Wednesday, September 30, 2009

SIBA Notes II: The Books

Last Saturday morning at the SIBA Convention a sales rep passed on to me a comment from a bookseller that probably reflected the mood of a lot of us: "I'm tired of talking about business. Let's talk about books!"

It's easy to understand why this would be the case: as I've noted here several times before, the fall lineup of new titles is one of the strongest I've seen in years, and therefore much more fun to talk about than the gloom-and-doom financial scene. This was certainly in evidence at SIBA, where a multitude of authors generously shared their time and enthusiasm to talk about their new works. With apologies to those authors left out (I enjoyed and appreciated all their presentations), here are a few of what were the highlights for me:

-- Kevin Salwen added a note of hope and inspiration to the SIBA annual meeting talking about The Power of Half, his story of how his family decided to downsize their lives, and use the money they saved to get involved in community development work overseas.
-- The great children's book author Richard Peck shared with us both the latest adventures of his classic character Grandma Dowdel, and his own delightfully grumpy attitude towards all things that he sees threatening the world of books. (Do not ask this man to endorse video games, Kindles or social networking.)
-- A panel called "Before We Were Authors" featured three writers --Erica Eisdorfer, Joseph Kanon and George Stewart -- who became writers after pursuing various book-related careers, and a fourth -- Winton Porter -- whose new book is based on his experiences following his dream of opening a supply store on the Appalachian Trail. Porter good-naturedly accepted the moniker supplied him by an audience member of "the hiking guy," and all four offered evidence that it's never too late to start a writing career.
-- Friday night, esteemed novelist Elizabeth Kostova (The Historian) talked about her forthcoming book, The Swan Thieves, and announced that she had moved back to Asheville, in her words, "the center of the universe." (Welcome back, Elizabeth!)
-- Speaking of Western North Carolina, Ron Rash was one of the writers who opened our eyes with readings Saturday morning. He read from Serena, Padgett Powell read from The Interrogative Mood, and Jess Walter read from The Financial Lives of Poets. Powell's book, by the way, is written entirely in the form of questions.

As great as all these authors were, to me the most compelling speaker was one that came as a bit of a surprise. It was Robert Edsel, talking about his book, The Monuments Men. In this book, Edsel tells the remarkable -- and, until now, almost unknown -- story of a group of men and women who set out to recover the various art works and other cultural treasures stolen by the Nazis during World War II. For Robert Edsel, telling this story has become more than just a literary project: it has become a life mission, as he continues to get the word out about these amazing individuals and the continuing efforts to complete the work they began. Edsel spoke with a quiet but spellbinding conviction that was gripping and moving.

It was, all in all, a great lineup of authors, both the well-known to reconnect with, and the less well-known to discover for the first time. I look forward to sharing their works with those who love good books.

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