VA Festival of the Book – Day One

The Virginia Festival of the Book kicked off at noon today, but knowing I’d need some energy for the next three days, the first session I attended was the 2 p.m. panel “Rereading: Novel Favorites New and Old.” I was particularly interested in this session because a few weeks ago, I blogged about rereading and seeing a favorite book from a different perspective. Patricia Meyer Spacks, former professor of English and Emerita Chair of the UVA English department, the sole panelist, and I were in agreement. The difference is she made it into a book, On Rereading, where she took several books she’d enjoyed as a child and youth and reread them then described what she discovered. Some of the ones she loved as a child (Gone With the Wind, for example), she found flawed rereading them now. Some, she didn’t understand why she liked them then, but she now grasped why they were good then and now, like Alice in Wonderland. A very thoughtful and interesting discussion, and I’ll likely purchase the book.

Next was a fiction panel–“The Joy of Short Stories.” This panel featured two writers I wasn’t familiar with, Laura Jones and Kurt Ayau. Each read from their short story collections (Breaking and Entering and The Brick Murder: A Tragedy and Other Stories, respectively), and discussed their differing approaches to short story writing. Jones is a planner, though she lamented she’d often gotten on the wrong road while plotting a story in the car. Ayau, a professor at the nearby Virginia Military Institute–yes, they have some civilian instructors–is more of an inspirational writer who also lamented he had a couple thousand unpublished short stories “laying around.” I liked both selections Jones and Ayau read, and I’ll be adding their short story collections to my “to read” list.

“Relationship Cartooning” doesn’t seem like a writer-friendly presentation, but it was charming and hilarious and a great peak into another person’s creative process. Nick Galifianakis’ cartoons are famous as the illustrative aspect of Carolyn Hax’s syndicated advice column. Galifianakis was also married to Hax, and though they are now divorced they remain business partners. In addition to providing the cartoons to illustrate Hax’s columns, Galifianakis edits the columns to “protect” Hax’s voice. He provided a slide show of both new and his famous cartoons. Since I’m a regular reader of Hax’s column, it was great to see this insight into how it’s produced. Galifianakis described his creative process–idea, then caption, then drawing–and it was very relatable to writing short work, in particular. He cartoons first and foremost for himself–what he calls his authentic voice–then shares it with the reader. A great way to finish off the day, and I know I’ll look at Hax’s column differently now–and with a bit more respect for the process.

And I get to do it all over again tomorrow. How great is that?


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