The Backpage: A strategy for the Southern Festival of Books

Wednesday, October 10, 2012 at 10:05pm
By Jim Ridley

If you try to take in everything at this weekend’s Southern Festival of Books — featuring more than 200 authors downtown at War Memorial Plaza this Friday through Sunday — you won’t just lose the will to read. You’ll lose the will to live.

Now in its 23rd edition, the city’s yearly salute to the written (sung, posted, tweeted) word and all who revere it boasts so many difficult choices, so many competing topics and tomes, that some kind of strategy seems wise. A few tips for those hoping to make the most of their visit:

Pick a day. If you want to sample the bustle of the fest, Saturday offers a mix of marquee names (Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn at 11 a.m., just-announced MacArthur “genius grant” recipient Junot Diaz at 4 p.m.), rising stars (The Age of Miracles author Karen Thompson Walker at 3 p.m.) and cult heroes (“country noir” specialist Daniel Woodrell at 2:30 p.m.).

Pick a site. Camp out at War Memorial, and you’ll be in close proximity to the booksellers, the signing lines, the food stations and the festival’s biggest attractions. (Plus you can watch celebrated authors crisscross the plaza all day.) But for less congestion and a bracing mix of writers and subjects — not to mention all those books! — the downtown Nashville Public Library is a sure bet.

Pick a subject. For example, followers of presidential politics (and who isn’t?) have the run of the fest, from Lincoln scholar Harold Holzer (noon Friday at the library) to acclaimed Barack Obama biographer David Maraniss (10:30 a.m. Saturday at the library). As befits a Southern festival, the War of Northern Aggression — er, the Civil War remains an ongoing concern, addressed from vantage points as diverse as those of Atlantic senior editor Ta-Nehisi Coates, Freeman novelist Leonard Pitts Jr. and famed historian James McPherson.

Start by perusing the schedule at Or just show up at War Memorial Plaza, pick up a festival guide from Humanities Tennessee’s centrally stationed tent, and do what book lovers do best: Start flipping pages to see what comes next.