Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Pandemica Stole the Festival

The Tucson Festival of Books is my favorite weekend of the year.  I usually get two or three posts out of the event.  I always learn new things or find a different way to approach an issue.  I can pick up a new author or three, serendipity bringing me face to face with a person who writes what I want to read.  

I could wander the vendors and exhibitors, tent after tent of used and new and new-to-me books just waiting to come home with me in my giant tote bag.  Bookmarks and notebooks, activity pages for kids and lists of If you enjoyed this book try these rounded out the You Need This Now items I unpacked on the kitchen table.  

There's not a lot of serendipity when you're sitting at your usual desk with the usual view staring at the computer screen.  

The same minutes long introduction video played before every session.  What was a charming way of comparing the various moderators' takes on performing the same verbiage at the start of the real life sessions, watching that video 10 times over the course of the weekend was a bit much.  By the 3rd session, I was using that time to prepare my snacks and pillows.  In real life, I'd be smiling at my neighbors, moving my water bottle so that someone could walk past my feet to the chair further down the row, settling into a folding chair outside or an upholstered pull down auditorium seat, always on an aisle and aware of the exits, comforted by the presence of hundreds of other readers, smiling as the moderator thanked us for coming and praised the donors who made it all possible.

I had to do all that alone this year.  There was no one to comment on what I was crocheting.  There was no one to share the laugh or the surprise or the eye-widening comparison uttered by the brilliant person sitting 50 feet away.  The only being 50 feet away from me this weekend was the hawk riding the wind currents, looking for food.

In years past, when I was tired I'd grab a seat at the back of a sparsely populated tent.  Cooking demonstrations, Native American legends, scientific advances in obscure fields - it was always different and always interesting.  My brain was expanding as my hip was relaxing.  This year, I wandered from the library to the back yard to the kitchen, seeking inspiration and finding none.

Chuck Palahniuk wrote Fight Club, and that made him semi-famous.  Little Cuter had a later work, Invisible Monsters 

on her bookshelf, and it led me down a garden path of gender identity, trust, and redemption.  I had lots of questions to ask Mr. Palahniuk.  I was settled in my chair at 8:50 for the 9am session.  I had my pencil out and my crocheting in hand.  I listened as the moderator explained the chat function.  It was the 7th or 8th time I'd heard the spiel, but this time I paid attention.  

I looked at the bottom right corner of my screen and there it was.... kinda.... sorta..... it said Chat Disabled.  Ever hopeful, I assumed that it be functional once the conversation began.  Wrong. Emily St. John Mandel and Chuck Palahniuk talked  about things that the interviewer found interesting, but there was no way for those of us in the audience to participate.  The session we were viewing wasn't live and in person - it was taped.

I left.  I wasn't interested in a podcast.  I was looking for interaction.  

The day before, James Lee Burke managed to converse with those in the ether, as his interviewer seamlessly read our questions aloud after Mr. Burke couldn't locate his reading glasses.  Our random queries led him to desk slapping laughter.  He was having as much fun as we were.  

That immediacy, the lowering of barriers between writer and reader, that is what the TFOB has meant to me over the years.  It's another thing that COVID took from us.  The organizers did a fine job of putting together any kind of festival at all.  I was willing to forgive them the 38 minute technical delay over all the presentations at the Saturday morning start of things.  I'm not so sure about not being informed that some sessions would be taped.  I would have gone out to the garden after lunch had I known that the Garry Trudeau interview I heard last week was to be replayed at 1 on Sunday. I assumed it would be a different conversation.

I don't like criticizing the Tucson Festival of Books.  They did the best they could.  I'm looking forward to the real thing in real life with real writers and listeners in 2022.


Have I mentioned that I hate COVID? 


  1. Me, too. As I move closer to the second shot, I find I am more cranky and less able to deal with being cloistered one more damn minute.

    1. Walking thru Costco..... picking the right color of yarn.... and fruits!!


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