If the bumper-sticker adage is true — "A city with a great library is a great city" — what does it say for a city that once a year, every fall, thousands of residents and visitors converge downtown with nothing on their mind but books? And that, year after year, the city serves as a magnet for best-selling yarn-spinners and literary heavyweights alike, as eager to connect with their audiences as their readers are to meet their favorite authors in the flesh?
It says the Southern Festival of Books is back in session, and the Athens of the South is the logical place to host it. For three days, starting Friday at Legislative Plaza, the expanse in front of the War Memorial building serves as bustling proof that the written word is as far from dead as Elvis is. (You heard us. Look for the older fella with the silver pompadour, pretending to read the Oxford American.)
The event offers exactly what the name promises: a Southern festival, full of down-home hospitality and enthusiasm, where anything related to books or writing is celebrated. (Northern writers, you have nothing to fear but the outside chance of a casserole.) Whether your taste runs to the gonzo children's books of Don't Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus! creator Mo Willems (appearing 10 a.m. Saturday in the War Memorial Auditorium) or to the sinuous erotic melodrama of A Reliable Wife author Robert Goolrick (noon Sunday at the House Chambers), there is someone, and something, to raise every book lover's pulse.
Enticed by political figures weighing in on current events? Gov. Phil Bredesen and former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. both will make appearances. More interested in dirty deeds, foul play and the darker chambers of the human heart? Seek out sessions with acclaimed mystery authors Sharyn McCrumb, Jill McCorkle and Steven Womack. Longtime followers of writing about the South will welcome the return of Lee Smith, William Gay and Rick Bragg, while new arrivals on the literary scene include Nashvillian Adam Ross, whose genre-bending novel Mr. Peanut is one of 2010's most arresting debuts. And we'd be remiss if we didn't point out longtime Scene contributor Christine Kreyling's session, 11 a.m. Saturday in the Old Supreme Court Room.
Below, we've chosen 25 authors at this year's festival whose appearances — and books — you shouldn't miss. And those are by no means all. Consult the schedules available around the plaza throughout the festival, or check in at . Or simply show up and stroll the festival grounds, secure that you're among friends who share a common passion. For at least the next three days, book lovers, you own this city.