For the Love of Books

By Kevin Tankersley

Two Central Texas book festivals in one weekend

For many years, our family has devoted much of one fall weekend to the Friends of the Waco-McLennan County Library used book sale. If my teaching schedule allows it, I’ll stand in line on Thursday morning with the other hardcore book collectors and used book dealers — they’re the ones armed with handheld scanners — and wait for the doors to open at 10 o’clock on Thursday morning. I’ll pay the $5 fee that allows us to get in that first day, and then I’ll browse for an hour or so before heading to work. And then I’ll usually go back that afternoon for another hour. After school on Friday the entire family will visit the sale (admission is free Friday through Sunday), and as of last year the kids are old enough to browse on their own, allowing their parents some peaceful shopping time. We might go back to the sale on Saturday and then make one more trek on Sunday afternoon when there’s usually some kind of sale, such as $10 for all the books you can fit in a brown paper grocery bag.

This year marks the 54th year for the sale. It’s set in a couple of buildings at the Extraco Events Center and usually features more than 100,000 items, which, besides books, include CDs, DVDs, records and more. Most everything is priced at $3 or less, except for items in the Collectors’ Corner. There, a visitor will find current hardbacks, autographed books, rare and special editions and a pretty good selection of cookbooks and coffee table books. Prices for items in the Corner start at about $4 and can go up significantly, depending on what’s available.

While the book sale is one of our favorite annual activities, last year we added another book-related event to our family schedule: the Texas Book Festival in Austin. It’s a weekend-long celebration of reading and writing held on the grounds of the state capitol and in tents and in other buildings in the immediate vicinity. Last year a reading took place in the House Chamber of the state capitol, where audience members could sit in the gallery above the chamber floor or even sit at legislators’ desks on the floor itself.

The festival features more than 250 authors reading from their works and signing books, which can, of course, be purchased at the festival. There is also live music, activities for children and families and lots of vendors selling even more books.

Last year’s author line-up was solid, topped by Chuck Palahniuk. He is probably best known for “Fight Club” (later made into a movie), and he put on a full-blown variety show in front of an enthusiastic crowd at the Paramount Theatre. Well, most of us were enthusiastic. A couple of women of a certain age, who must not have been familiar with Palahniuk’s work, which can be bizarre, walked out a couple of minutes into the show.

Headlining the Texas Book Festival this year will be Don DeLillo, whose far-ranging work has spanned nuclear war, sports, politics and terrorism. His latest novel, “Zero K,” tells the story of a compound that preserves people indefinitely.

Former first lady and sometimes-Crawford resident Laura Bush and her daughter Jenna Bush Hager will read from their new children’s book, “Our Great Big Backyard.” Meanwhile, Nick Offerman, best known for his role as Ron Swanson on NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” — and who really is an accomplished carpenter and woodworker — will present his new book, “Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Woodshop.” Check the book festival website for details on when and where each author is speaking.

Last year the Texas Book Festival was held in mid-October. The 2015 Friends of the Waco-McLennan County Library used book sale was in early November, so we had time to recover from one before attending the other. This year, however, the events overlap. The Waco book sale is November 3-6, and the Texas Book Festival is November 5-6.

When I told our daughter, Sophie, that both of these things were taking place the same weekend, she said, in total seriousness, “That’s the worst thing that I’ve ever heard.”

But we have a logistics plan. Don’t tell their teachers, but we’re going to pick up the kids from school early on that Friday and hit up the library book sale for a while. Depending on how much we buy — some years our haul after several trips to the sale can be 40 books or more — we might make a stop by the house to drop off books before heading south.

The go-to hotel for our last few overnight trips to Austin has been Habitat Suites at 500 East Highland Mall Boulevard. The property was formerly an apartment complex, so each rental includes a one- or two-bedroom suite with a living room and small kitchen. It bills itself on its website as “a relaxed, green oasis hotel in the heart of Austin” and boasts of its “30-year history in environmental stewardship.” There are plenty of trees on the property, and it still has the feel of an apartment complex. The complimentary breakfast is much better than a standard continental breakfast offering, and there’s a happy hour Monday through Saturday evenings, which offers free wine and beer. A free Shiner Bock or two is always a good way to end the day. Rooms at Habitat Suites start at $99. More information can be found at habitatsuites.com.

Information about the Texas Book Festival is at texasbookfestival.org. Learn more about the Friends of the Waco-McLennan Library used book sale at wacofriendsofthelibrary.org.

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