July 16, 2012

road trip: iowa city book festival

I miss working in a bookstore. I am really happy with the life I lead right now, but there was something so amazing about working daily in that environment of books. I worked in bookstores for seven years, and gained an invaluable education through those experiences! Keeping track of new books as they came out, following authors' journeys as they released new works, and the unpredictable daily adventures of helping our customers find books that we would never look up on our own: this was truly a wonderful way to spend our days.  We built our mental catalogues like virtual bookshelves as we kept track of our learnings and observations. We formed friendships with our fellow booksellers and customers alike, as we discovered, through books, common ground that we might never have imagined or sought otherwise. We played the roles of 'expert' and 'student' all at once, in a field of learning which always held so much new knowledge, no matter how much you already thought you knew. 

Nowadays, I really have to work to keep track of what is happening in the book world. There are blogs and newsletters and social networks to help with this pursuit, and I try to adjust my expectations and do the best I can in keeping up. But there is no match for good old-fashioned conversation, for "book talk" with other readers and writers, and this camaraderie and friendship feeds the soul like nothing else! Now that I am not in a bookstore daily, any chance to drift back into this world of books and catch up on all that I have missed learning is an absolute must!
(Stacy, Missy, Cayt, Chris and Ruth: AWOL friends forever!!)
This past weekend, I traveled to Iowa City, IA with a few friends to attend the third annual Iowa City Book Festival. We attended two days of the three-day festival, and we all really enjoyed our adventure! It was my first time attending this book fest, but my second trip to Iowa City with these amazing friends. Missy, Chris, Ruth and I all worked at Borders Books together years ago and have tried to keep in touch over the years since then. Chris suggested last year that we gather together for a day trip and meet up with Missy, who now lives in Iowa. Iowa City was an ideal destination since it is not only mid-way between us, but also because the town hosts several fabulous book shops! 
We headed home from that first trip with our tote bags full of books and our hearts full of so many wonderful moments and memories! (Sentimental, but true!) We had SO much fun on that trip that we decided to make our friendship even more "official." And so we four ladies christened ourselves as the "AWOL Literary Society." "AWOL," as in "Adventurous Women Obtaining Literature," and most definitely not the military term.

When Missy heard about the events at this year's Iowa City Book Festival, she proposed our second AWOL expedition! We decided to stay overnight and really make an event of it, and enjoyed ourselves even more than we expected. We attended the fest's Literary Carnival on Friday night, where we played carnival games for book prizes, such as "Plinko" for a festival t-shirt, a literary cake walk, and darts for books by authors participating in the Book Festival. We all won at Plinko, and wore our XXL shirts (the only size available) proudly as pajamas that night! And we made some lovely cards through a block-printing process with designs created specifically for the festival. Chris was our only darts champion, and she was excited about her winning!!
We ate dinner together at the delicious "Crepes de Luxe Cafe" together (which is now an annual tradition, too!) and sipped mint iced tea and Earl Grey hot tea (which was accompanied by a tea straw to strain the loose-leaf as you drink - new to me!), enjoying every bite and sip. Back at our hotel, we were joined by Stacy, one of Missy's friends from Iowa, who is a great new addition to AWOL! We stayed up late to play a competitive round of the literary board game "Booktastic" before getting what sleep we could before our day of author events.
Saturday's author events were so wonderful that I hesitate to even begin to summarize them adequately! We attended some events together and some on our own, depending on our interests, and we made sure to squeeze in some book-shopping in-between at Murphy-Brookfield, Prairie Lights, The Book Shop, and The Haunted Bookshop. (I would highly recommend that you visit any or all of these shops online or in person, if you get the chance!) We ate lunch together at a new Iowa City gastropub called Moonrakers, which featured yummy panini sandwiches and french fries with aioli dip - a new favorite! And Ruth and I snuck away just long enough to indulge in some Whitey's ice cream single-scoop cones: Turtle Tracks and Cup O' Joe, respectively.

Between us, we heard a wide range of authors speak, so I will just give you a rundown of the authors I heard personally. My first event was authors Dean Bakopoulos (My American Unhappiness) and Patrick Somerville (This Bright River), speaking on "Literary Friendships" and discussing their new novels. I have not yet read either of these authors, but I was really inspired by Dean and Patrick as they spoke: their thoughts on the writing process, their experiences as authors, and their perspectives on writing novels set in the Midwest. I bought each of their books and I am really looking forward to reading them. Next I heard Laura Moriarty speak, whose book The Chaperone is my most recent read, which I thoroughly enjoyed! I really love her work and had heard her speak a couple of times before in Chicago. I am always inspired by her humility and openness as she discusses her work. She is really down to earth and passionate and she read some beautiful passages from her novel. Next I heard Ridley Pearson, who is one of the most entertaining elocutionists I have witnessed! I have not yet read his works but recently picked up Peter and the Starcatchers and had it signed - I am looking forward to reading it! And our last event of the day was Zach Wahls, whose 2011 testimony of his experience as the child of gay parents impacted not only the Iowa House of Representatives but millions more people through the YouTube video of his speech. He was an impressive speaker and read portions from his recently-released memoir, My Two Moms, which seems really beautifully and thoughtfully written. 
All in all, this two-day road trip replenished my reading soul and was another incredible source of inspiration in my writing practice. I am motivated to seek out more "book talk" and literary conversations and keep my reading soul better-nourished from here on out! How do you nourish your reading soul??

(For more info on the Iowa City Book Festival, click here!)

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