Books are to Assistant U.S. Attorney Scott Ferber what candy is to a child. His appetite for reading is insatiable, and he is always searching for the next good book. He even refers to his annual trek to the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference as “adult summer camp.”
The conference, which Ferber and his wife, lawyer Amy Edgy Ferber, attend together, is held every August in the resort town of Sun Valley, Idaho, and attracts Pulitzer prize-winning and notable authors from around the world. Reading and writing are such passions for Ferber that he immerses himself in the daylong sessions that have included writers such as Siddhartha Mukherjee (The Emperor of All Maladies), Katheryn Stockett (The Help), Isabel Wilkerson (The Warmth of Other Suns) and Liaquat Ahamed (Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World).
Ferber finds it hard to conceal his enthusiasm for this trip, often using words like “wonderful,” “great” and “I can’t say enough” to describe his experience. Clearly, it’s more than a conference for Ferber. He’s even stumbled upon a local eatery in Sun Valley that fulfills another interest: food and cooking.
Ferber was unable to attend this past summer due to a trial date conflict, but his enthusiasm for the conference has not waned. He insists he will not let anything prevent his attendance in the future.
Ferber spoke with the Daily Report about what makes this annual journey out west so special.
What got you interested in this conference?
I’m a big nerd. I really enjoy reading. We have good friends, and the wife is on the board of the Sun Valley Writers’ Conference. She stoked our interest. We went out there for the first time in 2008 and were just hooked. … People come from all over the country and really the world to participate in it, and there’s a beautiful outdoor amphitheater. … The main stage authors give presentations in the amphitheater and then throughout the property there are conference rooms. There are breakout sessions so you get to go to these big presentations where the authors discuss their books, read from their books. It’s really people from across the spectrum: fiction, nonfiction, journalism, poetry, filmmaking, cooking. You get the big-tent experience of them addressing a large crowd, and then the very intimate experience of being in a small room and in both settings they answer questions. There’s just something about being close to the author, and then they are out on the property mingling with the regular folk.
It’s readers, writers. All of my writing comes through my work. I love writing, and I write briefs and really enjoy it. I’m the type of person who reads The New Yorker, The New York Times and highlights phrases. I think about how to use them in my own writing. I just love reading. You have people from all different industries and professions who are out in Sun Valley for this conference.
Besides writing briefs, do you think you’ll ever branch out and do some other writing?
I’d like to.
What would you write? What style of writing?
Both fiction and nonfiction appeal to me. I guess that’s reflected in what I read, but I’d like to write both. The caliber of people that they get at this conference is incredible. Pulitzer prize winners. … There are many, many great things about it. But each year has a theme, and they will have writers to go along with that theme, but they are also very timely in their presentations.
But there are breaks in the conference and there is this little restaurant called Cristina’s. Every waking moment that I’m not at the conference, I’m at this restaurant. She’s this wonderful woman, probably in her 50s. She’s from Italy with a romantic tale of meeting a backpacker from Idaho in Italy. She moved to Sun Valley with him and opened this charming little restaurant. When we first started going out there, they only served breakfast and lunch. The conference starts on a Friday and ends on a Monday. I think that first year I ate at Cristina’s maybe 10 times.
Are you serious?
Yes. It would get to the point where my wife would look around for where I was during a breakout session or recess, and I would be sneaking over there.
What is it that gets you to go there so much?
The food is amazing, and I bought her cookbooks. I’m working my way through her cookbooks to make all the recipes. It’s Italian-themed, but they have great breakfast, great lunches, pizzas and sandwiches. Great everything and, for whatever reason, it’s the same service staff that’s there year-in and year-out. Miraculously, they remember people’s names. There’s one server there, Juan Carlos Flores, or John Charlie Flowers as he likes to say, and every year I go he’s there — smiling, welcoming. We have our table by the fireplace. I know that they treat everyone like that, but you really feel like you’re a regular. I go native when I’m out there. I love Idaho, and it’s just a wonderful place.
It sounds like it’s the whole experience, not just the conference.
Yes, everyone is there for the same reason. All because you love reading and you love writing. I was the type of kid growing up that when I got my summer reading list I was excited. I’d tear through the books. You get the list in advance of the conference, and you know who all of the authors are. You can read their books and it’s so much fun to unplug from what I do here and fully immerse myself in this creative environment.
If you had to pick one highlight from your attendance at these conferences, what would it be?
There are so many. I met Supreme Court Justice (Stephen) Breyer.
Also, talking to Isabel Wilkerson. Two or three years ago, my wife and I ran into her in the hotel lobby. She stopped and talked to us for 20 minutes about the book.
Can you name a favorite book?
The Warmth of Other Suns was fantastic. I don’t know. It’s sometimes situational. For example, last year Siddhartha Mukherjee was out there, and he’s the one who wrote The Emperor of All Maladies. For me, last year was a very difficult year. My father passed away from pancreatic cancer. So to be with this author who wrote about the history of cancer and get a perspective on cancer that was so far beyond the experience I had at hospitals and dealing with oncologists, to really learn about cancer and the history, and through someone that was very passionate was amazing.
Is there a particular genre that you favor?
I love everything. I know that may sound hokey, but not one in particular.
You said you’d love to write a book one day — fiction or nonfiction. Have you started writing it?
I haven’t. When I read something, I think, “I want to write something like this.” I change gears and read something else. I know that I love writing. I pore over my briefs. One of the things I love about my job is I practice criminal law and so we write a lot of briefs. … I feel like I’m lucky in that I get to write and enjoy what I write on a day-to-day basis.
In your house, do you have a library or a large wall with books?
We do. We have a study, and it is floor to ceiling with books. Anywhere you go in our house you will find books. Not that we’re hoarders or there’s clutter, but they’re there. They are at our bedside table, they are on the coffee table, and they are in the TV room.