With the rise of technological advances (sorry, Amazon Kindle we're just not into you), the old-fashioned book circles are something of a dying breed, right? Well … last week San Antonio had its first National Book Critics Circle — Good Reads event held at Gemini Ink. Participants included: Sandra Cisneros, Steven G. Kellman (Current contributing writer), Rod Davis, Norma Alarcon, and Gregg Barrios (another Current contributing writer). Each panelist spoke about their current favorite tomes (which included a few NBCC winners and NBCC Good Reads list selections) and also discussed their lives as figures in the literary world.
Alacron was the voice of reason for the independent bookstores and publishers. Founder of the now defunct Third Woman Press, Alarcon expressed her concern of the closing of independent bookstores — this was a reoccurring topic throughout the event. Cisneros, who Alarcon said she's been friends with for more than 20 years, eloquently spoke of her love of fine literature, comparing it to gourmet food: Once she ditched the drive-thru and picked up some filet mignon she never went back. In other words, once she read a work of fine literature she abandoned Chick Lit (not Chicano/a Literature, folks) and has since devoted herself to books that "nourish" her. She read a passage from Brother I'm Dying and noted "it was such food … such nourishment" for her to read.
Kellman, a professor of comparative literature at UTSA, used his academic expertise to educate the crowd about the trends in American culture made evident by looking at the best-seller lists. He cited that more and more readers are turning to non-literary titles these days; although we've become inundated with new works people still flock to the romance novels and scandalous tell-alls. He also mentioned a recent Publisher's Weekly article about how in 2007 more than 400,000 new books (new and revised editions) were put out by both traditional and on-demand titles.
As for book selections, Davis devoted a few of his picks to New Orleans-set novels, even his guilty pleasure read The Tin Roof Blowdown: A Dave Robicheaux Novel (Dave Robicheaux Mysteries). While Barrios, who acted as moderator of the event, opted for two vastly different selections that dealt with nostalgia.
The event brought out a hefty crowd to the small quarters of Gemini Ink: The group was comprised of a nice mix of young and old avid readers, all enthusiastic about the panel discussion, and willing to spend some extra time afterward to talk to the panelists. Barrios hopes that more Book Critics Circle events will follow in the months ahead. We second that notion.