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February 20, 2015 Reader Nancy Bader Talks About the Savannah Book Festival


The Savannah Book Festival took place last weekend, from Thursday, February 12th through Sunday, February 15th. The Festival is a free annual event that celebrates the written word and its role in the human experience. Lucky for us, reader Nancy Bader attended the event and was kind enough to share with us some highlights, including favorite panels, most colorful speaker, and the books she absolutely cannot wait to read.

This was the eighth year for the Savannah Book Festival. It runs for four days, always over Presidents Day Weekend. There are three paid events: the kickoff speaker on Thursday (this year was Janet Evanovich, the first woman kickoff ever); the keynote on Friday (P.J. O'Rourke); and closing speakers on Sunday (Anne and Christopher Rice). Saturday is "Free Day" --- there are nearly 40 authors in six venues in the Historic District.

Sessions run from 9am to 5pm. Authors have a one-hour slot for speaking and Q&A. According to their contracts, they're supposed to speak, not read from their book. Then they sign books. Only books bought at the Festival or through the Festival website link are eligible for signing. Criteria for presenting authors is that they have a new book out within the past year. There's fiction and nonfiction, bestselling and emerging authors, national and local. C-SPAN films the nonfiction, and has called the Savannah Book Festival one of the best book festivals in the country.

This year, I attended different days with different people. A girlfriend for Janet Evanovich. My book club for O'Rourke --- for the past four years, my book club has ushered for the keynote speaker. On Free Day, I went with a friend, but we went our own way and then hooked up for lunch.

There are always glitches. Last year, several authors couldn't get out of the Northeast because of a major storm. This year, Linda Fairstein and Colleen Hoover had family crises, Vicki Constantine Croke (ELEPHANT COMPANY) comes from Boston and her pipes burst and her house flooded so she canceled. One thing that went off without a hitch --- Saturday Free Day was also Valentine's Day. During the Q&A with Elin Hilderbrand (WINTER STREET), she offered the last question to a young man in the audience, who used it to propose to his girlfriend. "You did say 'yes,' didn't you?" Elin asked, and then presented the young woman with a bouquet of roses.

The most colorful character was definitely David Ritz (RESPECT: The Life of Aretha Franklin), dressed in red and orange from head to toe, including orange sneakers.

Some points of note: Janet Evanovich (THE JOB) started off writing romance novels. It took 10 years to get her first novel published. She looks great. Her secret: "surgery." Hers is a true family operation. Her son and daughter both work with her, eat lunch with her and live at home. Her husband plays golf. What's changed since she wrote those racy romance novels? "There's only so many words you can use for sex scenes. We used to say 'his manhood.' Now it's [nickname for Richard]."

P.J. O'Rourke (THE BABY BOOM), the NPR conservative humorist, has been credited with creating new words, or transforming one part of speech into another. His latest contribution: "All news reporters have Brian Williams'd. I mean, we've all lied."

David McCullough, Jr. (YOU ARE NOT SPECIAL) was my favorite. This unassuming gentleman, whose Wellesley, MA, high school commencement speech has gone viral with more than two million YouTube views, calls himself "the high school teacher who got hit by lightning." His presentation (and book) expanded on his theory that kids should be encouraged to do things for passion and not just to meet their parents' expectations to succeed. "What I'm really saying is you don't have to be special. There's nothing wrong with being average."

Christopher Scotton (THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH) took 15 years to write this debut novel, saying "life got in the way of my dreams." He finally had his epiphany (over a bottle of red wine in Tuscany) and started writing. When he was done, the book sold in two days. Describing the book's characters, he notes that Pops, the grandfather figure, "is the grandfather we all wish we had, the grandfather I hope to be." One note of interest for readers: Scotton said he loves to Skype with book clubs. "It's so much more fun than running a software company." A cute note: Of the six venues used for the Book Festival, three are church sanctuaries. Scotton spoke in the Baptist Church. He described himself as a "singing Baptist," and, speaking from the pulpit, he looked up and said he hoped God wasn't going to see him on the altar and strike him down for his sins.

Hilderbrand writes about Nantucket, where she lives part of the year. She writes longhand in notebooks, then puts it into her computer. When asked if her characters are based on real people, she answers, "Fiction is crafted. It has a beginning, a middle and an end, and makes sense. When fiction takes over, you lose the real people."

The last speaker I heard was Dr. Sandeep Jauhar (DOCTORED: The Disillusionment of an American Physician), a practicing cardiologist whose premise is that American medicine is in a midlife crisis for which there is no simple solution. "Health care accounts for $1 out of every $6 spent in the US. It is a gargantuan system that affects all of our lives --- doctors and patients --- and no one is happy with it."

McCullough and Scotton were definitely my favorite panelists. I wasn’t able to attend every panel, and I wish I could have gone to the ones for Karen Abbott, Patton Oswalt, Gail Sheehy, Greg Iles, Patti Callahan Henry and John Katzenbach.

All things said and done, the books I’m looking forward to reading most are THE STORIES WE TELL by Patti Callahan Henry, RED 1-2-3 by John Katzenbach, THE SAME SKY by Amanda Eyre Ward and ELEPHANT COMPANY by Vicki Croke. I've already read THE SECRET WISDOM OF THE EARTH by Christopher Scotton (I’m leading my book group’s discussion on it in April), LIAR, TEMPTRESS, SOLDIER, SPY by Karen Abbott and DOCTORED by Sandeep Jauhar.