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Your cheat sheet to the 2011 Southern Festival of Books

Nashville's Page Turner

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Remember books? Those dusty old dead-tree artifacts that supposedly nobody has time to read any more? If you do, with great fondness, this weekend on Legislative Plaza you'll meet a few folks who share your passion. Say, more than 20,000 of them.

Now in its 23rd year, the Southern Festival of Books is more vital than ever — and more needed, as local bookstores become endangered species and the Internet blares premature obits for literature itself. For three days, hundreds of authors and thousands of readers will converge downtown to cover a multitude of concerns, from the state of the art to the art of the state. Biographies, thrillers, literary fiction, graphic novels, children's books, essays, beach reads, military histories, cookbooks — the opportunities to stop and browse will be limitless. Think of it as offline Web-surfing, with analog amenities such as sunshine, fresh air, good food and face-to-face human interaction.

That last item is the SFB's chief charm: the chance to hear and speak directly to the authors you admire, while discovering new favorites. The other 51 weeks of the year, we reserve our focus primarily for local authors. In this festival guide, we've tended to spotlight visiting authors whose Nashville appearances are few and far between — while elsewhere in this issue, we preview this weekend's simultaneous Americana Music Festival and Conference, whose emphasis on wordcraft and tradition makes it a natural fit.

The festival runs Friday through Sunday on Legislative Plaza; a full schedule and list of panelists may be found at humanitiestennessee.org. (You may want to check the website each day, as the schedule is subject to change.) Many thanks to Humanities Tennessee, which puts on the yearly event, and to Margaret Renkl at their website Chapter 16, a rallying point at which any disenfranchised reader can find semblables et freres.

And now, let's do what we do best: turn the page ...

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