Sunday, April 11, 2010

sunday salon: Empire State Book Festival

Yesterday, while most of you were busy reading for twenty-four hours, I was at the first ever Empire State Book Festival right here in Albany. If you followed the conversation (#esbf) on Twitter at all, you hear many first-time visitors exclaim about Albany's unique downtown architecture. Yes, here in the fourth-oldest city in the country, a modernist mall, including an Egg-shaped theater, was built.
The festival itself was wonderful. Mr. nomadreader and I decided to have a leisurely morning, so we missed Gregory Maguire's keynote. Maguire grew up here and went to college here, so he's quite the local hero. The first panel we went to was the graphic novel/comic book panel. While some interesting points were made, the session completely lacked organization and the panelists seemed to have no idea of who their audience was. This festival was organized by the New York Library Association and drew librarians, booksellers, voracious readers and authors. There were six panels going on at a time, so everyone chose to go to this session instead of five others. Still, the panel mostly spoke to the audience as though we didn't understand the difference between graphic novels and comics. Manga was defined. Comics didn't appear to exist outside of Archie, Barbie, and superheros. This panel could have been done ten years ago and had mostly the same information.
This Book Is Overdue!: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All
Next was the panel I was most excited for: Marilyn Johnson, author of This Book Is Overdue: How Librarians and Cybrarians Can Save Us All invited three of the librarians featured in the book for a panel discussion. It was all quite interesting, but Peter Chase stole the show. Chase was one of the Connecticut Four, the four librarians who had the guts to sue the Attorney General of the United States when presented with National Security Letters and refusing to release patron information without a court order. The Connecticut Four were immediately placed under a gag order. They could not even tell their spouses what was going on. They could not attend their own trial. They were legally bound to keep quiet in the summer of 2005 when the Bush administration sought to renew the Patriot Act and as they lied to the American public claiming National Security Letters were not being served to libraries. His story is incredible, and many in the room were wiping away tears. Standing up for civil rights is something I may never have to do as a librarian, but if I were put in that situation, I hope I could act as graceful and brave as Peter and the Connecticut Four did. The session turned into a rallying cry for libraries and a fitting start to National Library Week.
Next I went to a panel on women's fiction moderated by Lizzie Skurnick. Skurnick was a wonderful moderator. She was prepared with interesting questions and let the conversation evolve. The panelists were fascinating too: Elizabeth Noble, Diane Meier, Sally Koslow and Cathleen Schine.
The Girl Next Door: A NovelThe Season of Second Chances: A NovelThe Late, Lamented Molly Marx: A NovelThe Three Weissmanns of Westport: A Novel 
The panel discussed their feelings on covers, the nomenclature of chick lit and women's fiction, popularity versus literary acclaim, review space for women, literary prizes, the boon of book clubs for female writers, the Orange Prize, and author input into covers. Overall, it was fascinating. Frank Delaney (author of Venetia Kelly's Traveling Show most recently) sat right in front me, and I learned he and Diane Meier are married.

Thanks to Sally Koslow for mentioning the impact of book bloggers too!

After hearing two fantastic panels back to back, I was ready to go home. I was so inspired as a reader, writer, book blogger and librarian. I'm disappointed I didn't get to actually speak to any authors, but with the time crunch between sessions, there weren't many opportunities.

My two complaints: 
  1. Food. I knew it would be bad because the Empire State Plaza is shut down on the weekends. There were a few vendors selling street food and junk food, two things I avoid. I was smart enough (and local enough) to pack a lunch, but the Web site and program gave no mention of food, and many people seemed surprised at the lack of options. It was a good time to live two miles away.
  2. Autograph sessions. The schedule was simply too packed. Sessions went from :45 after the hour until :30 after the hour, but all the sessions I was in went over. Signings lasted from the same time, so you had to choose to miss and entire panel to spend perhaps 10-15 minutes in a signing. Consequently, when I did venture into the signing rotunda, there weren't many people. There also were a lot of people leaving early and arriving late for sessions. Perhaps some of them were catching part of two sessions. I knew I wouldn't be able to do everything, but there were several timeslots offering three panels I wanted to attend. There simply were too many offerings. Still, too many is better than not enough. It created a unique experience, as I kept running into different friends who had been to different events.
Overall, it was a fantastic festival, and I sincerely hope it becomes an annual event. I've lived in Albany for two years now, and I've grown to love it. There are so many talented writers living and working within three hours of Albany, it's a natural location for a book festival. 


  1. I can't think of a better way to spend the day than with gobs of bookish people! What a fun event!

  2. Thanks for this wonderful review of the day, and for bearing witness to that Peter Chase's awesome testimonial. I had goose bumps. I saw someone videotaping in the audience, and hope he will step forward and share-- everybody needs to hear that story!

  3. Many thanks for your thoughtful review of the day, and for attending our panel. Sorry that we couldn't meet. I live near Albany, so if you'd ever want me to visit a book club, I'd be delighted.

  4. Many thanks for attending our panel, and for publishing this thoughtful review of the Empire State Book Festival. Sorry we couldn't meet! I live near Albany, so if you ever want me to visit a book club, I'd be delighted.

  5. Fun! Except for that bit about the lack of food. I would be overjoyed to see Marilyn Johnson and her peeps. I'm glad that session went so well.

  6. sounds like a great day! I think the panel you attended sounds interesting - it was a good collection of women authors and I would be interested to hear what they had to say on the nomenclature of chick lit!

    I read Season of Second Chances last week - thought it was great. My review will be up this week.

    thanks for sharing your experience!

  7. What an Awesome story about the Connecticut Four - I didn't know about them! Thanks for sharing it! And it's funny when you named the panel of 4 women novelists and said one thing they discussed is covers - I actually have an ARC with a completely different cover of Season of Second Chances. What's weird is a friend has an ARC with the cover that ended up on the finished book. So they did 2 ARC printings? With 2 different jacket designs? Weird.

  8. Wow that sounds great and thank you for such a thorough review!


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