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8 authors coming to the National Book Festival tell us the best thing they read this year

The National Book Festival: the one day a year when a serious reader’s biggest problem isn’t that overflowing stack of books to get to. During the 10-hour event, more than 100 authors, illustrators and poets will give talks and sign their books. It’s a lot to take in, so we won’t judge if you’ve been busy finessing an Excel-sheet game plan (Elizabeth Strout or Don Winslow at 10 a.m.?). To help with your prep work, we chatted with seven of this year’s featured authors — including David Baldacci and the “Outlander” series’ Diana Gabaldon — about their talks and the books they’ve loved in 2017.

Magical Confetti Birthday Cake

Makes 10 servings

Add some colorful razzle-dazzle to the party with this magic cake. Multicolor sprinkles both inside and out with sparkler cake candles on the top will produce oohs and aahs at your next birthday party.


  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) salted butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups lukewarm whole milk
  • 1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
  • 3 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles, plus 2 tablespoons for garnish
  • 1 recipe Vanilla Icing (page 92)
  • 1 tablespoon white sparkling sugar, for garnish (optional)
  • 1/2 teaspoon edible glitter, for garnish (optional)
  • Cake sparklers or sparkler candles

Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat an 8-inch springform pan with baking spray or line an 8-inch round cake pan with aluminum foil, allowing 2 inches of overhang around the sides, and coat with baking spray.

Separate the eggs; place the egg yolks in a mixing bowl with the sugar and beat on high speed with an electric mixer for 2 minutes, or until lemon colored. On low speed, gradually add the melted butter and vanilla, scraping down sides as needed. Add the flour and mix just until flour is combined. Gradually add the milk, beating just until flour is combined.

If using the same mixer and beaters to beat the egg whites, wash the beaters thoroughly; place the egg whites in a separate mixing bowl. Beat on medium speed until foamy; add cream of tartar. Increase the speed to high and beat until the egg whites form stiff peaks, about 2 minutes. Gently whisk about one-third of the egg whites into the thin batter; gently fold in the remaining egg whites and 3 tablespoons of sprinkles with a silicone spatula. (The pan will be almost full.) Bake for 40 minutes, or until the center jiggles slightly when gently shaken.

Let cool completely on a wire rack, about 1 hour. Cover and refrigerate at least 2 hours to chill. If using a springform pan, remove sides and bottom of pan; otherwise, remove the cake from the pan using aluminum foil as handles. Remove foil and transfer the cake to a serving plate. Spread Vanilla Icing over the cake, allowing icing to drip over the edges. Sprinkle remaining 2 tablespoons of sprinkles, the sparkling sugar, and edible glitter over the cake, and place cake sparklers or candles in the center of the cake.

Note: Cake sparklers are not the same as fireworks sparklers. They do not contain magnesium, chlorates, or perchlorates and can easily be found online.

To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This

(Excerpt from “To Fall in Love With Anyone, Do This” by Mandy Len Catron, Originally Published in The New York Times Modern Love column on January 9, 2015.)

More than 20 years ago, the psychologist Arthur Aron succeeded in making two strangers fall in love in his laboratory. Last summer, I applied his technique in my own life, which is how I found myself standing on a bridge at midnight, staring into a man’s eyes for exactly four minutes.

Let me explain. Earlier in the evening, that man had said: “I suspect, given a few commonalities, you could fall in love with anyone. If so, how do you choose someone?”

He was a university acquaintance I occasionally ran into at the climbing gym and had thought, “What if?” I had gotten a glimpse into his days on Instagram. But this was the first time we had hung out one-on-one.

“Actually, psychologists have tried making people fall in love,” I said, remembering Dr. Aron’s study. “It’s fascinating. I’ve always wanted to try it.”

I first read about the study when I was in the midst of a breakup. Each time I thought of leaving, my heart overruled my brain. I felt stuck. So, like a good academic, I turned to science, hoping there was a way to love smarter.

I explained the study to my university acquaintance. A heterosexual man and woman enter the lab through separate doors. They sit face to face and answer a series of increasingly personal questions. Then they stare silently into each other’s eyes for four minutes. The most tantalizing detail: Six months later, two participants were married. They invited the entire lab to the ceremony.

“Let’s try it,” he said.


Sophia Loren-Excerpt


With more than fifty films under her belt and an incredibly active career across two continents, by the ’60s Sophia was just hitting her stride. In a time when many of the biggest stars of the previous two decades struggled to find their footing in a rapidly changing cultural landscape, Sophia seemed only to be getting started. Her career flourished as she made films in Italy, America, and all over Europe. She became an international icon beloved not only for her unmatched beauty but also for her thrilling screen performances and warmth of character that she conveyed in her public persona. In the ’60s she climbed a pedestal of worldwide adulation that few stars have reached, and it is a position she maintains more than half a century later. She has never stopped playing interesting roles, in later years happily turning to television for choice roles not available to her on the big screen.

Where to Stay in Aspen

Aspen’s accommodations are spread throughout the downtown. Many of the priciest digs are clustered at the base of the mountain, but there are more choices scattered throughout downtown. Prices tend to be quite expensive in both winter and summer; there are few deals to be had outside of these seasons. Cheaper accommodations can be found in outlying areas stretching north from Aspen, including Basalt, El Jebel, Carbondale, and even in Glenwood Springs, an hour’s drive north. This short guide provides visitors with a variety of options for where to stay in Aspen.

aerial view of the town of Aspen
View of Aspen from Smuggler Mountain Trail. Photo © Terri Cook & Lon Abbott.


