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Five reasons to check out the Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading

By Stephanie Hayes
KIM SALT | Special to the Times

For 25 years, readers and authors have been mingling on a very special day in St. Petersburg.

The Tampa Bay Times Festival of Reading is back this weekend, organized painstakingly by our book editor, Colette Bancroft, and the Times marketing department. The festival is celebrating a big birthday this year, with some equally big literary names visiting the University of South Florida St. Petersburg on Saturday. Headliners include crime fiction writer Michael Connelly, children’s author Kate DiCamillo and broadcast journalist Gretchen Carlson, who broke open the sexual harassment scandal inside Fox News. Find the info online at tampabay.com/expos/festival-of-reading.

The festival draws many loyal repeat visitors, but if you’ve never been, give it a shot. Here are a few reasons to spend your Saturday expanding that big heavy thing between your shoulders (and having some fun, too).

The weather should be beautiful.

Please don’t call and leave messages if this changes, but as I write this, Saturday’s forecast calls for 81 and sunny. Yes, the lectures are inside, scattered in rooms around campus, but strolling from talk to talk, lingering on the lawn and breaking the spines of your brand new books is part of the festival’s appeal. Which segues nicely into …

You need something new to read.

You know how it goes. You finish a book, it was great, you feel fulfilled and satisfied and ready to move on to the next, except — you have nothing to read. Picking the next book is like picking a favorite child. Think of the festival as a Facebook-style crowdsource opportunity for opinions, except with real human contact. Imagine.

You can ask the authors themselves for suggestions.

The Festival of Reading is one of the bigger gatherings of literary types in Florida. And yet, it has an intimate feeling that puts you up close with authors to ask questions, get autographs and maybe bump into them in the street. This year, rub elbows with Ace Atkins, Lisa Unger, Tim Dorsey and Mark Bowden, among others. Insider tip — if you run into Michael Connelly and ask for the next plot twist on Amazon’s Bosch, we’re sure he won’t spill. Believe me. We’ve tried.

There’s stuff for kids to do.

The junior readers in your life can check out Sharon Robinson, G. Neri and others. And, hey. Buy them a book. If you can, always buy your kids a book.

It’s free.

Parking is free, too. Enough said.