Sunday, April 24, 2016

Notes on 2016 North Texas Teen Book Festival

So I attended the North Texas Teen Book Festival with my wife and son. I'm not a writer of teen books or a teacher of teens, but my wife works in a library, and specializes in children's and adolescent literature. We are all readers, and I always think I can learn something with these programs. What you see below are notes, taken on my phone and quickly edited, of my experience. At the end, I'll give you a couple of general thoughts about the experience, ideas I hope you will take with a grain of salt, as I am very much an outsider.

No mugs in the swag shop. 

Keynote speaker Holly Black
"Why Magic?" 
--won some sort of award 
--applause when she said she would never write anything but fantasy. 
--quoting Tolkien 
--straw man argument
--ghost named Robbie
--folk tale to illustrate belief/fear of fairies
--fantasy helps us "look at ordinary things in a new way" (ugh)
--what Magisterium series is about 
-- Callum's (sp) fears are "like mine"
{left to retrieve something for my wife}

Arrived late for a panel titled "A Class of Their Own" 
--description: "All men are NOT created equal in these society stories." Panel of all women
--one other male (working event) (one photographer came later)
--one author referenced Nina Simone "It's a New Day"
"Old husband people"
--one boy showed up late
--almost skipped president question
-- interesting looking books
--"writing as a woman is political" (Elissa Sussman)
Some dissing of English teachers/assignments

{tasked to stand in line for tickets for author signings}

Teenagers and 35-40 year old women looking at me like I'm a pervert while I stand in line for my wife for authors I don't know and don't care about. I'm here a freaking hour and a half when the line starts to move. Teens letting people in line. 

Afterward, I can't get into anything, and so I wait. Then I think maybe I can sneak into one of the panels, but the only one I am interested in won't let anybody in even though they are not full.

So I try to find my son. I figure he's going to the panel on time travel, only I can't find it. I guess they went to a different place than what was on the damn schedule. I suppose I will enjoy the irony of that later.

Ah! I find it. However, it is also closed: "this room has reached full capacity." And of course there is no place to sit, and I realize that with a room full of people -- most of them children, and the rest mommies of children, and just mommies-- I can't say any fucking cuss words. 

Phone about to die. We both forgot to bring plugs. 

Mom and son picking books before signing. 

While waiting in line, Whovian Max holds court over favorite doctors. 

Covertly taken photo of guy who wrote The Maze Runner. Apparently he's some kind of big deal.   

Sarah Dessen. I accidentally had her autograph a book to my wife instead of the daughter who bought it. 

Soman Chainani: a very nice who wrote a nice inscription for my daughter Tina. 

And then, while waiting for my wife to return from her second trip to get Holly Black's autograph, my phone died. 

This guy pretended he wasn't glad to see me when I got home. 

So here are some takeaways from the event/experience:
First the good--
  • It is always exciting to see so many young people who like to read, and the fact that the line for Holly Black was longer than the one for James Dashner (for whom you had to have tickets in order to get an autograph) tells me that these kids aren't just there because of a movie. When kids have writers as heroes, you can feel a little better about the world.
  • Pretty knowledgeable and helpful volunteers and staff. I had a lot of questions, and was lost a lot. Was never steered wrong or given a teenage eye roll with "Go ask someone else."
  • Authors seemed quite personable (though I personally did not talk to any).
  • Seriously glad that they had strong, well attended panel over LGBT issues/writing/readers.

Now the not so good--
  • I know I am not the audience here, but I take exception with the constant implication that English teachers and adults are out to stop kids from reading what they perceive are dangerous books. Come on! Do we have to make everything look like an us against the world thing?
  • The idea that three authors were so dang important that fans had to stand in a special line to get tickets to get their autographs does not sit well with me. That some people paid $100 or $200 for special packages to spend a handful of minutes with these writers reminds me of baseball players who are paid millions and then charge kids for the privilege to get an autographed card.
  • No bookmarks or coffee mugs in the swag shops? Really? Do they know anything about readers?
  • It baffles me that something as large as this could not find a couple of poets or put together a panel on poetry. We know every third angsty teenager is scribbling poems in notebooks. There are poets who would be happy to spend time talking to young readers and their parents and teachers. When you omit something like this, you tell people it isn't important.
  • Speaking of unimportant, why were so few men involved? I believe there were less than ten male authors, and the board and staff that put this event together is made up completely of women. What do you think such a thing says to the young boys at this crucial time of life when much of how they respond to reading is getting formed?

Friday, April 15, 2016

A Masterful Tribute to Charlie Haden

I have spent my morning listening to this wonderful tribute to the late bassist and composer Charlie Haden. Most of the tunes are remarkable Haden compositions, and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, who played with the master on several terrific albums, handles each of them with an intuitive touch. Even "Hermitage," a Pat Metheny piece Haden recorded with his Quartet West, sounds as if it was taped inside the brain of jazz. The backing band has no slouches, giving the material the honor and empathy it deserves. But most importantly, this is fine, fine music. Rich in texture, and deep in soulfulness, Charlie should fill the heart of any room with delight.

Listen to the album on iTunes.

This song isn't on the disc, but I like it:

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Drifting Along with Hammock

I cannot stop listening to Everything and Nothing. Just getting into "Post-rock," Hammock is new to me, but they have been around a long time, and everything they do is shimmering gold sonic goodness. But this project, rivaling Oblivion Hymns in strength and intensity, just does me in. There are the haunted words and ethereal vocals in tunes like "Dissonance" and "We Were So Young." But most of the songs are instrumentals that which range from ambient moodscapes to pulsing rock, perfect for driving under a wide open sky. The textures created by guitarists Marc Byrd and Andrew Thompson are always a delight, even when it is clear the songs address sadness and the transitory nature of life. Whether you are drifting under the stars or watching someone you love drift from your grasp, this is the soundtrack of your movie.

Listen to this album on Spotify.