Today marks the one-year anniversary of the devastating, 7.0 earthquake that hit Haiti, and as many news sources have noted, the recovery is slow. The Red Cross is still in the country and thousands are still homeless.
One of the Americans who was there when the quake hit was Dan Woolley, a director of Compassion International. Woolley was trapped in the rubble of his hotel for nearly three days, a story he recounts in his new book, Unshaken.
Woolley shared a little more about his story, and his return to Haiti this week, in an essay for BookPage.
You wonder what you will feel like in the last moments of your life, when you finally look death in the face . . . how your beliefs about death and the afterlife will play out. For me, it moved really quickly from abstract to tangible, given I was buried under six floors of rubble following the January 2010 Haiti earthquake. I will never pretend to understand why God allowed me to be rescued while many others did not make it out alive.
The festival may be over now, but I thought you'd enjoy reading about a few of my favorite moments from the weekend. Also, be sure to share your own experiences in the comments: Why do you like to go to book festivals? What's the most memorable author reading you've ever attended?
On Saturday, I was happy to meet Holly LeCraw, author of The Swimming Pool. I reviewed The Swimming Pool for BookPage's August debut roundup, and I suppose you would describe the story as a sexy literary thriller filled with lots of family drama—perfect for a winter weekend when you want to disappear for a few hours with a good read. I met LeCraw at the signing table and she couldn't have been nicer—and complimentary of BookPage!
A lucky break from my quest to talk with LeCraw was that I also got to meet Susanna Daniel, the author of Stiltsville, which was reviewed in BookPage's debut roundup, as well (and is now on my TBR list). The two authors spoke on a Saturday afternoon panel about "Plumbing the Depths (and Shallows) of Love" and had spots next to one another at the signing table.
Do you know you have a problem when you seek out an author twice in the span of a few months? Problem or not, I was glad I went to see Adam Ross read from Mr. Peanut (again), in part because Jim Ridley of the Nashville Scene gave a hilarious introduction in which he alleged that Ross does indeed hate women. (This is funny because the most common one-sentence description of Mr. Peanut seems to be "A novel about men who fantasize about killing their wives," although I suggest you read BookPage's review to get the bigger picture.) Ross read from the Sheppard section of the book, and though he said this was a section he hadn't yet read on the road—and that he read it at his wife's request—I was a bit disappointed that he didn't read from the point of view of another narrator. When I heard Ross at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, he read from a similar passage.
The best part of this session was getting Ross's take on the Sam Sheppard case, which inspired a portion of his novel. I was interested to hear that he has never contacted any of his characters who are based on living people, like Susan Hayes. And no—he won't say whether he thinks Sheppard was guilty.
Another highlight was seeing my mom meet Ron Rash, whose most recent book is the short story collection Burning Bright. My mom had recently chosen Rash's Saints at the River for her book club to read and was eager to praise the story's setting and themes, which led to a great conversation in her group.
Although introducing Louis Sachar and hearing him read from The Cardturner was a major thrill, my favorite part about moderating his session was observing his interactions with fans. Teachers, grandmothers, elementary school kids, college students . . . I couldn't believe the range of people who showed up to get books—sometimes boxes of books—signed by their favorite author.
Meeting authors is definitely a perk of book festivals, but my true favorite thing is seeing so many passionate readers in one place—and loaded down with books. My first day at the festival, while waiting to have books signed by Audrey Niffenegger, I met a gentleman who couldn't wait to get his copy of The Time Traveler's Wife autographed. He was carrying a bag of hardbacks that must have weighed 50 pounds. On the top was Island Beneath the Sea, which I reviewed for BookPage in April. (He must have been carrying that one for fun, since Isabel Allende was not at the festival.) So, we had a nice chat about Allende while we stood in line. How much do you love bonding with strangers over books?
Book festivals take place year-round, all around the country. For example, the Texas Book Festival starts on Saturday—will any readers of The Book Case be there?
At BEA last week, the BookPage team got to meet a number of notable people. Actor Zach Braff and his brother, author Joshua Braff. Justin Cronin (The Passage), Gail Caldwell (Let’s Take the Long Way Home), Joshilyn Jackson (Backseat Saints) and Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games). I silently swooned as Trisha and I found ourselves in a hotel elevator with Cory Monteith, star of Glee and total dreamboat. But the crowning glory of the celebrity-spotting week—at least for me—came on Thursday afternoon.
Trisha and I were walking around the Javitz Center, making our way back to the BookPage booth, when I saw him: Pat Conroy, my favorite author, deep in conversation with someone I didn't recognize. Trisha can attest that she has never seen such a high-level freak out from me. I literally stopped in my tracks, paced, stared and obsessed over what to do. Would I go say hi? Would I just watch from afar like a crazy person? Would I pass out? Finally Trisha just told me if I had this chance and didn’t say something, I would regret it forever. So I took a deep breath, walked over and opened with, “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but you’re my favorite author, and I just had to come say hi.”
Mr. Conroy smiled, took my hand and said, “Well, thank you so much. Now, what’s your name, darling?” We chatted briefly about his novels, Charleston and how he plans to keep writing as long as people keep reading. His southern drawl was everything I hoped it would be, and I was thrilled—and honored—that someone of his literary stature would take time out of his day to talk with a fan. I thought I loved Pat Conroy before. And now I know it’s the real deal.
Have you gotten the chance to meet your favorite author? If you did, what would you say?