Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Celebrating Books

Tucson has many unique events over the course of a year that celebrate the lifestyle and culture of the Southwest. There's El Tour de Tucson, the Winterhaven Festival of Lights, the Fiesta de los Vaqueros (aka the Rodeo), the Match Play Golf Tournament, and the International Mariachi Conference. As I'm typing this, several more come to mind and I'm sure if I spent a little time on the Visit Tucson web site, I'd come up with more than enough to fill a blog post.

This past weekend was one of my favorite Tucson events: the Tucson Festival of Books.


This is a picture of the Tucson Chapter of Sisters in Crime booth, where I have spent many hours over the past two years telling people about both the national organization and our chapter. I've been a member of SinC for close to a decade, so it's hard for me to imagine a mystery reader who wouldn't have heard of us, but it's always delightful to see a person's face light up when I tell them about the organization. We had several people join on the spot, happy to have found fellow mystery lovers to chat with once a month.

Unlike last year, this year's weather was perfect for strolling the mall of the University of Arizona campus--bright sunshine, temperatures hovering around eighty degrees, and not too much of Tucson's famous wind. The exhibitor list is huge, and hundreds of authors appear on panels and sign books in multiple locations. Featured authors this year were T. Jefferson Parker, Anne Perry, Craig Johnson, and Scott Turow. At least, those were the ones I noticed (all mystery writers of course). There were lots more.

A very pleasant surprise for me was discovering that Ben Bova was attending and speaking at TFOB this year. I first read him in my teens, when science fiction rather than mystery was my favorite genre. To be honest, since so many of my favorite authors from that period in my life--Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke--have died, I think some part of me assumed Ben Bova had also passed on. What a delight to find out not only is he very much alive, he's still writing and publishing books. Ben Bova writes what is called "hard" science fiction, where the science is as important to the story as the fiction. These are the stories that spurred the exploration of space in the middle of the last century.

The middle of the last century.

Those of us who lived through those exciting times have a hard time believing it was so long ago. We also have a hard time believing that we do not have colonies on the Moon and Mars, have not launched manned spacecraft to the outer reaches of the solar system yet. Somewhere along the line, we withdrew into the safety of space shuttles and unmanned probes and defunding NASA. We seem to have gone from a belief that anything is possible to a fear of being powerless.

Which brings me to another unique feature of the Tucson Festival of Books: Science City. The U of A is a premiere educational institution for the sciences, particularly astronomy. During TFOB, not only are there open houses and tours of University facilities like the Flandrau Planetarium, the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, and the Insect Collection, there are speakers and exhibits celebrating the wonders of science. Many of these are targeted toward children, with hands-on experiences to get them involved. I can only hope that being exposed to science as children, the next generation might once again see the possibilities rather than the problems.

These same children, and others, even if they don't attend TFOB, also benefit from it. A primary objective of the festival is to promote literacy in both adults and children. Since 2009, the Festival has contributed over $900,000 to literacy organizations in Tucson and southern Arizona. And, in case you were wondering, this isn't from charging for admission. Admission to the Festival and all events is free.

I'm looking forward to next year's festival. After several years of volunteering, both as an author escort and as coordinator of a booth, I'm going to take a year off and enjoy it as a visitor so I can see more authors, stand in line early for the popular ones, and buy lots of books to get signed. I can't wait.
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