The Savannah Book Festival has made amazing strides over the last five years.

The 6th annual festival — scheduled for Feb. 14-17 — includes special appearances by Dave Barry, Bobby Deen, James Patterson, Gregg Allman, and David Baldacci. But perhaps most impressive about the long weekend is the lineup of presentations on Saturday at six venues clustered around Telfair Square. Click here for the full schedule.

The author appearances at Trinity United Methodist Church, for example, kick off with NBC host and correspondent Hoda Kotb at 9 a.m. and Al Gore at 10:15 a.m. I’ve heard some moaning and groaning about Gore’s appearance, but, really, how many times does a freakin’ former Vice President show up to give a free talk? And the many who don’t want to hear Gore discuss his new book The Future have five other options at that time, including Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award winner Isabel Wilkerson.

For the last couple of days, I’ve been vaguely plotting my course for Saturday’s festival, and I’m compelled to add that the SBF website needs to be more user friendly. For those trying to plan ahead, it’s cumbersome to jump from the detailed schedule to the author pages. A festival of this scale and ambition should have more options for online navigation.

Among the authors I’d particularly like to see and hear:

  • Novelist T.C. Boyle. His comic writing is simply tremendous, and I can’t imagine that he wouldn’t be interesting to hear in person. (1:30 p.m. in the Telfair rotunda)
  • Leonard Pitts, Jr. He’s a longtime columnist for the Miami Herald and is interesting on every subject. But I’ll get to hear him on Friday at Armstrong, so I might see someone else during that time slot. (Neises Auditorium at the Jepson at 4)
  • Paula McClain‘s The Paris Wife is about Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley. (Neises Auditorium at 11:30)
  • Colm Tóibín has twice been on the short list for the Booker Prize. (Telfair rotunda at 9 a.m.)
  • Savannah resident and SCAD prof Kevin McCarey will talk about Islands Under Fire: the Improbable Quest to Save the Corals of Puerto Rico. (Jepson boardroom at 11:30)
  • Gary Wills will talk about Why Priests? A Failed Tradition. (Trinity UMC at 4)

And there are obviously some overlaps even in that relatively short list from the 34 authors appearing during the day on Saturday. That group includes a fascinating mixof locals too: Griff & Cheryl Day, Jane Fishman, Jim Morekis, Mark Murphy, and Kimberly Ergul and Holley Jaakkola.

So it’s going to be a day of trade-offs and really tough choices. And, honestly, I need more time to study the lineup.

In its ongoing evolution, the SBF has made a couple of choices that I hope will one day be reconsidered. There are no poets in this year’s big lineup, and I wish there was still a way for some local literary organizations to have a clear presence.

The SBF has already gotten some great coverage and is sure to get lots more.

The extensive Savannah Morning News coverage can be found here.

C-SPAN’s Book TV will be on hand.

Connect Savannah has already published an interview with Al Gore and an interview with Gregg Allman. Connect editor Jim Morekis has also used his weekly column for some very entertaining Shameless self-promotion.

The big festival day on Saturday is free, and tickets for special events can be purchased online.

Again, this is just the 6th SBF. This would be an impressive lineup for an event that had been established decades ago.

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