As I’ve mentioned before on this running blog of adventures, I’m in graduate school. I’m at the point that I’ve probably been I graduate school for a little too long, but it’s afforded me a lot of interesting opportunities that allow me to do new fun things. One of my favorite things that my adventures at George Mason University has afford me the opportunity to do is to work with Fall for the Book, an annual three day festival that happens every Autumn. Or Fall, hence the name.
Fall for the Book (which in fairness makes a lot more sense than Autumn for the Book) typically takes place in October and has attracted some pretty big names, including Neil Gaiman, Colson Whitehead, and Steven King, this year featured Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Delia Owens, and David Wallace Wells. These are pretty big names for any festival, much one that takes place on a campus that is currently overrun by food delivery robots. But it’s an amazing experience that takes three days to celebrate something that’s really important: Reading.
I, of course, would be remiss if I didn’t mention the real biggest names at the festival: Helon Habila and Susan Shreve, but that’s mostly because I’m taking classes from them. I mean, they’re great writers, but I also really want an A. I don’t know that they read Bad Shakespeare, but I’m all about covering my bases.
Regardless, I’ve often talked about how reading is important. I primarily talk movies on this blog because they’re some of my favorite things: There’s not much better than sitting down and taking in a great movie, or even a mediocre one, or one that stars Nicolas Cage trying to find something. But especially now, reading and developing critical thinking skills is an important one, especially at a time when it seems as if book censorship is at an all time high.
One of the things I love more than anything about this event is the way it brings to mind those writers who don’t have big time contracts or who don’t have upcoming movies starring some major celebrity or again, Nicolas Cage, pointing to the fact that they wrote a book worthy of the Nicolas Cage playing one of their characters. I would like to point out that we’re not only at the technological advancement but we’re way past due for a Nicolas Cage movie where he plays all of the characters.
One of the things that I have been able to do for the past three years is moderate different panels and speak to some of these really talented writers, hopefully exposing them to new audiences. In the past I’ve moderated panels on Science Fiction and Urban Fantasy, so this year I was really happy to be able to moderate a panel on Young Adult Literature, one that focused on how young adult literature helped young people as they made decisions. Which again is something important, because our kids get to know about everything going on in the world through the magic of the internet. And I don’t know if any of you have ever been on the internet, it has a lot of opinions about what kids should be doing these days.
I was able to moderate the panel Diverging Roads: Teenagers Face Choices and Consequences, and I was very happy to be able to talk to three talented writers: Anna Bright, Mia Garcia, and Chris Tebbets. They have all have a diverse body of work, but all had a distinct through line of teenagers making decisions. And that’s one of the things I absolutely love about literature: three talented writers , three very different stories taking place in three different worlds, but they all had similar messages. Anyone could have read Anna Bright’s fantasy novel, The Beholder, that expertly weaved classic fantasy into a new story and gotten a message about taking charge of one’s life. Mia Garcia’s The Resolutions focused on not only identity, but how to make your own decisions. And Chris Tebbet’s Me, Myself, and Him focused on a hard life choice his protagonist had to make all while dealing with the fallout. I loved these stories, and not just because I got to talk to the writers. But I loved what they had to say, and the fact that we could have three writers who took three different genres, but made similar statements. It speaks to the power of reading: it doesn’t matter what you’re trying to say, there’s a world for that.
There was also plenty of reference to the Emma Stone comedy Easy A, which was not only a fun moment, but an opportunity to remind us all that this movie not only existed, but was kind of a fun one.
And that’s what made literature so amazing: the ability to connect with people on a new and basic level. We had an amazing conversation, and I’m always have amazing conversations with these writers, and I’m in awe of how much they’re able to think about their books and the writing process. Also, I’m just in awe that they’re taking the time to come speak with people about their writing. Look, we’re not exactly in the biggest room, and the room wasn’t exactly full. But none of that mattered. We spoke about books, we spoke about their influence on kids, and we spoke abut the ability to write something in such a way that they can touch people’s lives.
To me, that’s the importance of Fall for the Book. It’s a chance for all of us to speak with people who have written books, and to speak with people who had a message. I think when we look at famous people who have written books and forget that they did so because they had a message. Maybe it’s something as simple as “I have something to say.” Maybe, if you’re Stephen King, it’s about the dangers of not believing sewer clowns, which is something that I’m passionate about as well. But we all have something to say, and we all have the ability to say it in our own way. That’s why art is so important.
The other reason I love moderating these panels is because I am terrified of public speaking. I know me and just about everyone that has to speak in public, but I like these conversations I can have, and this pushes me to do something I’m scared of by tempting me to do something I really want to do which is talk to great writers and have them think about the cool ways they are able to use their writing to get across a message.
Overall, though, Fall for the Book allows an opportunity for people to find something new to read, and maybe find their own voice. That’s something that can’t be understated. I love the fact that we have a big even every year who’s focus is simply: read. Just find something and read it. It doesn’t matter what. I am very lucky to have been able to speak to several extremely talented writers, and tap their brains for useful writing and reading knowledge, especially on something that is so important. And I’m really looking forward to seeing who I speak to next year.
For more information on Fall for the Book, go to www.fallforthebook.org. Please note that I’m not affiliated with them except that I moderate panels for them, so they may not have the same feelings on Nicolas Cage that I do. But they should.