Virginia is for book lovers: 10 hot book fest picks

You can go seeking knowledge. You can go to gaze upon a literary idol. You can go desiring bons mots. Or maybe you just go to have fun– along with all that other stuff.

Whatever your motivations, from the 200-plus happenings March 20-24 for the 19th Virginia Festival of the Book, the Hook hones in on 10 events with a simple criterion: authors we'd like to have a drink with, even if they're surly, or, ones we could at least animatedly discuss afterward.

That means we're leaving out a lot of really worthy hours of authors discussing history, mystery, poetry, and know-atry. And we're skipping over the how-to events and anything that seems a little too earnest, worthy though those may be.

Which still leaves a lot of serious fun potential.

Usually the ticketed meal-time events sell out early, and that's the case with the March 23 Crime Wave Brunch with C.J. Box. However, at press time, space is still available for the March 20 Leadership Breakfast with Betty Shotten, the powerhouse from UVA's first coed class, and the March 21 festival luncheon with Cronkite author Douglas Brinkley, "America's new past master," according to the Chicago Tribune. Don't tarry in buying tickets.

And check these out.

The Big Read presents The Ties that Bind: Family in Fiction
Wendy Shang Does anything lend itself to hilarity more than the pain of family relationships– particularly someone else's? We wanted to hit one Big Read event because Amy Tan opened whole new worlds of family misery in 1989 with The Joy Luck Club, and this panel seems to have its Tan-ian chops. UVA grad Wendy Shang wrote The Great Wall of Lucy Wu; Lydia Netzer's Shine Shine Shine was a New York Times Notable Book of 2012; Richmond poet Camisha Jones is a contributor to Let’s Get Real: What People of Color Can’t Say and Whites Won’t Ask About Racism; Mollie Cox Bryan's books combine pie and mystery; and Shen Valley writer Clifford Garstang's latest is What the Zhang Boys Know.
6pm Wednesday, March 20, the Bridge PAI

Sports Night at the Book Festival
John Grisham If you want sports talk, this is the place. Frank Deford has spent more than 50 years writing for Sports Illustrated, he's a regular NPR contributor, and SI calls his novel, Everybody's All-American, one of the top 25 sports books of all time. Covesville resident John Grisham's love of baseball is well known– he dreamed of going to the Big Show as a kid, built the primo youth Cove Creek Park baseball field, and even wrote a baseball movie called Mickey that was partially filmed in Albemarle . Former Washington Post sportswriter Jane Leavy has written biographies on Mickey Mantle and Sandy Koufax, and Nation sports editor Dave Zirin's latest book is Game Over: How Politics are Turning the Sports World Upside Down). Moderator Tim Wendel is author of yet another baseball book, Summer of '68: The Season That Changed Baseball and America Forever. Tickets are $12.50 and must be purchased through the Paramount.
7pm Wednesday, March 20, Paramount Theater, $12.50

Creativity: What Is It?
Barbara Slate Maybe you can judge authors by their websites. Brian McMullen's author site is McSweeney's, the super-cool Dave Eggers-founded publishing house/lit-magazine empire of which McMullen is an editor and senior art director. He's also author of the children's book, Hang Glider & Mud Mask. Graphic artist Barbara Slate wrote Getting Married and Other Mistakes and has a quote by Stan Lee on her website. Artist/historian Ricardo Cortes penned A Secret History of Coffee, Coca & Cola, and illustrated the recent tongue-in-cheek parenting bestseller, Go the F*** to Sleep. These are the people we want to hear talk about creativity.
2pm Thursday, March 21, CitySpace

Henry Wiencek

Jefferson's Legacies
If someone from Monticello were on this panel, we'd go in case a brawl breaks out– that's how well Henry Wiencek's Master of the Mountain: Thomas Jefferson and His Slaves has been received up on Mr. Jefferson's mountain. We suspect claws will remain sheathed during a discussion with attorney/historian John Ragosta, who wrote Religious Freedom: Jefferson's Legacy, America's Creed, although he was a Monticello fellow. Go anyway. Wiencek's book drew national praise–except in Charlottesville– and if fisticuffs break out, Virginia Foundation for the Humanities head Rob Vaughan will be there to break it up.
4pm Friday, March 22, Cityspace

