Highlights from Nerd Christmas

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Image courtesy of JKD Atlanta. Licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Labor Day weekend is nerd Christmas for the city of Atlanta. Most famously, this is because of Dragon Con, the three-day sci-fi/fantasy convention which rolls into downtown and briefly allows us to experience the fun and excitement of more than 50,000 nerds in steampunk storm trooper costumes taking over the metro area.

However, I tend to avoid Dragon Con after a particularly scarring experience as a 12-year-old left to wander through it on my own (protip: don’t let your tween wander around a convention alone; they will see bondage cosplayers, and they will be a alarmed).

Instead, while my classical nerdbros are having their day, I am busy spending hours hanging with my peeps (the book nerds, natch) at the Decatur Book Festival. It’s a two-day extravaganza of book nerds being quiet, earnest liberals together while eating popsicles and buying novelty bumper stickers from Flannery O’Conner’s estate.

The highlight of the event, though, are the author talks. This year, there were two in particular that I was super, super pumped about.

The first was a panel on winning the Newbery medal (the biggest-deal American children’s book award, for those of you who spent less time at book fairs as a kid than I did*). The panel had four authors in it–all of them funny and charming–but I was there for one in particular: Susan Cooper.

Susan Cooper wrote The Dark is Rising, a series of five Arthurian fantasy books, in the 70s. When I was little, I somehow came to find them (probably at the recommendation of a school librarian), and read all of them–particularly the title book of the series–probably 30 times. I loved those books–I loved the description of the Welsh countryside, of the dog that could see the wind, of the slightly-scary old man figure of Gummery. They’re still read today, at least by some folks–I was totally pleased to see that a child who I babysat last year was in the process of beginning the series.

However, as the books were written in the 70s, I had assumed that Susan Cooper had since died. I was overjoyed to find that she had not, and her panel presentation was a delight: she’s a tiny, slightly acerbic British woman who told a great story about finding out that she had won the award via boat messenger, due to the fact that she was summering on an island without a phone. There’s a whole class of folks who have lead lives which are interesting in such a way as to make them seem slightly unreal, and she firmly belongs to it.

I hadn’t realized that after the talk, there would be a signing. Purely by chance, I happened to have one of her books in my purse, as I’d been in the process of moving them from my parental homestead over to my apartment in anticipation of seeing her. As a result, I now have a signed (slightly beat-to-hell, certainly older than me) trade paperback of The Grey King in my possession. I am very pleased.

The second talk became notable mostly in retrospect. It was a part of the science track of the festival, which is always fun as the intersection of science people and book people is fraught with strangeness. I inevitably see an old science teacher there.

I decided to attend the My Beloved Brontosaurus panel mostly on a whim. A scientist who I had seen present last year was introducing the speaker, and since I wasn’t committed to anything else for the time block, I decided to sit in. The speaker managed a totally charming survey of the history of how dinosaurs have been conceived of by scientists and the general public.

Having enjoyed the talk, I checked out his book while browsing in a bookstore a few hours later. It was at this point that I realized why his name had been familiar–I whipped out my phone and confirmed it: he wrote Written in Stone, a popular paleontological history which I receive for Christmas and loved.

In the process of checking that out on my phone, however, I also discovered that–because I had tweeted a quote from before the talk, which someone had then forwarded on to him, in a way that is becoming oddly common in my life–he had followed me on Twitter.

So, by the end of the weekend this year, I managed to meet a childhood idol and lead a science writer to follow me on the tweetnets. With the added bonus of a day off of work, I’d say that this year’s nerd Christmas went pretty well.

* This list of Newbery winners also doubles as a pretty great way to find an appropriate gift for the child in your life who reads slightly above grade level and is perhaps slightly too solemn.

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4 thoughts on “Highlights from Nerd Christmas

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