Southern Festival of Books 2009


The Southern Festival of Books takes place every year at the War Memorial Plaza in Nashville. The festival gathers renowned authors (Southern and not-so-Southern) to share their works with attendees and sign books. I attended the festival last year and heard readings by Sherman Alexie (who was insightful and absolutely hilarious) and Rick Bragg (who I think puts on a certain persona to attract readers to his humble, self-admitted “white trash” prose).

The festival grounds on Saturday were trapped in a gloomy, damp haze of recent bad weather, and I felt bad for the sales reps trying to push their authors’ books like Chryslers on a used car lot. I hope to possibly engage some Nashville publishing contacts, but every time I stepped across the threshold of a tented booth, I was instantly sized up as a possible book-buyer. Last year I noticed more local publishers. Many of the people I spoke with this year were from outside Tennessee and trying to sell devotional paperbacks clad with overly sentimental, glossy covers. I tried to ignore the ridiculous religious imagery of doves, clasped hands, and ethereal fire poorly photoshopped to fuse into the saving, redeeming, providing light of Jesus, but even when I saw an opportunity to speak with a rep, a man dressed like a cross between Big Daddy and a Louis L’Amour character stepped in front of me to most likely start a conversation about boot spurs or the benefit of owning large acreages of property. Overall I was disappointed with the selection of publishers and was unfortunately fruitless in my networking skills.

The main attraction for my husband and me (and probably most of the festival go-ers) was meeting Buzz Aldrin and hearing him speak about his new (ghostwritten) autobiography Magnificent Desolation. Several weeks prior to the festival, the SoFestofBooks PR team launched a Twitter contest for those planning to attend this year’s festival. Every Monday, @SoFestofBooks would tweet an obscure clue, and whoever @replied with the correct answer first, won a Speed Reader Pass. The Pass would enable you to choose one author to skip ahead of the book signing line. After multiple tries and losses, I finally won one of the passes. I chose Buzz Aldrin; my husband is an avid fan of all things Apollo and has never actually met one of the astronauts. I was excited to provide Chad with the opportunity to meet one of the twelve moonwalkers.

We arrived at the festival about an hour early, giving us time to battle the book tables to purchase Magnificent Desolation and hang out a bit. We ran into one of my former professors from Lee and three English students. While it was nice to see them, I am always saddened when people from Lee ask what I’m up to. Yes, we are married and are still in Cleveland, and married life is great. Yes, it’s true that I’m using my English degree to fold t-shirts and deal with the grumpy crowd at the always classy Hamilton Place. Oh well.

After finally purchasing the book, we snuck into the last ten minutes of Rick Bragg’s reading (he was scheduled before Aldrin). As soon as Bragg was finished detailing his escapades as a father and his distaste for selling his books to Hollywood, we grabbed some seats a few rows back from where Aldrin would be speaking.

Aldrin speaking at the Southern Festival of Books

Aldrin speaking at the Southern Festival of Books

His speech was pretty good, if not incoherent, and touched on his thoughts about exploring space in the next few years. He alluded to President Obama without mentioning him by name and expressed his desire for the United States to again pioneer space exploration (on the Moon, Mars, and Phobos).He didn’t really discuss much about his book except for the meaning of the title, and he spent several minutes justifying his luxurious Louis Vuitton suitcase collection and endorsement.

Sally Ride, Buzz Aldrin, and Jim Lovell for Louis Vuitton

Sally Ride, Buzz Aldrin, and Jim Lovell for Louis Vuitton

Immediately after the speech, Chad and I made our way to the plaza where Aldrin would be signing books. There was already a line of a few hundred people, so we moved to the front with another one of the winners who had been sitting near us. We were escorted to the front of the line by one of the Festival workers, but the people in line were instantly mad. I thought maybe someone would be upset, but I didn’t anticipate how angry people were about us skipping.

Aldrin signing books

Aldrin signing books

When Chad actually got to the table, Aldrin didn’t look up from the table, ask Chad his name, or even acknowledge Chad’s (or anyone else’s) presence. He just continued talking to his ghostwriter, also in attendance of the festival, about someone trying to rip off his autograph. I couldn’t believe that he didn’t even pretend to care about his fans, especially when Chad was in the first ten people in line for the signing. I can’t imagine how he treated #50 and beyond. There were some young girls in front of us, excited to have Aldrin sign his children’s book Look To the Stars, and he treated them with the same apathy. It was a little unbelievable.

Chad with Buzz Aldrin

Chad with Buzz Aldrin

When we were exiting the plaza, a man who had been sitting near us during the speech began to heckle us about cutting line. He continued to argue even after I nicely explained about the contest and held up my VIP pass. He ended up implying that Chad was an asshole and we angrily left. I don’t really understand some people. It was none of the man’s business about the contest, but somehow he decided to make a comment about two people he didn’t know and continue to harass even after the explanation. I guess he had already crossed the line by saying something and couldn’t recover unless he kept being annoying. Who knows.
Overall, I enjoyed the festival and I’m glad that Humanities of Tennessee sponsors it every year. Even though I thought Buzz Aldrin was an unappreciative jerk, I really enjoyed driving up to Nashville for the festival. I would love to attend the 2010 festival if I’m in the area.



3 Responses to “Southern Festival of Books 2009”

  1. Sucks that Buzz wasn’t much fun, and I think there are some improvements to be made on the way they handled the speed reader pass. The people at the front of the line for the Kate DiCamillo line were very gracious and even congratulatory, since they were aware that we were coming. Maybe a sign or two in the well would help.

  2. Astronauts are among my heroes, but I was rather disappointed in Buzz, too. Sorry to hear that your VIP pass didn’t get you past a hard time with others in line!

  1. 1 Wake in 3d » Blog Archive » Southern Festival of Books: the writers

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