One of the least expensive places to stay in Aspen is the family-owned Tyrolean Lodge (220 W. Main St., 970/925-4595, $220-245). Although it’s located right on the busy main street, it’s also just a few blocks from downtown, and the free ski shuttle stops right outside the door. Its 16 rooms are basic (think 1970s decor) but spacious, have kitchenettes, and accommodate up to five people apiece. Be aware that the lodge has no elevator, so if you book a room on the third floor, be prepared to climb up and down the stairs.


Although the 53 rooms are basic and it’s located right on Main Street, the Molly Gibson Lodge (101 W. Main St., 970/925-3434, $295-370) has a wonderful pool that’s heated year-round, free daily après-ski wine-and-cheese parties, a free buffet breakfast, fireplace and whirlpool tub suites, and free guest parking just three blocks from the downtown.

One of Aspen’s few surviving, Old World-style ski lodges, the Mountain Chalet Aspen (333 E. Durant Ave., 970/925-7797, $219-334) has a family-friendly atmosphere, with a cozy living room where you can warm up next to a roaring fire, group breakfast tables, and a fantastic location near the base of Aspen Mountain. The no-frills rooms and suites are clean and comfortable and come in a variety of configurations, from economy rooms with original 1950s furniture to remodeled two-bed, two-bath apartments with full kitchens and living rooms. With a heated outdoor pool, hot tub, and fitness center, as well as free parking, the chalet represents one of Aspen’s best values.

Limelight hotel pool and hot tub in winter
Relax in the hot tub at the Limelight Hotel, a top accommodation in Aspen. Photo © Jeremy Swanson, courtesy of Limelight Hotel.

Over $350

With a fantastic location facing Wagner Park and within walking distance of the Silver Queen Gondola and the downtown, the contemporary Limelight Hotel (355 S. Monarch St., 970/925-3025, $405-1,120) is one of Aspen’s top lodging options. From king rooms to spacious suites, the hotel has 10 different types of rooms to choose from. All have very comfortable beds and a simple, inviting decor. The enormous, open lounge with leather couches and lime-green accents is a great après-ski spot, as well as the location of the impressive (and complimentary) Continental Divide breakfast buffet. The Limelight also goes well beyond the usual pool-and-hot tub amenities. They offer free bikes to cruise around town and both a ski concierge and an adventure concierge to help you plan your next hike, bike ride, tennis match, or mogul run. The concierge can even set up a one-way, 11-mile hike to Crested Butte, during which you’re equipped with a SpotSatellite GPS device so that your private transport is waiting for you when you reach the end of the trail.

Located steps from Aspen Mountain’s Silver Queen Gondola, the stylish 90-room Sky Hotel (709 E. Durant Ave., 970/925-6760, $160-799) has a unique decor, with captivating black-and-white photos on the walls, headboards designed to resemble cable-knit sweaters, and racing stripes on the curtains and walls. Sky offers deluxe, premier, and superior rooms with one or two beds, plus spacious suites, pet-friendly rooms, an evening wine reception, and a late checkout time (noon).

The chic, glass-fronted Hotel Aspen (110 W. Main St., 970/925-3441, $323-584) has 45 luxurious rooms and suites with comfy beds draped with 300-thread-count sheets and fluffy down duvets. Room options range from traditional king rooms to more lavish fireplace or private whirlpool tub suites. The hotel has free guest parking, a heated outdoor pool and steaming hot tub, and a popular (and free) après-ski wine-and-cheese reception each afternoon in addition to a complimentary hot breakfast.

the historic Wheeler Opera House in Aspen, Colorado
Jerome Wheeler’s influence can be seen in many of Aspen’s buildings, including the Wheeler Opera House (pictured here) and the Hotel Jerome. Photo © Terri Cook and Lon Abbott.

A stout brick building built by Jerome Wheeler (of the Wheeler Opera House fame) in 1889, the Hotel Jerome (330 E. Main St., 970/920-1000, $689-855) has a distinctive Western ambiance—antlers, moose heads, and photos of Native Americans adorn the walls. The striking lobby features comfortable sofas and chairs next to a roaring fireplace, above which hangs an enormous portrait of Jerome Wheeler, one of Aspen’s most prominent founding fathers. Rooms include loveseats or a lounge chair and feature cozy king-size beds; several suites are also available. In addition to a spa, the hotel has two bars and an upscale restaurant.

Set on five lush acres three blocks east of Aspen Mountain, The Gant (610 S. West End, 970/925-5000, $591-799) is a gorgeous property that offers condominiums (1-4 bedrooms). All rooms include romantic wood-burning fireplaces, full kitchens, and a balcony or patio. Valet parking, bell and concierge service, and free in-town and airport transport round out the amenities.

In a park-like setting about 1.5 miles north of downtown, the beautiful 40-acre Aspen Meadows Resort (845 Meadows Rd., 800/452-4240, $288-499) has 98 bright Bauhaus-design suites with floor-to-ceiling windows, functional work spaces, and comfortable sitting areas. The resort is the home of the Aspen Institute, an influential nonpartisan think tank that hosts intellectual gatherings to tackle some of our nation’s most critical challenges, from improving homeland security to combating economic inequality.

The Little Nell (675 E. Durant Ave., 970/920-4600, $1,232-1,532) has the reputation of being Aspen’s most luxurious hotel, as well as the best hotel between the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. It’s a beautiful facility located steps from the Silver Queen Gondola and the vibrant downtown. The 78 rooms and 14 suites are gorgeous, comfortable, and have unique floor plans that include gas fireplaces. Most also have private balconies, many with fantastic views of Aspen Mountain. The hotel’s adventure concierge can set you up with private stargazing tours (with champagne), bike rides with former pro cyclists, shotgun rides in working snowcats, and just about any ski adventure you can imagine.

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