Sunday, May 01, 2011

Bibliobits: Book Festivals, Autographs, & Not Finishing Books

Baltimore Book Festival
Book festivals sell a lot of books. 

NPR's Marketplace ran a story last week about the business potential of book festivals.  Steve Wasserman, a literary agent, former L. A. Times Book Editor, and previous organizer of the L. A. Times Festival of Books, said that book festivals provide an extensive, increasingly important venue for selling books, with Borders and B&N closing so many stores. 

I never thought about that.  Of course it is true. 

The story was mainly about the L. A. Times Festival of Books, but all book festivals should be so lucky as to be covered by the press.  There are hundreds of book festivals in the U.S.  I've attended them in Chicago and Nashville. 

Southern Festival of Books
At the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville, which I learned about from an online book group, you have a chance to hear 200 authors (well, not all of them, since they read simultaneously) and buy books from many publishers and booksellers.  The festival is held in War Memorial Plaza downtown by the Capitol the second weekend of October, and the readings are held in (blessedly) air-conditioned government buildings, because the South is hot even in the fall.  I loved strolling around looking at books and chatting to friendly readers, and then heading off to a restaurant near Vanderbilt.  The atmosphere is more redolent of bibliophilic charm than of the country music friendliness I expected. The fans seemed to be EXCEPTIONALLY WELL-EDUCATED and came from all over the South to the festival. I heard readings and lectures by Elizabeth Spencer, Kaye Gibbons, Alan Gurganus, Bobbie Ann Mason, Susan Choi, Madison Smart Bell, and Tim Page.  

That same weekend in October, there are The Twin Cities Book Festival and the Wisconsin Books Festival in Madison. 

And there are many more, at different times of year.

I used to love going to readings. I have an autographed copy of The Stories of Elizabeth Spencer.  I thought she was my soul mate because she carried a bag with a design of cats.  The very entertaining Kaye Gibbons looked exhausted after her lecture.  I love her novels and am still waiting for the memoir she said she was writing.  There was a HUGE line waiting for her autograph.  I stayed in that line, but then made a decision.

I'm not really one for autographs.  I don't care about the enhanced value of signed books.  "To Frisbee from ___"  means very little to me.  I'm much more excited when I buy used books with inscriptions than when I've stood in line and a tired author has signed my book. 

I'm not the person with the lovely story about how their novels kept me going while I commuted 40 miles a day. A married couple said they traded off reading aloud while they commuted.  I heard this story when I stood in line and am sure the writer was interested.

Most of just said, "I read your book and loved it!"  

ON NOT FINISHING BOOKS. I invested a lot of time today in reading Sarita Mandanna's Tiger Hills.  I picked up a copy without reading any reviews--sometimes this works out, and sometimes not--and soon became absorbed by this Indian family saga.  Then, in the second hundred pages, the novel changed tack.  From a family comedy and romance, it turned into a cruel, brutal tragedy.  One of the main characters, a medical student, is beaten repeatedly and raped by a group of students.  The victim then turns around and rapes someone.

I cried, then felt a ghastly weight of depression.  It was supposed to be my contemporary novel of the week, but I've given up.

So if you don't hear about any new books from me this week, you'll understand.


Ellen said...

All these festivals are of enormous importance -- so too the conferences. They bring like people together as well as put us in contact with what we value. This summer in DC we'll have a 3 week play, concert, festival ...

Frisbee said...

Yes, it's wonderful that we have these. Book festivals, Shakespeare festivals, conferences: they help keep the culture alive.