to read his book.
The most unusual panel I attended was called “Right on, Far out, Looking back at the 60’s” All three authors books take place during that time. One was Mark Rudd, a former leader in the SDS at Columbia University and co-founder of the Weathermen. Even though the two women authors on the panel were not as active politically, the questions from the audience mostly had to do with what happened to the sixties’ activism and what  the panelists thought of the country’s current state of affairs. I always have mixed feelings when boomers start to romantically remember the good old days of activism. Not one of the panelists ever mentioned the fact that a huge number of us were forced into the military and had to participate in the war they were protesting against. And they also failed to mention how they treated us after we returned home. So while they were waxing poetically and triumphantly about how they changed the country and how exciting and exhilarating it all was, I was sitting there thinking “Fuck You”. How’s that for poetic
There was however one moment during the question and answer period when our differences melted away. Following a bunch of serious political questions, a shy young woman came up to the microphone and apologized for what she knew would be a trivial question, “I was curious if there was a certain song that really captures the times and stands out in your memory.” All three of the panelists’ eyes lit up. It was obvious that they didn’t think this question was trivial at all. The SDS/Weathermen guy chose an unusual song for his favorite, “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding. It’s a great song, but hardly captures the times. One of the women authors chose “Get Together” by the Youngbloods and the other “I Feel Like I’m Fixin’ to Die Rag” by Country Joe and the Fish, two great choices. I wished they would have asked me that question, and since this is my blog, I will answer it. My choice is “The Times They are a Changin’”, by Dylan.
There were other interesting authors and panels I haven’t mentioned, but I am well over my self imposed 1000 word limit. I’m looking forward to next year’s Tucson Festival of Books. If you’re in the area don’t miss it. PS, bring a sack lunch.

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