Books and reading: Alive and well in Texas

I had a great day Saturday attending the 3d Annual San Antonio Book Festival presented by the San Antonio Public Library Foundation. Rain did not dampen the enthusiasm of readers who browsed booths set up outside the Central Library and who moved between author talks and other events at the library and other close-by locations.

I moderated a panel titled “No Country for Old Men: Men and Violence in East Texas and West” (a provocative titled that I somewhat disowned) featuring two outstanding 98f5b648dbf3339447bedb91d99aef5d[1]Texas authors Patrick Dearen and J.dearen-big-drift R. Helton. Dearen is the author of 21 fiction and non-fiction titles and his new book, The Big Drift, won the 2015 Spur Award for traditional western from the Western Writers of America, the pre-eminent award for westerns which has been won in the past by Elmer Kelton, Larry McMurtry, and Louis L’Amour. Helton is the author of a modern classic about working in the film industry called Below the Line and several other books including his new fictional memoir called The Jugheads. Though their writing is very different from each other, both authors were very interesting and we had a good audience.

Dozens of other authors for children, young adults and adults were in attendance speaking and reading at the festival. I also had occasion to attend other events, including a great discussion by the author Luis Alberto Urrea, as well as the Literary Death Match later that evening at the Empire Theater. The book sale area was packed with people all day purchasing hard-copy books. The books represented a rich and varied tapestry of history, naturalism, memoir, picture books, novels, YA books, social topics, arts and culture, fiction, science—in short, something for all ages and interests.

If there is a decline in reading in the U.S., or if the public has lost interest in books and reading in the low-attention-span era of distracting gadgets and streaming content, it was not evident at this event. I ended the day energized and more confirmed than ever in my appreciation for the power of books and reading to excite people, the ongoing need for civic engagement around ideas found in books, and the rich contribution of Texas to the world of arts and letters.

Bravo to the San Antonio Public Library and the SAPL Foundation for presenting this great event. I am already looking forward to attending next year as well as our own Texas Book Festival October 17-18 here in Austin.

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