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Vegas Valley Book Festival: Four panelists on literature, tech and recommended texts

Molly O'Donnell
    • Charles Bock

      Charles Bock

      Charles Bock

      Who: Author, Beautiful Children

      Panel: Fiction: West of Eden (October 18, 12:15 p.m., Auditorium)

      What is your favorite book? My favorite novel this year has been Matt Thomas’ We Are Not Ourselves. It’s pretty much the definition of a great American novel, and is going to be read for as long as novels are read. On the nonfiction front, Leslie Jamison’s collection of essays, The Empathy Exams, is stunning. It is formally amazing; the sentences are gorgeous, as are her heart and mind. I am admittedly biased on these fronts, but I truly love these two books. They are my favorites of this year.

      What role do you think literature serves in our tech-centric modern world? This is a huge question, worthy of much discussion, and, obviously, all writers are thinking about this. We have to.

      It’s true that reading and writing and their hand-in-hand friends, introspection and deep thinking, are at odds with answering texts and having three screens going at once. It’s also true that this is how the world is now, how we all live. Any writer has to take this into account, even as you still have to plant your ass in that chair and do your work and weave your little story that can exist on its own terms, creating that ineffable bond between the reader and the tale. One thing that can happen, and does happen, is that serious and good, deep reading emerges as an oasis, however temporarily, from the instantaneous and the multiplicity. It does this for many people at many moments in many ways. Moreover we all know there are places where writing and the electronic can overlap and coexist. Now as for whether writers will be able to financially exist, whether reader attention spans will shrink and become less skilled at dealing with serious texts, whether social media, acting as a meeting place and town square, can really replace so many lost physical spaces and bookstores? I doubt these questions can be fully addressed in this unsolicited drive-by format. At least they can’t by me.

      What does your appearance at the Vegas Valley Book Fest have in store? Red-and-grey Nike Dunk retros made famous by the 1987 UNLV final four team (lost to Indiana in the national semis because NCAA refs were not going to let us win a close game). More exciting than that, even, will be meeting Malie Chapman, whose work I respect and enjoy so much, seeing and sharing ideas again with Laura McBride, and getting to listen to David Fuller and Vu Tran, who are also on this talent-loaded lit panel.

      Any thoughts on book culture in the context of Las Vegas (Las Vegas Literati)? When I was growing up in the city there was one used book store—Charleston Blvd, if memory serves—and when you went in there, most of the books were get-rich guides to beating the casinos. It’s a blue-collar town and a service-based economy, and those things don’t necessarily make for the best reading or literary environs. These days, there still aren’t many bookstores in the city. But UNLV does boast an excellent MFA staff, one of the better ones in the West, and the Black Mountain Institute brings the best writers to this city to read and lecture. My guess is these are inroads and will pay off down the road, and that’s something. ... The other thing I know is how really proud of Laura McBride I am, because without any connections or help, she wrote that gorgeous, generous novel; it’s really thrilling to see the way readers have responded to it. She’s hometown proof—along with rural jewel Claire Vaye Watkins and her collection Battleborn—that a good book will find a life. This is something that should inspire not just local writers, but all of us.

    • Jennifer 8 Lee

      Jennifer 8 Lee

      Who: Journalist and cofounder of Plympton

      Panel: Media in a Digital Age (October 18, 3 p.m., Room 125)

      What is your favorite book? Not a favorite book, but works I really admired from a technical and crowd-pleasing perspective: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (I think some of the best writing is happening in the YA right now); The Passion of Tasha Darsky, a marvelous novel by my cofounder, Yael Goldstein Love; Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn for the technically excellent blend of thriller and literary fiction. Old nonfiction favorites: Guns, Germs and Steel, for how it changed how I see the world; Master Switch by Tim Wu, who is one of our investors.

      What role do you think literature serves in our tech-centric modern world? As our pace of consuming “stuff” on our mobile devices becomes more frenetic and impulsive, long-form narrative is a wonderful way to get a break, escape and clear the mind.

      What does your appearance at the Vegas Valley Book Fest have in store? I will be talking about the ambitions of making Downtown Las Vegas a literary hub for writers.

