Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tampa Bay Times: Festival of Reading

Halloween is my favorite time of the year. There is no better holiday, to me, than one where we run around ringing doorbells, lugging around garbage bags full of candy, pennies, and dental floss (didn't that happen to you?), while ghoulish skeletons and vampires try to scare us.

What. Could. Be. Better?

The man. The legend. R.L. Stine being brilliant.
Turns out, October brought with it a special bookish surprise that I HAD to write about. Every year, the Tampa Bay Times organizes the Festival of Reading in St. Petersburg, Florida. This was the first year I went. I couldn't resist my friend and author JB Lynn's invitation to go with her. We both learned very quickly that even the best GPS's can't find certain streets, and that neither of us never lost our nerves as we drove down neighborhood roads and trolled through overflow parking lots.

When we finally made it, the festival was in full swing. The tiny campus of USF-St. Petersburg was packed with early risers, already in line to meet their favorite authors or attend their readings. The sheer amount of people that came out for the event was awe-inspiring.

I'm so used to not attending book events, since there's a lack of them where I live. But being able to go, and with a great friend no less, made attending this festival 100+ times more awesome.

Instead of a series of panels, the Festival of Reading schedules authors to speak for about 45 minutes, and then sign books for 45 minutes afterwards. The campus was small, but not small enough to see two authors in one hour - a huge bummer, since we ended up missing John Henry Fleming by four minutes. Yes, I counted. He had disappeared like a magician by the time me and Jennifer burst into an empty signing room.

We tried seeing Carl Hiaasen first thing in the morning, but found the ballroom to be filled to the brim with his fans. All the seats were taken. Standing room taken. And with fifteen minutes before the talk began, the room was already boiling hot. From years of going to anime conventions, I knew this was a bad sign. Rooms don't get hot so soon, so fast, at the very beginning of the day when a nice breeze was still blowing outside.

We ducked out of the room and opted for lunch instead. It was a shame, but as soon as we popped open our cold, spicy sushi rolls, we knew we made a good decision.

The morning, after all, was chilly enough to wear coats. It was glorious - I think even my coat was smiling, because it rarely gets to leave my closet - for about a half and hour. Before it got REALLY HOT outside. So we buried our coats in our bags and ate our cold lunches.

I've recently become a rabid fan of Starbuck's Pumpkin Spice Chai Tea Lattes. There it is. Oh my gosh. The autumn feels.

Re-energized, we went back upstairs after the Hiaasen fans left to listen to R.L. Stine talk.

R.L. Stine was my Reason For Coming. In the sense that, if I got to meet him during the festival, I would consider it one life goal achieved.

Like many people, I grew up reading his Goosebumps series. I used to borrow stacks of those books from the library, and never moved from the couch until I had finished them all. Between my brother and I, we owned a lot of Goosebumps books, and most of them have stayed with us over the years. Here's a photo of all the books we have now, give or take a few that I have in my room, where I'm rereading them (eh, I can't help it):

Jennifer and I settled into our seats. We were both surprised that R.L. Stine's talk wasn't packed with people, but also thrilled at the same time. It meant we wouldn't slowly bake for the next 45 minutes, haha. Stine walked around the room before the talk started, chatting with readers. When he stepped up to the podium and began to talk, I was blown away by how epic he was in his presentation. I mean, he was ridiculously funny and engaging. He shared some of his fan letters, and I was lucky enough to film snippets of that, so you completely understand what I mean when I say that we were rolling the aisles over his charmingly frank delivery (videos HERE and HERE, via my Instagram).  

He shared a "true" ghost story (debatable, even by him) and talked about the new Goosebumps movie coming out soon (and how he was told he was too old to play himself in the movie, awwww). When he opened the floor for questions, a bunch of kids came up to the extra mic. I've never heard kids ask questions, despite having attended panels for years. The coolest part was that the kids wanted to know what his favorite things where - his scariest book, his favorite book to write, etc. I don't think adults ever ask those kinds of questions. 

It was hard to tear ourselves away, but Jennifer and I wanted to make sure that we had a good chance of meeting Stine at the signing. We slipped out of the room and went outside where they had set up booths for the authors (thankfully shaded for them). We ended up talking to the people in line with us as we slowly moved forward in line. And then... sooner than I thought, I was face to face with R.L. Stine! 

This was probably not my shining moment of cleverness. I asked him to sign one of my favorites of his books, and we ended up talking about it a little (more like bumbling on my part, haha) as he signed the book. He was very kind, and managed to play off my awkwardness to make us both laugh. The biggest question people asked me when I started posting these photos to Instagram was what book was it that I picked? 

It was a hard decision, but I went with ESCAPE FROM THE CARNIVAL OF HORRORS, the first of the Goosebumps' Choose Your Own Adventure books. 

Do you see the holographicness? Do you? It's blinding. This photo doesn't do it justice, but you would know if you ever read one of these. 

I think I've read this book every way you could. My brother, mom, and I took turns reading it out loud. Many times I cheated by bookmarking the pages so that if I got a bad ending, I didn't have to start all over again (I'm sure I'm not the only one). This book, in particular, has my favorite bad ending of the Choose Your Own Adventure series, featuring the Doom Slide. 

What are you waiting for? Go read it. 

Book Haul:

 Okay, so this time, it's not a "haul." But I did get two great books. The first is R.L. Stine's newest Fear Street book, Party Games. I didn't read as many Fear Street books (though Sunburn is one of my favorite books, ever, but my copy is too tattered to have survived the journey to the festival). But the premise sounds intriguing. It won't be long before I start reading it. Like, probably tomorrow.

Then there's this beauty. I could not have left the festival without this extensive collection of Andrew Lang's fairy tales. The thing is, I could talk about Lang for a long time. It should probably be its own blog post. But he is my favorite fairy tale curator. I only owned one of his collections, the classic Blue Fairy Book, so finding this book that covers multiple collections seemed like a dream come true. I started reading it last night before bed, and YES, it is a dream come true. 

And one more thing: when I first saw this book sitting underneath B&N's vendor booth, I thought, my gosh, the cover art reminds me of Thumbelina's book. 

IT DOES. More magic, my friends. 

Have you ever met a favorite author? what was the experience like? What about book events/festivals? I'd love to hear about it!