12 things we learned at the 2016 Texas Book Festival

Donald Trump as con man, Guy Clark as inspiration and a completely excellent rainbow were just a few of the highlights of the 21st annual Texas Book Festival on Nov. 5 and 6 at the Capitol and surrounding grounds.

1. The C-Span tent was standing room only for Texas Tribune editor Evan Smith’s interview with David Cay Johnston, whose new book “The Making of Donald Trump” puts a time-stamp on 30 years of reporting on the GOP’s nominee for president. Commenting on the size of the crowd, Smith said, “You’d think that was an early voting location in a Hispanic part of town,” which received the appropriate amount of laughter.

2. Johnston, a registered Republican and longtime tax code journalist, described Trump as a “master salesman and con artist” and recited a litany of Trump’s sins, from the possible exaggeration of his wealth (there isn’t “any verifiable evidence that he is worth (even) $1 billion,” Johnston said) to bragging about deceiving his business partners to his connections to Russian mobsters and his seeming lack of empathy, which Johnson said absolutely hits the level of “sociopath.” Was he preaching to the choir at the book fest? Absolutely. Was the choir into it? Oh yes.

3. After a long flight delay, Nick Offerman, best known for his role on “Parks and Recreation,” finally arrived in Austin on Nov. 5 for his panel and stuck around until 11:30 p.m. talking and signing his new book, “Good Clean Fun: Misadventures in Sawdust at Offerman Workshop,” which focuses on his Los Angeles woodshop.

4. During her panel, Maria Semple, bestselling author of “Where’d You Go, Bernadette” and “Today Will Be Different,” talked about writing as downhill skiing: “I feel like my books, it’s like I’m on a downhill course, and I’m in a tuck, and I’m going … I’m trying not to crash and come apart and just reach the ending in one piece.”

5. Journalist Jessica Luther, author of “Unsportsmanlike Conduct: College Football and the Politics of Rape,” joined Texas Monthly reporting partner Dan Solomon and Rick Gipprich and Rose Luna of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault to discuss how different institutions—the NCAA, athletic departments, universities, the media—respond to such stories. Luther urged preventative education as a means of combating sexual assault and singled out a general lack of understanding about consent. “I would start teaching about it from kindergarten on,” she said.

6. Former Secret Service agent Clint Hill told stories from his book “Five Presidents: My Extraordinary Journey with Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford.” Before a packed crowd in the C-Span tent, Hill gave a detailed account of the day President John F. Kennedy was killed (Hill was assigned to first lady Jacqueline Kennedy; you can see him jumping onto the back of the car in the Zapruder film). He also recalled spending time in the Hill Country with President Lyndon B. Johnson and told several tales about that president’s quirks – including the time Johnson went Christmas shopping in his pajamas during an overseas stop in the Azores.

7. Lydia Millet (“Sweet Lamb” of Heaven”) and Amy Gentry (“Good as Gone”) both have novels that examine the relationships between mothers and daughters. Millet got the best laugh of their panel when she talked about the extraordinary feelings that take over when you become a mother, making you willing to die for a “small creature that’s accomplished nothing.”

8. Patrick McDonnell, the creator of the Mutts cartoon strip, shared stories behind the popular pets – a dog named Earl and a cat called Mooch – who have been featured in his strip since 1994. His new book, “Tek: The Modern Cave Boy,” is about a cave boy who can’t leave his cave because he’s so attached to his own iPad. Like in his other books “Hug Time” and “The Gift of Nothing,” McDonnell’s message of enjoying the people and nature around you resounded with both the children and adults in the crowd, who awww’d every time Mooch, Earl or, now, Tek sees an opportunity to express their gratitude for the smallest joys in life.

9. On what would have been legendary songwriter Guy Clark’s 75th birthday Nov. 6, the Texas Book Festival brought author Tamara Saviano to town for her new Clark biography “Without Getting Killed or Caught,” with two of Clark’s closest musical peers joining in to share some of his songs with a big crowd at the Paramount Theatre. Saviano spoke early on about how the book was organized into sections that covered Clark’s songwriting influence and legacy, the twists and turns of his career as a recording artist, and his deep bond with his wife and fellow songwriter Susanna Clark (who died in 2012). After telling a couple of road stories, Joe Ely offered up a sterling rendition of Clark’s “Dublin Blues,” a perfect fit in a venue that sits just a few blocks from a place mentioned in the song: “I wish I was in Austin, at the Chili Parlor Bar.”

10. Terry Allen, the famed sculptor and musician who grew up in Lubbock with Ely and now lives in Santa Fe, N.M., is at work on an unusual task: Before Clark died, he asked Allen to use his ashes in a sculpture. That’s still in progress, though at the Paramount, Allen revealed he’d told Clark that it might involve a bronze goat: “I’m going to take your ashes, and I’m going to shove it up its” nether region. Allen’s story elicited wild laughter from the audience, especially with the punchline: “And his response was, ‘Perfect.’”

11. Art Markman and Bob Duke of “Two Guys on Your Head” fame joined their producer and co-host, KUT’s Rebecca McInroy, to discuss her new book, “Brain Briefs: Answers to the most (and least) pressing questions about your mind.” Markman noted that the show was McInroy’s brainchild, who pitched it as “‘Car Talk’ for the mind,” (which, come on, that’s brilliant). Both emphasized the intellectual (as in, how to make your brain better) importance of failure. “Traditional education teaches us to minimize mistakes,” Markman said, adding that recovering from mistakes is much more important than avoiding them.

12. The festival mic drop, at a panel scheduled in the last time slot Nov. 6, came courtesy of Austin author Karan Mahajan: “A novel that doesn’t give some offense is deeply flawed.”

— This report includes material from Addie Broyles, Peter Blackstock, Jeanne Claire van Ryzin, Nancy Huang and Emily Quigley

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Insight and Books

Letters to the editor: Nov. 20, 2017

Re: Nov. 13 commentary, “Wear: MetroRail station late and costlier? Yes and no. Maybe.” Apparently, our local transit planners have never heard of “connectivity.” Pieces of our transit system don’t connect. The Capital Metro downtown rail station is blocks from both the Megabus terminal and the north-south 801 and 803...
Commentary: How Texans suffer without office of minority health
Commentary: How Texans suffer without office of minority health

During the past legislative session, Texas lawmakers canceled funding for the Office of Minority Health Statistics and Engagement (OMHSE) beyond Sept. 1, 2018. In effect, this means Texas could soon become the first state in the nation without an office of minority health. This is a bad decision by our lawmakers because Texas institutions continue...
Commentary: How NAFTA, immigration influence Texas’ economic future
Commentary: How NAFTA, immigration influence Texas’ economic future

Future challenges faced by the Texas economy with trade, immigration and border governance policies were the focus of a recent symposium convened by UT Austin’s LBJ School of Public Affairs and its Texas 2030 Project. Some eye-opening facts emerged. Today’s Texas economy depends heavily on international trade and is built around technology...
Herman: Uncertain times in a media industry with an uncertain future
Herman: Uncertain times in a media industry with an uncertain future

I recently manned a table at career day at North Austin’s Padron Elementary School. It didn’t take me long to confront, in my head, the stark reality that I was talking to kids about a career that (a) might not look like it does now or (b) won’t exist when they age into the labor force. I work at a newspaper, which these days means...
Letters to the editor: Nov. 19, 2017

Nov. 15 commentary, “What if Sutherland Springs had no ‘good guy with a gun’?” “The fact that a bystander armed with his own rifle chased and shot the perpetrator in Sutherland Springs crucially transforms the terrain of the political interpretation of the shootings.” Say what? Twenty-six people died. Children died...
More Stories