      Any thoughts on book culture in the context of Las Vegas (Las Vegas Literati)? Yes! I passionately believe that the Downtown area of Las Vegas can become a creative hub for writers in the 21st century, especially with Scott Seeley’s the Writer’s Block opening up. The creative and economic offerings are really compelling in terms of housing and psychological space.

    • Mac King

      Mac King

      Who: Magician, literary activist

      Panels: Mac King’s Student Essay Contest (October 18, 1:30 p.m., Children’s Main Stage); Storytelling (October 18, 12:05 p.m., Storytelling Tent)

      What is your favorite book? Go, Dog, Go! by P.D. Eastman has dogs wearing hats and having a party in a tree. It’s my favorite beginner book. Wolf Story by William McCleery is a story within a story. It’s my favorite early reading chapter book. It’s also the one my daughter liked the best when she got old enough to listen to a book when there weren’t pictures involved. My favorite read-aloud book is Sideways Stories From Wayside School by Louis Sachar. The first chapter in that book is hilarious and captivates kids from kindergarden through fifth grade. Is it too cliché to love The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain? Okay, then how about Life On the Mississippi? As an adult I like Nicholson Baker. I’ve read all his stuff, and The Mezzanine is my favorite. For pure comedy I am a big David Sedaris fan. His early collection, Barrel Fever is my top pick. Also making me laugh is A Walk in the Woods, the first Bill Bryson book I read. My mom read mysteries when I was growing up. She was partial to Agatha Christie (who I quite like as well), but my favorite is the Nero Wolfe series by Rex Stout. I have gone on month-long jags where I just reread the entire series in order. Harpo Speaks by Harpo Marx and Notes on a Cowardly Lion by John Lahr are my go-to recommendations for showbiz biography. I play croquet because of Harpo Speaks. And for pure descriptive, beautiful writing I’m a big fan of Mark Helprin. I like his Winter’s Tale (not the movie) and Memoir From Antproof Case.

      What role do you think literature serves in our tech-centric modern world? There is a debate among magicians as to which is the best way to learn new magic tricks. There are people who say that watching video is easier and better, and there are people who say it’s better to learn the trick from a book. I have always come down on the book learnin’ side of that debate. If you learn by watching someone do a trick, you’re really just imitating that person. If you learn from a book, you are forced to interpret the text and to bring something of yourself into the mix. It makes the eventual performance of that trick richer and more nuanced. I think literature obliges you to decode and unscramble the writer’s words, and by doing so you make the experience more meaningful for yourself.

      What does your appearance at the Vegas Valley Book Fest have in store? I will be performing some tricks that I don’t do in my regular show at Harrah’s, ones that I only do when I am making appearances at school assemblies where I talk about the importance of literacy. I’ll also be reading aloud some of my favorite stories. Before and after my performances I’ll be hanging out at my Mac King’s Magical Literacy Tour tent meeting people, giving out magical bookmarks and tickets to my show at Harrah’s.

      Any thoughts on book culture in the context of Las Vegas (Las Vegas Literati)? I don’t know about literati, but some people might be interested to learn that I have a group of performer pals (Michael Goudeau, Penn Jillette, Pete Studebaker) that I hang out with that like to get together and discuss the books we’re reading.

    • Aimee Bender

      Aimee Bender

      Who: Author, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

      Panel: Closing Keynote Speaker (October 18, 4 p.m., Auditorium)

      What is your favorite book? Today’s three are: So Long, See You Tomorrow by William Maxwell, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter, and Cosmicomics by Italo Calvino. But there are probably a top 20.

      What role do you think literature serves in our tech-centric modern world? It is a champion for the internal world. It is one of the only ways to get deeply into the mind of another.

      What does your appearance at the Vegas Valley Book Fest have in store? A talk! About intention: what it is, and what it isn’t.

      Any thoughts on book culture in the context of Las Vegas (Las Vegas Literati)? Reminds me of LA. Both are places people don’t consider big reading places but have lively literary scenes, as I’m sure this book fest will be!

    Vegas Valley Book Festival October 16-18, times and locations vary, vegasvalleybookfestival.org.

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