The stresses of combat, the history of music and the nature of cults were explored as the 18th annual Texas Book Festival wrapped up on Sunday at the Capitol and surrounding grounds.
The House Chamber was home to a somber 11 a.m. discussion about the challenges facing returning veterans. Journalist David Finkel, author of “Thank You for Your Service,” and Taya Kyle, widow of SEAL sniper Chris Kyle, shared the podium.
Finkel said his book came about when he started getting calls from the men he wrote about in “The Good Soldiers,” his 2009 account of the Iraq War, men who were not doing well upon their return home. “I realized I had only told half the story,” Finkel said.
Kyle, whose husband Chris was killed in February by fellow veteran Marine Eddie Ray Routh on an outing at a gun range, described her husband as sharing her core values with small differences: “His were God, country, family, in that order,” she said. “Mine were God, family, country, in that order.”
Elsewhere, Austinite and Revenant Records owner Dean Blackwood joined his brother, novelist Scott Blackwood, to discuss “The Rise and Fall of Paramount Records, Volume One (1917-1927),” the extraordinary box set Dean spent two years putting together with Jack White of the White Stripes and Third Man Records.
Complete with a hardback book Scott wrote, a six-LP set and a thumb drive with 800 songs in an oak box, the set chronicles Paramount Records (no relation to the movie studio of the same name), a label that issued thousands of 78 RPM records by the famous (Blind Blake, Jelly Roll Morton) and the completely obscure.
“It is everything from Louis Armstrong to a guy playing his nose,” Dean said.
At a panel on border fiction, Adam Mansbach — who just released “The Dead Run,” set on the Texas-Mexico border — talked about how his breakout mock children’s story has seemingly “obliterated all my previous work.”
In 2011, “Go the (Expletive) to Sleep,” all 32 pages of it, channeled the exasperated inner monologue of parents everywhere and caught fire.
Since then, Mansbach said he has done a lot of interviews that focused on a book that he said he wrote in about 45 minutes. He said “Go … to Sleep” has liberated him from all expectations. “People at this point are willing to let me do anything,” he said. “And then they regret it later.”
One of Sunday’s most interesting panels came near the end, with Fort Worth’s Jeff Guinn and Austin’s Lawrence Wright discussing the similar personalities traits of two leaders: Charles Manson and L. Ron Hubbard.
Guinn, the author of “Manson: The Life and Times of Charles Manson,” described the cult leader and killer as probably the least original person who ever committed a horrific crime,” saying that Manson was a devoted reader of both Dale Carnegie and L. Ron Hubbard. He also noted that the Dale Carnegie folks aren’t happy to get such publicity. But Guinn said Manson frequently studied the Carnegie book, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”
Manson was attracted to Hubbard’s movement mainly because he “was interested in how Scientology recruited,” Guinn said.
Wright, whose latest is “Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief,” detailed how Hubbard saw opportunity in 1950s Hollywood to recruit celebrities to build his religion. He said Hubbard’s religion basically rose out of the self-help culture, and he described how Hubbard used the pseudo-science of the E-meter to explore anxieties and help believers “clear” themselves.
Wright noted that he didn’t think Hubbard was a fraud, saying that if the Scientology founder never disappeared “to Venezuela or wherever” after raising a lot of money. Instead, Wright said, Hubbard was constantly writing. “Scientology is a journey into the mind of L. Ron Hubbard,” Wright said.
Earlier in the day, Native-American author Sherman Alexie had the crowd in the House Chamber laughing for nearly an hour. The animated author of the short story collection “Blasphemy” looked around the stately surroundings and quipped: “I bet you that there hasn’t been a lot of Indians at this particular podium.”
Miwa Messer, director of the Discover Great New Writers program for Barnes & Noble, noted that Alexie’s panel was one of her favorites, along with Scott Anderson’s Saturday panel on “Lawrence in Arabia,” his book on the Middle East in T. E. Lawrence’s time. “He did a fantastic job explaining how we got where we are in the Middle East today,” Messer said.
Messer also said that Neal Shusterman’s young adult novel “UnSouled” and Chris Kyle’s books “American Sniper” and “American Gun: A History of the U.S. in Ten Firearms” were the best-sellers this weekend at the Barnes and Noble book-selling tent.
Staff writer Dave Harmon contributed to this story.