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10 Talks Not To Miss At The Boston Book Fest

A smattering of some of the festival speakers we're excited about (All photos courtesy of BBF) MoreCloseclosemore
A smattering of some of the festival speakers we're excited about (All photos courtesy of BBF)

It’s not often us bookish types manage to put down what we’re reading and convene in the company of strangers, much less thousands of them. Reading is more of a solitary sport, to be enjoyed alone on couches or beds or trains. And yet! With writers like Claire Messud, Colum McCann, Margaret Atwood, Atul Gawande, Bill Clegg, Vivian Gornick and many, many others holding court and in conversation, this weekend’s Boston Book Festival is worth leaving the house for.

Here with a little guidance, we rounded up our picks for what not to miss. By no means is this an exhaustive list: The full schedule is here.


Margaret Atwood (Jean Malek)
Margaret Atwood (Jean Malek)

Margaret Atwood
This event is technically sold out. But as it’s the festival’s kickoff keynote, and features visionary author Margaret Atwood, we couldn’t let it go unmentioned. Atwood, beyond her dozens of published works (most of them prize winning or nominated), was the first contributor to the Future Library Project. In conversation with the writer Kelly Link, Atwood will discuss her newest book, “The Heart Goes Last.” Unclaimed tickets will be made available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the door.

Friday, Oct. 23, 7:30 p.m. | Old South Church Sanctuary | Tickets: $10


Claire Messud and Colum McCann
Hosting the fiction keynote is author Claire Messud, best known for her 2006 book “The Emperor's Children,” and more recently “The Woman Upstairs.” She’ll be speaking with Colum McCann, who won the National Book Award for his masterful novel “Let the Great World Spin.” McCann will be discussing his newest collection of short fiction, “Thirteen Ways of Looking.”

Saturday, Oct. 24, 4 p.m. | Church of the Covenant | Free


Atul Gawande
Should you decide to chose nonfiction over fiction (quite literally; this is scheduled at the same time as Messud and McCann’s keynote) Atul Gawande will be in conversation with WBUR’s Meghna Chakrabarti. Gawande is a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and a staff writer at The New Yorker, where he writes about public health and policy. He will be discussing his fourth and newest book “Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End,” in which he examines end-of-life care. Few writers save for, say, the late Oliver Sacks, can write about medicine and health with such elegance.

Saturday, Oct. 24, 4 p.m. | Old South Church Sanctuary | Free


“But Enough About Me: Reimagining the Memoir”
A trifecta of fabulous memoirists will convene to discuss the challenges, complexities and literary rebirth of the genre. Living legend Vivian Gornick, whose newest memoir “The Odd Woman and the City” is receiving widespread acclaim, will be joined by the writers Heidi Julavits (“The Folded Clock”) and Nina MacLaughlin (“Hammer Head”). 

Saturday, Oct. 24, 12:30 p.m. | First Church Sanctuary | Free


Bill Clegg and Dawn Tripp
Everyone is talking about Bill Clegg and his debut novel “Did You Ever Have a Family,” and for good reason. Clegg, a longtime literary agent, tried his hand at fiction writing in this tragedy about a woman reeling from the unexpected loss of her family. He seems to have landed a stunner (the book was longlisted for both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Award). Clegg will be in conversation with the novelist Dawn Tripp (“Game of Secrets”) — he was her first agent.

Saturday, Oct. 24, 5:30 p.m. | Boston Common Hotel, Hancock | Free


James Wood
America’s leading (and often controversial) literary critic James Wood will be delivering the festival’s humanities keynote. Wood, who writes for The New Yorker and teaches at Harvard, will discuss his recent book “The Nearest Thing to Life,” in which he argues literature serves an invaluable — and oft ignored — purpose in our lives. We’re guessing his message won’t come as a surprise to this crowd.

Saturday, Oct. 24, 2:15 p.m. | Church of the Covenant | Free


Deborah Halber (Courtesy)
Deborah Halber (Courtesy)

“It's a Crime”
We like the sound of these writers and their true-crime tales: Ben Mezrich wrote about corrupt Russian oligarchs in his recent “Once Upon a Time in Russia;” Stephen Kukjian investigated the Gardner Museum heist in “Master Thieves: The Boston Gangsters Who Pulled Off the World’s Greatest Art Heist;” and Deborah Halber explored the phenomenon of amateur Internet detectives in “The Skeleton Crew.” The trio will discuss writing stuff you just can’t make up, moderated by Boston Globe reporter Sacha Pfeiffer.

Saturday, Oct. 24, 12:45 p.m. | Boston Common Hotel, Hancock | Free


Louis Sachar
Louis Sachar — author of the beloved Newbery Medal-winning novel “Holes” — will be discussing his newest book, “Fuzzy Mud,” a madcap eco-cautionary tale, for the kids' keynote. He’ll be joined by Horn Book editor Roger Sutton.

Saturday, Oct. 24, 10:45 a.m. | Old South Church, Sanctuary | Free


“Hits, Hooks, and Jam Bands”
Three music writers — Rolling Stone's Alan Light (“Let’s Go Crazy: Prince and the Making of Purple Rain”), Walter Holland (“Phish’s A Live One”) and The New Yorker's John Seabrook (“The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory”) — will gather to discuss what, exactly, makes a hit song. The discussion will be moderated by Tom Ashbrook, host of NPR and WBUR's On Point.

Saturday, Oct. 24, 2:15 p.m. | Old South Church, Sanctuary | Free


Amanda Palmer (Courtesy)
Amanda Palmer (Courtesy)

Amanda Palmer and Neil Gaiman
This event is also sold-out. But in the spirit of Amanda Palmer’s memoir “The Art of Asking” (which she’ll be discussing with her husband, the novelist Neil Gaiman) ... maybe try asking? Unclaimed tickets will be made available on a first-come, first-serve basis at the door.

Saturday, Oct. 24, 5:45 p.m. | Old South Church, Sanctuary | Tickets: $10


Matt Mullen studies at Emerson College and is an editorial assistant at Ploughshares, the literary journal. 

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