A Book Lover’s Guide to the San Antonio Book Festival

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Families and book lovers survey the booths for novels and more. Photo by Scott Ball.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Families and book lovers survey the booths for novels and more at the 2016 San Antonio Book Festival.

I’m not embarrassed to admit that I’m a book lover – I say it loud and proud. I read for pleasure and I read for work, but more for pleasure. Ironically, that means the Fifth Annual San Antonio Book Festival and its diverse offering of readings, panels, and cooking demos complicates my plans. The only thing, short of being cloned, that will help me is planning carefully, weighing my options, and knowing that no matter which sessions I choose, I’m going to have a great time.

Here’s my plan so far:

10-10:45 a.m. | West Terrace, The Central Library 3rd Floor

My Underground American Dream: My True Story as an Undocumented Immigrant Who Became a Wall Street Executive with Julissa Arce. Moderated by Alicia Perez.

I love a good memoir, and I love a good rags-to-riches story. I especially love rags-to-riches memoirs about industrious, smart, hard-working women. Here’s a social justice warrior for our times. Author Julissa Arce discusses climbing the ranks of a context that is inhospitable to people of color and more specifically to women and shares her story of breaking barriers and smashing glass ceilings. Border wall or Wall Street, Arce has stories to share. The topic of immigration is more important today than it has ever been in our nation. Rather than be convinced that it won’t change in my lifetime, I want to learn from those who want to change the conversation with words instead of violence.

11:-11:45 a.m. | West Terrace, The Central Library 3rd Floor

Commonwealth with Ann Patchett. Moderated by Elizabeth McCracken.

Close friends know that my obsession with reading moves me to stalker-like behavior when it comes to certain authors. For me, Ann Patchett’s most recent novel is her best yet. And that’s saying something, as they have all been enormously popular. One, Bel Canto, even inspired the production of an opera. Commonwealth has themes that are no less important. The dynamics of this family in perpetual dysfunction are full of sad and humorous resonances and lessons about what it means to be a parent, a sibling, a spouse. It is a marvelous novel, and to have the opportunity to be in the same room with not just Ann Patchett but also with moderator Elizabeth McCracken (another author on my Google Alerts), is an event worthy of any reader’s bucket list.

12:30-1:30 p.m. | LaunchSA, The Central Library 1st Floor

“The Personal is Political” – a session with Hayan Charara and Morgan Parker. Moderated by David Biespiel.

Sometimes when I’m reading a book – in the waiting room at a doctor’s office or alone at a coffee shop – there are moments when I want to close my book with my index finger to mark the place and lean over to the person closest to me and say, “You have got to read this,” or, “Mind if I read you a few lines of this poem?” This impulse is out of character for an introvert like me whose interactions are made problematic, too, by social anxiety, shyness, and self-consciousness. However, if there are words by Morgan Parker or Hayan Charara involved, all that matters is the poem and my sense of urgency to share it. Both poets are teachers, and I firmly believe that there is something undefinable but undeniable about this role in their work which I find to be instructive about race, ethnicity, feminism, and family.

Charara taught at Our Lady of the Lake University for a few years, and he made a profound and indelible impression on students and colleagues alike during that short time. I have been to a couple of his readings and have found that he has the same charisma, gentleness, and wisdom behind a lectern as he does in a classroom. I’m not sure how Morgan Parker can manage all she does as a poet, teacher, and editor. This renaissance woman is a National Endowment of the Arts and Pushcart Prize recipient. Her latest work There are More Beautiful Things than Beyoncé, is full of weighty concerns about, among many topics, commodification, technology, appropriation, depression, and what it means to be a woman of color. These poems pulsate and they are the pulse of a society mired in the polemic of popular culture and politics.

1:15-2 p.m. | Rogers Hall, Southwest School of Art Santikos Building

Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating and What You Can Do About It with Larry Olmstead. Moderated by Wendy Rigby.

My love for books is steadfast, but it seems that in matters of food and health, we’re all dilettantes. We’re told to eat this and avoid that. Fat is good, then it’s bad. Who knows anymore? Today, as we wade through what’s real and what’s fake in the media, food should be the next subject we treat with more scrutiny.

2:30-3:30 p.m. | Swartz Room, The Central Library 2nd Floor

“Books Saved My Life: Why I Read”— a session with Will Schwalbe and David Biespiel. Moderated by Clay Smith.

The title of this session is reason enough for me to highlight it on my schedule – These are some kindred spirits. Here’s a meta-session that is not to be missed by book lovers who believe that books save our lives every single day.

3:45-4:45 p.m. | Festival Room, The Central Library 3rd Floor

“My Characters Are Obsessed (And I Can’t Get Enough)”— a session with John Pipkin and Deb Olin Unferth.

I’m moderating this panel and I still haven’t figured out how the stars aligned or how I got so lucky. I have read initial lines of Deb Olin Unferth’s short stories aloud to unsuspecting friends who then had to endure my animated reenactment of the title story of her collection, “Wait Till You See Me Dance.” Last week, I proclaimed to my students that I was “studying the underside of the embroidery” of John Pipkin’s breathtaking novel and had re-read the first half of the book twice because I wanted to experience the magic of these obsessed characters again and again. I guess you could say I’m obsessed with Unferth and Pipkin.

4:15-5 p.m. | Rogers Hall, Southwest School of Art Santikos Building

“Not Our First Rodeo: A Texan-Off” with Andrea Valdez. Moderated by David Crabb.

Texas Monthly columnist and author of How to Be a Texan, Andrea Valdez inspired this session with a panel of contestants in a Texas-style spitting contest to see ¿Quién sabe más? With super bad kid, writer, actor, San Antonio native, and festival alum David Crabb moderating, this is sure to be a great way for me to end this Sábado Gigante at the Fifth Annual San Antonio Book Festival.

There’s no doubt that the upcoming milestone fifth festival will have something for everyone. Do not miss this celebration of books.

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