Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Texas Book Festival 2010: Doing THE WAVE with Susan Casey

Even though my beloved author crush Colson Whitehead did not propose to me last year (in his defense, he wasn't aware that I was expecting a ring because he didn't know who I was), I opted not blame the Texas Book Festival for my continuing lack of a social life or spousal bliss.  Sigh.  The book festival occurred this weekend, the fifteenth anniversary of the book lover's dream event, and I taped together my broken heart and drove to Austin for the fun.

The first event I attended featured Susan Casey, executive editor of O The Oprah Magazine and author of a new book entitled The Wave.  I read The Wave months ago when preparing for a March sales conference, but the scenes from the book have stuck with me--stories of huge cargo ships swallowed by the sea, a fishing boat in Alaska that survived a 1,700 foot wave (!!), and, incredibly, the surfers who try to ride the monsters.  I was not a fan of the ocean before reading the book (an encounter with a jellyfish when I was 12 and my inability to mentally block the idea that I'm swimming in fish poop killed any desire I might have possessed to swim in the beautiful briny sea), but Casey's book offered a new dimension to my ocean issues.  She manages to capture the potential destruction and terror of these huge waves without losing her undeniable love for the water.  She knows that the awesome force of waves could tear apart the strongest structures--the waves contain massive amounts of energy--and yet she cannot resist the opportunity to follow the extreme surfers like Laird Hamilton as they track and ride 80 foot waves. 

Susan Casey describes monster waves.
David Grann, author of The Lost City of Z and The Devil and Sherlock Holmes interviewed Casey for her Book Fest event, and at one point he asked her what she wouldn't do, her limits in immersing herself in her research topic.  She never reached a point where she backed away from an adventure, though.  She swam with Laird Hamilton around Jaws, the wave break outside Hamilton's home in Maui, and she actually rode down the face of several monster waves with Hamilton on a jet ski.  She already knew the threat--the first big surfing day she covered for the book ended with a couple of surfers dying--but she's passionate about the ocean and her story. 

On top of being a fascinating speaker, Susan Casey proved to be a great sport, generous with her time and supporters.  After signing books for the Texas Book Festival crowd, she walked over to BookPeople, the Austin independent bookstore ten blocks away, in order to sign books and talk to booksellers.  She even hung around a bit to shop, buying copies of the Gillian Flynn thrillers Sharp Objects and Dark Places, great choices in my humble, Random House-pimping, opinion. 

There are always the horror stories about authors who treat readers and booksellers poorly.  I certainly have milked the drama of a celebrity author's crazy wife over the course of the last year (the woman alternately thought I was the driver even though I introduced myself, and then the person who should hold her purse while she took her time in the restroom, and the five hours I spent in her presence have scarred my fragile psyche) and have my own list of unpleasant personalities *coughDr.Philcough*.  Alternately I keep a list of the great authors, the ones who appreciate that their writing is meaningful for their readers and are grateful, humble.  Susan Casey is the kind of writer easy to celebrate, the kind for whom I cheer when I see The Wave on the bestseller lists.  Meeting her and hearing her speak about killer waves was a great way to start my Book Fest trip this year.  She's cool.  Oh, and her book?  PERFECT for fans of Born to Run or Into Thin Air, a great gift for the holiday season. 

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