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CoRAYline: Scare up some new reads at the book festival

This is going to shock a lot of people, but here it is: I love books.

In elementary school, I lived for Scholastic Book Fair days. When the teacher would hand out the catalogs listing the available books, I’d lose my mind and circle everything I wanted.

I remember getting anxious, worried that the books I wanted would be sold out before I’d get a chance to search for them. With my marked-up book list in hand, I’d zoom around the shelves, grabbing items from my wish list, being disappointed when I couldn’t find one and ecstatic when I found the rest.

That same feeling I got back then is how I’ve been feeling about the West Virginia Book Festival, which returns this year Oct. 23-24 at the Charleston Civic Center. The festival was last held in 2012, according to a previous Gazette-Mail story.

I’ve never attended before because I only knew about the used book sale, and I couldn’t justify buying more books when I wasn’t reading what I had. But you know how some people smoke like a freight train? That’s how I’ve been reading this year.

Hearing that the book festival would return this year was like being told unicorns are real. And then finding out that one of the guests is going to be Neil Gaiman? Well, that unicorn just grew wings and is going to fly me from Charleston to London, then we’re going to drink tea and eat scones and other stereotypical British things.

Neil Gaiman is a Big Deal. The capital letters are necessary, that’s how big a deal he is. If you haven’t heard of “American Gods,” “The Sandman” or “The Graveyard Book,” maybe you’ve heard of “Coraline,” which was adapted into a 2009 stop-motion animated film. It was the only movie I’ve ever seen that was worthy of being in 3-D.

Oh, and Gaiman appeared on “The Book Job” episode of the 23rd season of “The Simpsons” as himself (pushes up glasses / heavy nerd breathing).

Surprisingly, I didn’t read any of Gaiman’s books until after I heard about him being a guest at the book festival.

I started with “Neverwhere,” a story about a man who stumbles upon an entirely different world under the streets of London. When I finished, my first thought was why hadn’t I read any of his stuff before?

However, growing up, I remember hearing about Gaiman all the time. My brother, Brian, is a huge fan of his graphic novel, “The Sandman.” I have a very vivid memory of Brian using the paint program on our first computer, a Packard Bell desktop, to draw Morpheus/Dream, a character from the series.

Despite all of this, I never read any of “The Sandman.” You know how your friends will suggest you read, watch or listen to something for years, and you ignore them? And then you finally do it and you’re mad at yourself? That’s what I’m experiencing right now. (Hey bro, you wanna lend me some of those?)

To gear up for Gaiman’s appearance, my book club decided to read “American Gods,” one of his most popular books. The story follows Shadow, a man who is looking forward to being released from jail to reunite with his wife, Laura. After things don’t go as planned, Shadow begins to travel America while working as a bodyguard for a man, Mr. Wednesday. They are preparing for the oncoming “storm” while Wednesday tries to gather a team of Gods to fight on his side.

But back to the festival, did I mention there’s a book sale? It’s like a Scholastic Book Fair for adults, but with used books. Cheap, used books!

Surely there’s some spot in my apartment that can hold the wagon full of books I might bring home with me.

Actually, I’m not going in with a game plan, because that just leads to anxiety and disappointment. A co-worker was a little scared of the level of intensity I expressed for book fair day in elementary school. He said something about how I surround the things I love with anxiety. Pffft, what does he know?

So if I go into it expecting nothing, and then I find one book to buy, I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Or if I find 30 books that I just have to buy, I come out a winner, with slightly less free space in my apartment.

The only thing that could possibly make the book festival better is if by some miracle, Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, shows up with her manic, taxidermied raccoon, Rory. And then she can read from her just-released book, “Furiously Happy.” And then I will pass out from all of the awesome. Maybe next year? Eh? Eh? Are you listening, book festival people?

The West Virginia Book Festival starts Friday, Oct. 23, and runs 10 a.m. through 9 p.m. The highlight of events is Gaiman’s talk at 7 p.m., but there will also be workshops held throughout the day.

On Saturday, Oct. 24, doors open at 8 a.m. and the event ends at 5 p.m. The used book sale runs all day, and there are several guest speakers: West Virginia’s Homer Hickam, Jacqueline Woodson, Jeff Shaara and Jodi Picoult. (I’ve yet to read one of Picoult’s books, but my book club has chosen “The Storyteller,” for next month.)

For more information on the West Virginia Book Festival, visit

2015 reading goal as of Sept. 30: 103 of 60 books completed.

Reach Leann Ray at, 304-348-4882 or follow @Leann_Ray on Twitter.

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