A Conversation Between Friends: Dorothea Benton Frank & Rita Mae Brown
Dorothea Frank and Rita Mae Brown One doesn't truly appreciate the great raconteurs until spending a little too much time with a droning windbag. We're confident an evening with these two Southern-born grandes dames will be every bit as satisfying as pecan pie with bourbon whipped cream. Nelson County resident Brown, when she's not fox hunting, writes Sneaky Pie Brown and other crime-solvin' critter books, and people hardly bring up her first novel, the groundbreaking Rubyfruit Jungle anymore. Dorothea Benton Frank may live in New York City now, but her Lowcountry roots haven't gone anywhere. Her first novel, Sullivans Island, bears the name of where she was born and raised in South Carolina. Published in 2000, she's cranked out a dozen New York Times bestsellers since. These women have stories to tell. 6pm Friday, March 22, Albemarle County Office Building

Emily Dickinson Afterparty
Emily Dickinson daguerreotype It's not often you get to see one of the great American poets of all time, just in from the 19th century for a limited engagement. And an afterparty is new ground for the Virginia Festival of the Book, an idea suggested by its interns, we heard, and one we applaud. UVA creative writing grad Paul Legault– author of a tongue-in-cheek book, The Emily Dickinson Reader: An English-to-English Translation of Emily Dickinson's Complete Poems (which also has a really cool website)– will trade verse with the lady from Amherst, and then he'll deejay the dance party. Victorian dress optional.

8pm Friday, March 22, the Bridge PAI

Double Lives, Conspiracy, and Murder
Mark Lane Charlottesville resident Mark Lane is the godfather of conspiracy. His 1968 book, Rush to Judgment, spawned the JFK assassination conspiracy movement. He also believed MLK's assassination was not lone gunman James Earl Ray, whom lawyer Lane represented. Lane, who has had the remarkable ability to somehow be involved in nearly every major event of the second half of the 20th century– he's a survivor of Jonestown, even– has penned a memoir, Citizen Lane, worthy of its own event. But this is the conspiracy panel, and Peter Janney is a conspiracy heavyweight in his own right with Mary's Mosaic: The CIA Conspiracy to Murder John F. Kennedy, Mary Pinchot Meyer, and Their Vision for World Peace. Get paranoid.
Noon Saturday, March 23, UVA Bookstore

Victoria's Secret Police: Arthur Conan Doyle and the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes
Michael Dirda Don't be fooled by the title of this event, as we initially were, that lingerie purveyor Victoria's Secret has its own police. As intriguing as that panel would be, this one is still promising. Pulitzer Prize-winner Michael Dirda–longtime Washington Post columnist and book reviewer, author of On Conan Doyle, and member of the Sherlock Holmes society, Baker Street Irregulars–and Michael Sims, editor of The Dead Witness: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Detective Stories, both know their Victoria's secret police. And as a bonus, this is moderated by Rambo creator/First Blood author David Morrell.
2pm Saturday, March 23, Omni Hotel– Preston Room

Poetry: Natasha Trethewey, U.S. Poet Laureate
Natasha Trethewey America's current poet laureate Natasha Trethewey joins the ranks of Robert Frost and Rita Dove. And while some laureates are remote, fusty-looking, and not particularly memorable, Trethewey, the Mississippi-born daughter of parents whose marriage was illegal in 1966 thanks to anti-miscegenation laws that weren't struck down until 1967's Loving v. Virginia, is in every newspaper or magazine we pick up. She's hot, she's happening, and she's the poet laureate. Definitely someone we'd want to go have a drink with. Oh, and here's a chance to check out the new and improved Jefferson School.
2pm Saturday, March 23, at the Jefferson School African American Center

American Icons: A Conversation with the Honorable John Lewis and Dr. John Carlos
John Lewis Civil rights icon John Lewis, and the guy who gave the black power salute in the searing photo from the 1968 Olympics, John Carlos? This one is a five-buck-admission no-brainer. Congressman Lewis was an original Freedom Rider, testing the segregated buses of the South, getting beaten to a pulp and arrested numerous times. He was on the bridge at Selma in 1965, for which he received a fractured skull– and a place in history. Carlos made a stand at the Olympics, John Carlos demanding, among other things, that apartheid South Africa and Rhodesia withdraw, and that Muhammad Ali's world heavyweight title be restored. When that didn't pan out, after he won the bronze medal for the 200-meter, he made international headlines on the stand along with first place winner Tommie Smith. Thank you anonymous donor, Wells Fargo, and others for bringing these men here.
8pm Saturday, March 23, Paramount Theater, $5


Should have been called 10 Books For People Who Would Rather Look Smart Than Actually Improve Their Minds

I LOVE the Virginia Festival of the Book. I wish I could attend every event! But if you can only give the festival one day, make sure to go to the Omni on Saturday, March 23rd. Hear great authors and learn more about publishing. Learn how to hook an agent in 100 words or less and how to start a writing group that will critique your work and support your journey towards publication. We are quite the writing community here in Charlottesville and the Virginia Festival of the Book is a treasure.