Hmmm. I thought I’d written about the 3rd Annual Tucson Festival of Books last year, but I guess not. Well, that one, and this year’s (aka, the 4th Annual Tucson Festival of Books, amazingly enough) was a lot like the first one I went to in 2010. Only bigger (maybe 100,000+ this year? and with more exhibits for sure) and just as much fun and just as exhausting. Only no Stormtroopers (at least I didn’t see any).
The weather was GREAT, considering the winds were gusting to 40+ MPH the Friday of set-up. Yay for the respite. And I can’t really express how much there is to see and do there, with all the authors and panels and entertainment and stuff like that, only it’s better than the street fair. No kidding.
So things that I saw: bark scorpions and making anti-venom from them; the booth on organ/tissue donation (and signing up for that, since evidently the cheap-ass little sticker for doing this had fallen off my driver’s license); too swell goth and steampunk artwork from a company called Steamcrow (the kind of place that has so much you want you end up buying very, very little — like two pins); and smelling Brushfire Barbeque’s stand way too much.
And this is what I heard/learned/laughed at:
Boneheads: My search for T. rex with an Oddball Group of Dinosaur Hunters. Richard Polsky is a fine arts dealer who has a secret five-year-old’s love for dinosaurs and fossils. He went dinosaur hunting with the various parties who found/owned/sued over the most complete T. rex skeleton ever found (“Sue,” who now lives at the Field Museum in Chicago, is a 90% complete skeleton), and chronicles his adventures in the Badlands of South Dakota via a rental Honda Civic. The Sioux whose property Sue (har!) was found on eventually got $8M for the sale of the skeleton: he bought a fancy-schmancy truck for himself and bought farmland for his kids with the rest of the money.
Animal Behavior–Mild to Wild! Sy Montgomery (a writer with an interest in pigs, man-eating tigers, and everything in between), Patricia McConnell (UW-Madison professor of ethology) and Kristen Nelson, DVM, talked about their experiences with pets, wild critters, therapy animals, cool stuff like that. Sometimes they’d get weepy or sad, but it was all good in the end. (Chemistry 111 is still old and creaky after all these years, but I think the the Periodic Table of Elements have been updated at least.)
Three Very Funny Guys — Humor in Books. Jon Scieszka (the first writer I ever listened to at the Festival), Adam Rex and Mac Barnett write and/or illustrate kids’ books. The three of them are friends and often do book tours and festivals together, and it’s apparent. This was hysterical, starting with their name plates being changed (by the moderator, who’s supposed to be the Responsible Adult) from
MAC – ADAM – JON
FUNNY – CUTE – OLD.
Jon changed his to BOLD.
Mac or Adam changed it to BALD.
And then Adam showed off his artistic skills by drawing a monster based on suggestions from the audience, a creature made up of a snake, a sloth and Jon. You kind of get the idea of how out-of-control this panel got — this was one of those face-hurts-at-the-end-of-it-talks.
(Mac is really cute, though…look at his photos on his website. And Jon is really bald. Enclosed are photos for proof.)
The Return of High Fantasy. This was the first panel I’ve attended in three years where I had to stand in line to get a seat (this is becoming common at the Festival). Just so you know, high fantasy never left, you just have to know where to look for it. It was particularly interesting to see Judith Tarr (who has a PhD in History, which helps explain her fine detail in her novels) and Naomi Novik (who has an ongoing series regarding the Napoleanic War era, if the military nations of the time had air forces composed of dragons. If you don’t think that makes sense, bear in mind Peter Jackson has optioned the rights for the first film. If it’s good enough for Jackson and the magic-makers at WETA…). My huge “Aha!” moment was discovering Robin Hobb writes under the name Megan Lindholm. Lindholm wrote a swell book some years ago and then “disappeared” some time after — not such a one-trick pony, after all.
