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February 19, 2017 Reader Nancy Bader Talks About the 2017 Savannah Book Festival

Posted by carol

This weekend, long-time reader Nancy Bader attended the Savannah Book Festival, now in its 10th year. Here is her report....

The Savannah Book Festival always runs over President's Day weekend. There's a single, opening speaker Thursday night (James Patterson -- CROSS THE LINE, this year); the keynote Friday night (Colson Whitehead -- THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD) and the closing speaker Sunday afternoon (Christina Baker Kline-- A PIECE OF THE WORLD). Tickets to hear each of those were $20.

One of the things that makes the Festival so great is Saturday, the "free day," when 40 or so established and new authors offer hour-long, individual, free presentations. C-Span, which films one of the nonfiction venues each year, has dubbed the Savannah Book Festival one of the best in the country. There are no panels, instead there are individual autho presentations, and, unfortunately for those of us who want to hear more than one author scheduled at the same time, no repeat presentations.

You need to do your homework ahead of time and figure out where you want to be, when, to hear whom.  I usually go with my friend Kathy, but we split up once we get there if we want to hear different authors, and then try to meet up again for lunch. In the past, we brown-bagged it, but this year Savannah allowed food trucks, and there were several from which to choose, offering everything from exotic stir-fry to Nutella and strawberry pizza. No more brown bags for me!

I heard  presentations from Danielle Trussoni (THE FORTRESS), Terry McDonell (THE ACCCIDENTAL LIFE), William Daugherty  IN THE SHADOW OF THE AYATOLLAH) and Gerri Willis (RICH IS NOT A FOUR-LETTER WORD) on Saturday, and then returned with six women from my book club in Bluffton, SC, across the river from Savannah, on Sunday, to hear Christina Baker Klein talk about her new book, A PIECE OF THE WORLD.

Our club had read her book, ORPHAN TRAIN as our February selection. (A suggestion to any book clubs going as a group to any book fairs: It's fun and interesting to choose two books by authors you are going to hear at the fair for your discussions right before and after the fair. You'll learn things about the book you just read, and get fresh insights and perspectives into the book you're about to read.) In the past, the Savannah Book Festival has attracted book clubs from as far away as Texas and California. It's a great destination/vacation city, you don't need a car, and the Festival and the Historic District are easy to navigate.

My favorite Saturday speaker was Daugherty, whose IN THE SHADOW OF THE AYATOLLAH has just been re-issued,. He who was a CIA operative held hostage at the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979. He spoke eloquently for an hour without referring to a single note, updated the audience on what is going on in Iran now -- - scary --- and answered questions easily and succinctly.

Christina Baker Klinewas a special treat on Sunday, as her new book had not even been released yet (it comes out on Tuesday), and we felt as though we were privy to something special. The historic novel centers around Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth's famous Christina's World painting. I can't wait to read it.  Christina had a personal connection to the setting and some of the people in her book about Christina's World. The biggest surprise for me, since it's a novel based on real-life subject was that she interviewed some family members, but not Wyeth's widow or son.

I would have liked to hear Imbolo Mbue, because I just finished BEHOLD THE DREAMERS and would have appreciated hearing more about the research for the book, and Tama Janowitz, because I teach memoir-writing and she has just written a highly-rated one.  Also, Jonathan Rabb, whose AMONG THE LIVING focuses on two subjects that interest me -- Holocaust survivors and Savannah. Cassandra King, Pat Conroy's widow, who spoke about his last non-fiction work, A LOWCOUNTRY HEART.

There were several surprising lessons for me. Trussoni, who describes herself as a memoirist, touched upon how few happy memoirs there are (Amy Poehler is an exception), since most memoirs resolve around problematic issues in the writers' lives, and those aren't happy subjects. 

Terry McDonell, who was an editor at Rolling Stone, Esquire, Sports illustrated and other magazines, spoke extensively about working and playing with George Plimpton and Hunter S. Thompson. He has worked with and for many women, but didn't write about any of them in his book. Daugherty was scary in his assessment of Iran and the dim prospects for a peaceful outcome there, and yet he supports the nuclear deal  with that country.

I was especially looking forward to hearing Fox business anchor Gerri Willis's assessment of the Trump Administration, but she spoke primarily about her bout with breast cancer. However, in the Q&A session (there's always time for questions with each author), she did say that the prospects are good for business under Trump, but Obamacare is in freefall, and there is no guarantee the Republicans will come to any consensus about a replacement or revision.

I've already read many of the books whose authors participated at the Festival. My favorite ---although that's not an ideal word, because it's very difficult to read because of the subject matter -- - was Whitehead's THE UNDERGROUND RAILROAD.  I'm looking forward to reading Daugherty's book, Tama Janowitz's SCREAM, a memoir, and Kathleen Grissom's GLORY OVER EVERYTHIING, because I enjoyed her previous work,  THE KITCHEN HOUSE.

I imagine my book club will opt for Baker Klein's A PIECE OF THE WORLD, after hearing her. Also, Cassandra King's book. Pat Conroy is a favorite son who lived not far from us, and we will probably take a trip to his town as part of our discussion. That's another thing that's fun to do ---  take field trips related to your book club discussions. My Savannah Book Club read Conroy's THE WATER IS WIDE, about the year he taught on Daufuskie Island, and then we took a field trip to Daufuslie. We read THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS by Vanessa Diffenbaugh and then went to a botanical garden.

One last thing, in the February 17th newsletter, Carol referred to Leopold's Ice Cream parlor. This Savannah landmark, which is consistently rated as one of the best ice cream parlors in the country, is owned by Hollywood movie producer Leopold Stratton. People line up around the corner and wait an hour or longer to get in.

For the Savannah Book Festival each year, Leopold's re-names each ice cream flavor as a play on words for either each author's name or book title. After each author's presentation, the author is presented with a carton of his or her flavor. The authors love the idea ---  and the ice cream. When Stephen King came several years ago, he left his ice cream carton on the roof of his limo, and it fell off as the limo pulled away. A Savannah police escort retrieved the ice cream and followed the limo to the airport, where he returned it to the greatly appreciative author.

For several years, one of my volunteer jobs, along with my friend Jane, was to re-name the ice cream flavors. No pay, but, of course, we couldn't do the job without sampling to make sure we got it right. Oh, the hardships we endure!

----Nancy Bader