Texas Book Festival: 2012

The annual Texas Book Festival is near the top of my “Why I Love Austin” list. For two entire days, I’m in book-lovers’ heaven as TBF takes over the Texas State Capitol and the surrounding area. I try to attend as many of the free sessions as possible. Much to my delight, the 2012 schedule was heavy on biographies, histories and current events (mostly politics). The Food Network stars who were so omnipresent last year were nowhere to be seen this time. Superstorm Sandy impacted the weekend even here in Texas: several authors had to cancel their appearances and my visiting friend left early to get back to her home in Pennsylvania.

Saturday October 27                                                                                                


Tony Danza has written a book, I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High, which chronicles his year as a 10th grade English teacher at a Philadelphia high school. His first semester was also taped for a reality TV show called Teach. Tony talked about his experiences growing up, being “discovered” while a professional boxer, acting on shows such as Taxi and Who’s the Boss?, and pursuing his dream of being a teacher.

Teaching was much harder than he expected. He feels strongly that the public school teachers should be responsible for fewer classes and students. We wondered if his colleagues appreciated a celebrity who taught one class a day and was suddenly an expert on public education, but most of the internet chatter about his year as a teacher is positive. I’ve also read that Teach was cancelled by A&E when Tony refused to facilitate “situations” to make the classroom more exciting, but he did not mention this at TBF.


I must confess that I made my friend wait in line for an hour to see the only author on my must-see list, Robert Caro. (I am still complaining about not getting in to see David McCullough a few years back.) Since we were among the first 100 people in line, we got to sit in the coveted floor seats in the Texas House of Representatives chamber. Well worth the wait, in my opinion!

Robert Caro has completed volume four of five books about the life of Lyndon B. Johnson. The Passage of Power covers only the first 47 days of LBJ’s presidency, from Kennedy’s assassination to LBJ’s State of the Union address. With only his wife Ina assisting with research, this book took him ten years to complete. He joked that he hopes the final volume will be quicker to write.
Robert gave prepared remarks and did not take questions afterwards. He mostly talked about how the day of the assassination unfolded from Johnson’s viewpoint. He uncovered some details of that day which were not known before based on interviews with everyone involved, including the photographer. I am looking forward to reading his latest book after Christmas (Bill: hint, hint).

Next we attended The Onion Book of Known Knowledge session over at First Methodist Church. Two staffers from The Onion displayed highlights from the book on a large screen. They noted that the book did not mention Austin (therefore it did not exist) and made a few jokes about Dallas and Houston to noticeably little laughter. Fortunately  most of their encyclopedia-type entries were funnier.

Sunday October 28                                                                                       

Essay contributors for The Forty-Acre Outlaws: UT Confronts the Modern World discussed their perspectives on events from the 60s and 70s while students at the University of Texas. One person described how he finally felt comfortable at UT as a gay student; another author wrote about performing Shakespeare in a barn. Cartoonist Sam Hurt told an interesting story about how the student government was disbanded and then reinstated in the late ’70s and early ’80s. 


 Author Kurt Eichenwald talked about his new book, 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars. Kurt discussed the decisions that were made by the government and the military in the 500 days following September 11th. An interesting topic that makes me want to read his book.


I decided to wait in another hour-long line to see Dan Rather. (The hour went by fairly quickly because the guy next to me had a cool lens attachment for his iphone.) Once again I snagged a floor seat and listened as Dan answered questions from the moderator and the audience. Dan is promoting his memoir, Rather Outspoken: My Life in the News. He complained about three prevalent trends in journalism today: commercialization, politicalization, and trivialization. He listed single mothers, police officers, Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela among those who inspire him. Not surprisingly, Sadam Hussein stuck out in his mind as one of the “bad guys” whom he had interviewed.

I stopped by the Cooking Tent to watch Scott Roberts and Jessica Dupuy from the famed Salt Lick restaurant  Their secrets for perfect ribs and other barbeque delights can be found in The Salt Lick Cookbook: A Story of Land, Family and Love. But I would rather just drive twenty minutes from downtown Austin to Driftwood, Texas and have the real thing!

In the final session of the festival, Robert Draper talked to The Texas Tribune’s editor Evan Smith about his book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives. Robert demonstrated an amazing knowledge of the inner workings of the House  and covered topics such as the debt ceiling debates, the Tea Party influence, redistricting, and the (then) upcoming elections. But it was all rather depressing.

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