Ace Atkins.

Every book geek’s favorite festival starts Monday

Nine top writers in seven days — and one big reason to start planning now.

For the second year in a row, the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading (Nov. 8-14) is going virtual. That might make you sigh for earlier years (this is the festival’s 29th) when authors and book-lovers got to schmooze on the USF St. Pete and Eckerd campuses. But this year’s lineup is so good you may wind up feeling thankful for the wonders of Zoom. 

All Virtual, Mostly free, but you gotta register

All of the author interviews with Times book editor and festival organizer Colette Bancroft will be live, so you need to register ahead of time to get your Zoom link and plan your week. (All of the Zooms are free except the finale on Sunday with Pulitzer Prize-winner Louise Erdrich.) Bancroft has impeccable taste, so you should believe her when she says, “I heartily recommend every single one of these books.” (That’s a quote from her recent interview on Cathy Salustri’s podcast Florida Spectacular. It’s quite a delightful chat, and heartily recommendable in its own right.)

Monday: Lauren Groff

Groff’s latest novel, Matrix, has nothing to do with Keanu Reeves, Bancroft jokingly told Salustri on her podcast. Based on a true story, it’s about what happens to a young royal courtier when she is exiled to a British convent, and it’s a finalist for the 2021 National Book Award in Fiction. Groff is a powerfully evocative writer (her book of short stories, Florida, includes the most harrowing hurricane story I’ve ever read), so this Zoom is a must in my book. Nov. 8, 7 p.m.

Tuesday: Michael Connelly

Love Bosch? How about The Lincoln Lawyer? How about just damned good unputdownable writing? That’s Michael Connelly for you. He’s sold more than 80 million books, he lives part-time in Tampa, and his newest novel about LAPD detectives Harry Bosch and Renee Ballard, The Dark Hours, is being published on Nov. 9 — the same day as his Festival of Reading interview, which means the festival will be hosting the book’s worldwide launch. Nov. 9, 7 p.m.

Wednesday: Honorée Fanonne Jeffers

Jeffers’s The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois is one of the biggest novels of the year in all senses of the word. An epic saga of an African-American family, it’s getting rave reviews, including from Oprah (“I was just enraptured”), and… it’s 816 pages long. “Usually I’m ready for a book that long to end,” Bancroft told Salustri, “but I was sorry to see this one end.” Nov. 10, 7 p.m.

Thursday: Ace Atkins & Lisa Unger’s “Books & Bourbon”

Take two top suspense novelists, add bourbon, and you’ve got a recipe for fun. That’s been the case in past Times reading festivals, and it’s sure to be the case with this year’s duo, both of whom have local ties. Atkins is the Tampa Tribune reporter turned mega-popular crime novelist whose latest book, The Heathens, is based on a Tampa murder case; Unger is the best-selling thriller writer whose latest novel to keep us up at night is Last Girl Ghosted. Nov. 11, 7 p.m.

Friday: Cynthia Barnett & Craig Pittman

Two writers indispensable to our understanding of the environment (especially Florida’s environment) join Bancroft for this interview. Cynthia Barnett’s latest book is The Sound of The Sea: Seashells and the Fate of the Oceans; Bancroft says it’s a “wonderful, wonderful” exploration of the human interaction with seashells (including some surprising facts that may make you exclaim, as she did, “People did that with seashells?”) Craig Pittman’s latest, The State You’re In: Florida Men, Florida Women, and Other Wildlife, is an anthology of 51 of his articles from the 1990s to the present, many of which were first published in the Tampa Bay TimesNov. 12, 2  p.m.

Saturday: Michael Koryta

I first discovered Michael Koryta when I heard him at a “Books & Bourbon” panel, after which I immediately went out to a bookseller’s booth and bought Those Who Wish Me Dead, a riveting suspenser that was later made into a film starring Angelina Jolie. So I’m excited (and a little scared) to see what he can do with horror. Writing under his Scott Carson pseudonym, his book Where They Wait (see, even his titles are scary) promises to make you think twice about those mindfulness apps you’re addicted to, says Salustri. Nov. 13, 2 p.m.

Sunday: Louise Erdrich

All of the other talks are free, but this one, a fundraiser for the festival, is $50 per ticket. But with that you get a book, and you get to hear from “one of the best American authors writing today,” in Bancroft’s opinion, winner of the 2021 Pulitzer for her novel The Night Watchman. Her latest novel, The Sentence, is being published the week of the festival, and the story — it’s set in a haunted Minneapolis bookstore during the uproar surrounding the George Floyd murder — sounds mighty compelling. (Erdrich knows whereof she speaks: She owns an indie bookstore in Minneapolis.) Nov. 14, 4 p.m.

Tombolo Books and Oxford Exchange have all the festival books in stock, including some signed copies. Soooo… no waiting in line for signatures like we had to do at the in-person festivals — another Zoom perk!

ALSO NEXT WEEK…

Pelican LPGA Women’s Championship

No time to read because you’re always on the golf course? Then you probably already know about this major tournament, a big success in its debut last year at Belleair’s Pelican Golf Club and back again with another star-studded lineup of women golfers, including 8 of the top 10 players in the world in a field of 108 vying for a purse of $1.75 million. Following a Pro-Am and private events Monday through Wednesday, the four-day, 72-hole tournament runs Thurs.-Sun., Nov. 11-14, with daily and weekly tickets available for the competition rounds at pelicanlpga.com/tickets. Parking and shuttle bus at American Collegiate Academy, 833 Wyatt St., Clearwater.

And one more thing:

TURN BACK YOUR CLOCKS!

Daylight Savings Time ends at 2 a.m. on Sunday, so turn back your timepieces an hour and get ready for early morning light and early evening darkness.

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