The official premise of the Texas Book Festival is to “promote the joys of reading,” which neatly glosses over the feelings of inadequacy it also dredges up. So many books! So little time not frittered away on Facebook! Given the TBF’s glut of panels and discussions, not to mention all those writers and intellectuals roaming about, seeming well versed is de rigueur, even if—especially if—you’re faking it. How to pull off the ruse? Find the list of participating authors ( texasbookfestival.org/Authors.php). Pick a name. Google. Skim. Repeat until you can praise a few best-sellers without going into detail, a handy trick ripped from Pierre Bayard’s (not TBF-sanctioned) How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read.
If you haven’t, for instance, gotten around to Christopher Buckley’s latest send-up of D.C., Supreme Courtship, the plot goes something like this: A sexy, gun-toting TV judge from Texas becomes a so-improbable-she’s-probable Supreme Court nominee. Who says fiction is stranger than life? Which reminds us: Since the TBF is less than a week before Election Day, you should also at least thumb through Bob Moser’s Blue Dixie: Awakening the South’s Democratic Majority and Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam’s Grand New Party: How Republicans Can Win the Working Class and Save the American Dream before one becomes utterly irrelevant.
White House worries aside, there are other serious issues to discuss. Like the energy crisis. Have you eyed T. Boone Pickens’s much-promoted The First Billion Is the Hardest? Browsed Lisa Margonelli’s Oil on the Brain? Snapped up Robert Bryce’s Gusher of Lies? If you answered “yes,” please proceed to the festival’s Bubblin’ Crude panel, moderated by Austin mayor Will Wynn. (If you answered “I need a drink,” head to the cooking tent for one of master mixologist Bridget Albert’s “market fresh” cocktails.) Don’t forget the war either. Two notable page-turners on the subject are Philip Gourevitch’s stories of the soldiers at Abu Ghraib, in Standard Operating Procedure, and Nate Self’s chronicle of his struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder, in Two Wars.
Another controversial elephant in the room not to sidestep: Babar. The hero of Laurent de Brunhoff’s beloved children’s books has been known to stoke his share of partisan politics. Is the illustrated pachyderm the quintessence of imperialist propaganda, as left-wing critics have charged, or just nattily dressed? Siding with the style party is— TBF darling alert!—Susan Orlean. Not only will the longtime New Yorker wordsmith be reading from her favorite Babar story, she’ll also be presenting her own first attempt at elementary lit, Lazy Little Loafers, a funny take on sibling rivalry. As Laura Bush’s pet project, the festival is usually teeming with young readers. Watching the tiny devils sit spellbound at the feet of their idols, like Rick Riordan ( Battle of the Labyrinth) and R. L. Stine ( Goosebumps HorrorLand), is to remember why your own “to read” list is so long.
Even the most jaded adults are similarly captivated when poring over the incisive prose of Texas literary bedrock Bud Shrake. Of course, kids these days have it easy: His best writing was recently collected in one anthology, Land of the Permanent Wave. Now, that’s one book you should read cover to cover. In Austin on November 1 and 2 at the Capitol and various locations; 512-477-4055, texasbookfestival.org
In Good Company
Although it was founded eleven years ago, the San Antonio Opera is just beginning to step into the limelight. The company, still helmed by its original visionary, Mark Richter, has survived all the usual challenges: financial woes, venue changes, a threadbare staff. In just the past two years, it has blossomed into a multirung organization, having hired its first executive director, David O’Dell, in May. And with an influx of corporate sponsorships, there’s finally enough money in the coffers for an endowment.
But there’s also been the hardship of building an audience in a city that hasn’t exactly been clamoring for opera. Which is why the SAO is ramping up the star power. Last year, in a high-profile coup, Plácido Domingo sang zarzuela and Broadway classics at the Alamodome. The eight-years-in-the-making concert was held three days after mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade gave a greatest-hits recital. The momentum spikes again this month with yet another celebrity exclusive: Pop tenor Andrea Bocelli is starring in a concert version of Pietro Masca-gni’s Cavalleria Rusticana. And he has handpicked Chilean soprano Verónica Villarroel to play the pregnant Santuzza to his adulterous Turiddu. The two-night engagement is sold out, a promising sign for next season. On November 25 and 26 at the Municipal Auditorium; 210-225-5972, saopera.com
And the Winner Is …
In explaining why the ninth annual Latin Grammy Awards will be held in Houston—not exactly a hotbed of Latin music and a seemingly less glitzy choice than previous host cities Los Angeles, New York, Miami, and Las Vegas—Gabriel Abaroa says simply, “We decided to take the show where our people are.” Given the state’s exploding Hispanic community, it’s hardly surprising that the president of the Latin Recording Academy, the governing body that oversees the show, would favor the Texas city. But Abaroa is quick to redefine simple categories. “Who are our people? Anyone who likes to listen to bossa nova or who likes to dance salsa.” Not, in other words, just Spanish speakers. “You do not need to know the language to feel the music,” says Abaroa. “Think of the Japanese, the Chinese, the Mexicans, the Brazilians who loved Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley and the Beatles. They might not have known what was being sung, but they knew they were hearing something beautiful.”
Broadcast live on Univision, the evening will feature about a dozen performances from artists vying for golden gramophones in 49 categories. There are established acts (Colombian rocker Juanes is up for five awards, bested only by the Mexican alt band Café Tacuba’s six nods) and crossover sensations (Gloria Estefan is being honored as the person of the year) but also a slew of emerging names, like Puerto