Texas Book Festival: 2023

The Texas Book Festival took over the Texas State Capitol building, including nearby streets, churches, and theaters. The two-day schedule featured many esteemed authors, including Ann Patchett, Abraham Verghese, Roxanne Gay, and Walter Isaacson. However, I suspect the organizers were biting their nails about this weekend. On Saturday morning, a Veterans Day parade, ceremony, and 21-gun salute also took place on the Capitol grounds. On Sunday afternoon, a huge pro-Palestinian protest was held on the north side of the Capitol building. As far as I know, everything peacefully coexisted.

Ann Patchett was interviewed by her long-time friend and Texas author, Elizabeth McCracken. Patchett’s latest novel, Tom Lake, is about a middle-aged mother and her three adult daughters who want to hear all about their mom’s long-ago summer romance with a guy who became a famous movie star. I read this book and loved it. Patchett recommended the following authors: Lindsey Lynch (Do Tell), Alice McDermott (Absolution: A Novel), and Margaret Renkel (The Comfort of Crows: A Backyard Year). This interview made me want to be Ann’s friend, too. Plus she owns a bookstore.

Walter Isaacson talked about his latest biography, Elon Musk, with The Texas Tribune founder, Evan Smith. Isaacson said that he followed his subject around for about two years. Musk did not set any content limitations nor request editing rights. However, Isaacson did decide to leave out details about his children. I was surprised that Isaacson spoke so admiringly about Musk, since many locals aren’t thrilled about his huge Tesla facility east of downtown.

Lawrence Wright was interviewed by Marc Winkelman about his latest novel, Mr. Texas. This is a barely-fictional story about an average guy from West Texas who is unexpectedly elected to the Texas Legislature. I recently read this book and enjoyed the numerous references to real-life Texan politicians. As Wright commented, “You can’t make this stuff up.” He explained that he came up with this basic story many years ago. Wright and his son performed two songs from a musical version that he had created with Marcia Ball. Wright remains optimistic about the future of the Lone Star State: “I hope we can steer Texas politics with more compassion.” 

S. C. Gwynne spoke to JK Nickel about His Majesty’s Airship: The Life and Tragic Death of the World’s Largest Flying Machine. He explained that the R101 rigid airship weighed 160 tons, was bigger than the Titanic, and contained ten stories of cattle intestines filled with hydrogen. The airship was covered with thin linen or cotton and powered by used locomotive diesel engines. Gwynne mused: “How could this idea persist when it was so bad?” The R101 crashed on its maiden voyage from England to India in 1930, killing 48 of the 54 on board.

H. W. Brands talked with University of Texas colleague, Jeremi Suri, about his newest book, Founding Partisans: Hamilton, Madison, Jefferson, Adams and the Brawling Birth of American Politics. Brands commented on each man:

  • Alexander Hamilton: consistently conservative, in favor of a strong central government
  • James Madison: his favorite character in this book, the quietest and most subtle
  • Thomas Jefferson: intriguing, liked fights of philosophy, believed in self-government
  • John Adams: we know what he was thinking due to his many letters to his wife, Abigail

While most patriots believed that “factions” were a bad idea, the Jefferson Republicans versus the Federalists marked the emergence of political parties in the U. S. However, there was still a smooth transfer of power after the 1800 election because maintaining the Republic was important to those who had fought in the American Revolution. As Brands noted: “This is still an experiment in self-government.”

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