Same Place, Same Time, Different Reality: Alternate Histories in Fiction. Novik and Hobb again, this time with Cherie Priest and Maria Dahvana Headley. More interesting authors and books I have to read, especially when Priest grew up in a household with a fundamentalist mother who didn’t condone reading. She did put up with the “classic” (i.e., dead) author compendiums that Priest’s father would give his kids for the holidays (like Poe and Lovecraft). Huh.
Okay. That was Saturday. On Sunday it was:
Zany and Crazy. This was a panel with Jon Scieszka (again) and Tom Angleberger, talking about their respective series Spaceheadz (three moronic aliens attempt to take over the Earth, based on watching television broadcasts and believing what commercials tell them) and the adventures involving Orgami Yoda and Darth Paper (the weirdest boy in school makes origami Star Wars characters). The most refreshing discovery here (aside from these are two very funny guys — go figure) is that That Powers That Be don’t mind characters with the names of Origami Yoda and Darth Paper, and when Tom broke his leg last year, Lucasfilm sent him get-well cookies!
Of course, we don’t know how he broke his leg…
[It was also neat to see the Arizona Daily Star‘s op/ed cartoonist Dave Fitzsimmons talking to the guys before the panel and sitting in. If Fitz says it’s funny, it’s a 99% guarantee that it’s funny.]
Quick sprint to one book-signing area to have Robin Hobb (cleverly disguised as Megan Lindholm) to sign my copies of her novel (which she said was the hardest she’s ever written and writing in first-person is very difficult and something she’ll never do again*) and another quick sprint to another book-signing area to have Jon S. sign my copy of The Stinky Cheese Man… and a picture of his face on a fan, before
Lessons from the Octopus. Tidal pool biologist Rafe Sagarin spent a year in D.C. with his Califoria Congresswoman to work on an ecology-based agenda. When this coincided with the year after 9/11, he ended up observing how things like Homeland Security and a general ecology of fear work at odds with the workings of the natural world, and how following a pattern of adaptation and observation would make global terrorism, natural disaster response and epidemic outbreaks more successfully contended with.
Chasing Chiles. Local ethnologist Gary Nabhan talked about his most recent work with the evolution and sociology of chiles (which, while New World, really didn’t take off as a cultivated plant until about the same time of the Spanish colonization — how about that?! It was all just gathering those itty-bitty chilitepins, “bird chiles,” before that). He answered questions from the audience, sadly ignoring Bruce’s one on how to make chiles come out less hot than when they go in. Guess he doesn’t know everything…
Taco Table. Yay! Culinary tent! Louis Ellen Frank is a cultural anthropologist (newly-papered PhD) and chef in Santa Fe NM concentrating on the history and use of native Southwestern foodstuffs. She prepared “Indian tacos” for a lucky few taste-testers with mesquite flour tortilla, tepary beans, bison meat and chiles. While we starved through that, Bruce was fortunate to be chosen as a Lucky Lush for…
The PDT Cocktail Book. PDT is a swank NYC cocktail bar, and head bartender Jim Meehan talked about bartending history and philosophy as he prepared three cocktails (yes, boys and girls, booze on the UA Mall! High-end stuff, too!) for the taste-testers. Other than grapefruit juice is way too popular in modern cocktail culture, and Bruce prefers his Scotch unadulterated with other ingredients, this was a very interesting learning experience in learning how to prepare cocktails, and to order a beer if you go to a bar and see the bartender exhibiting a very limp shake. (One of Meehan’s assistants here is a bartender at 47 Scott in downtown Tucson: his name is Ciaran (how Gaelic!), he has the build and red hair of Conan O’Brien, and he wails the tar out of two shakers at once.)
There. All done. One panel per rotation, and there were at least seven panels for each time slot. I’m telling you, you have to come to the Tucson Festival of Books, www.tucsonfestivalofbooks.org. No kidding. You will be dead at the end of it, and happy.
It still would’ve been fun with a couple of Stormtroopers.
*Oh, that someone would’ve gotten hold of Stephanie Meyer a few years ago…
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