The North Carolina Literary Festival was too tempting to pass up, despite the beckoning of long-postponed chores in the house and yard and the beauty of the bright day of new spring. Who wants to sit inside a crowded library when there is a glorious spring day outside?
Well, we do. My wife and I shunned our household obligations and hit the road for Raleigh, to experience the N.C. Literary Festival again and to see the new Hunt Library at N.C. State University for the first time. Despite some misleading directions, we managed to find State's Centennial Campus and the Hunt Library.
A word about the library: I was told that the ultra-modern structure is worth the drive from Wilson, and it's true. I watched in awe as the "book bot" located and retrieved requested books from the new-age stacks — near-infinite rows of metal trays filled with books, which are retrievable by the automated device that paces along the rows and reaches up several stories to find the right bin for the requested book and transports it to the circulation desk. Amazing! The rest of the library is just as modern — no imposing Doric or Corinthian columns, no frieze above the entrance, no brass chandeliers. Instead, there are banks of computers, quiet rooms for reading/study and a coffee and ice cream bar. The library gives the feeling of more of a public space than most university or college libraries do.
As a venue for the Literary Festival, the library offered the advantage of having all the events in one location. It also had that advantage as a disadvantage. Moving from place to place, as we had done when the festival was at UNC-Chapel Hill, has its own advantages, especially on a bright spring day. Finding the session you wanted to attend wasn't always easy in the Hunt Library. The session we especially wanted to attend wasn't where it was supposed to be. But the festival provided a number of clearly old-school human guides who graciously pointed us in the right direction and even escorted us, too.
Any time you can get hundreds of people together — some of them legendary North Carolina authors — to discuss literature, it's a good day. The first session we attended featured Wilton Barnhardt and Jill McCorkle, who bandied about their handling of redeemable and unredeemable characters. The session could have focused on humor in N.C. literature because they provided the audience with frequent laughs as they read from their novels and commented on writing, characters and books.
We slipped out early for a session featuring Drew Perry, another novelist whose writing is as full of humor as a Johnny Carson monologue. Perry, a Greensboro resident, humorously discussed his own and his characters' angst over life's big decisions, such as marrying and having a child.
We then skipped the first novel session, which was about to be played before a packed room of wannabe novelists, opting instead for the display of books for sale downstairs. My wife bought a couple of books; I decided against buying the bourbon cookbook. Then, examining our options, we went home after a quick visit to Trader Joe's.
The state Literary Festival has been a hit-and-miss affair since the first one a dozen years ago. Intended to rotate among UNC, State and Duke, the festival hasn't always happened. We've attended two at UNC and found both events in Chapel Hill marvelously packed with great authors and interesting sessions. This year's event included fewer writers we knew and therefore was less than an all-day event for us.
In an age when it seems the written word, or at least ink-on-paper, is dying, a literary festival is a particularly ambitious undertaking. Readers love their books, which offer a satisfaction that neither live performance nor film can provide. To see and talk to the authors of good books is a thrill for every serious reader. That thrill lured us from work that needed to be done to an enjoyable interlude in Raleigh, an afternoon surrounded by books and book lovers. It is a feeling as beautiful as a spring day.