Twain will be one of the highlights of Annapolis book fest

April 11, 2010|By Jonathan Pitts

Mark Twain was an American wit like no other, willing and more than able in writing or in person to skewer the pompous and self-important, be they lying politicians, ham-fisted editors or petty tyrants on the local school board.

But one subject did tend to command his respect.

"When I am king," mused a character in his 1881 novel "The Prince and the Pauper," the people "shall not [only] have bread and shelter, but also teachings out of books, for a full belly is worth little where the mind is starved."

That sentiment will be very much on display at the Key School next Saturday, where thousands of literature lovers will mingle with authors old and new - and commemorate the 100th anniversary of Twain's death - at the eighth annual Annapolis Book Festival.

Among the highlights of the day will be an hourlong panel discussion on the life and work of Twain, the author of 12 major books, thousands of shorter stories and essays, and more than 10,000 letters.

The festival, which is free and open to the public, might rival even the "Tom Sawyer" creator in its breadth of subject matter. "We'll have something for everybody," says Missy Attridge, co-chair of a committee that gathered 30 authors from across the nation who will lead talks on subjects from baseball and children's fiction to the Chesapeake Bay, parenting, and the changing face of global security.

C-SPAN will even be on hand to televise four seminars on public-policy matters. The cable channel will rebroadcast the shows several times as part of its Book TV series.

The festival, which organizers expect to draw about 3,000 visitors throughout the day, will be family-friendly, including folk and rock performances, Harry Potter games, a reading of Maurice Sendak's classic "Where the Wild Things Are" and even a book-loving clown for kids.

Grown-up book fans will have from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to relish the ways in which good writing still nourishes the imagination a century after Twain's death in Redding, Conn., on April 21, 1910.

They'll have a choice of 13 panel discussions for adults and three book events for kids, where guest authors will talk of their work and field questions, in some cases leading discussions.

Visitors might have to map out a strategy to maximize their enjoyment, Attridge says. Some tend to come just to hear one author speak, she says; others will spend the whole day in a single classroom, taking in several sessions in a row; still others will choose to wander the campus during the day, picking and choosing from the menu of offerings.

If best-selling writers are your bag, there will be several choices, and a good seminar to visit might be the Thrillers & Chillers panel, where heavyweights like Jeffrey Deaver - author of "The Bone Collector," a 1997 blockbuster that was made into a hit film two years later - and Katherine Neville, whose "quest-adventure" books have been translated into 40 languages in 80 countries - will hold forth on character development and plot.

On the nonfiction side, ex-newspaperman Mark Kurlansky, the best-selling author of "Salt: A World History" and the about-to-be-released "The Eastern Stars: How Baseball Changed the Dominican Town of San Pedro de Macoris," will help lead two panels. One focuses on the world's water supply, the other on his most recent book, which is to hit stores nationwide Thursday.

Fascinated by human behavior? Attendees have many choices in the fiction and nonfiction categories. Ellen Weber Libby, a practicing Maryland psychologist whose book "The Favorite Child" explores a theory that parents in every family choose a "favorite child" for largely unconscious reasons, and that this choice has long-term implications on that child and his or her siblings. And Los Angeles journalist Ashley Merryman, who has collaborated for years with San Francisco author Po Bronson to re-examine the science of rearing children, will discuss their 2009 best-seller, "Nurture Shock: New Thinking About Children," the focus of which is that many of our most common practices, however well-intentioned, are backfiring, largely because they're based on assumptions unsupported by scientific research.

"We think, for example, that praising kids for intelligence will lead them to more achievement, but it actually leads to less achievement and to even more cheating," Merryman says. She'll share thoughts on the subject in an afternoon panel, "Rethinking Parenting," just as she and Bronson have done on "Good Morning America," "Nightline" and NPR's "All Things Considered" during the past year.

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