In recent years, the online bookseller forums have been buzzing with the message that books are dead (or dying at least), that e-books will make printed books obsolete, and that no one is reading anyhow! Before giving in to the doomsayers, try a change in perspective – look up from your computer screen and check out some events in the real world.
This spring we attended two book festivals – the long running Los Angeles Times Book Festival on the University of Southern California campus in April (founded in 1996) and the Tucson Book Festival on the campus of the University of Arizona in Tucson. Both festivals are free and feature hundreds of events, mostly related to books in some way. These include hundreds of authors appearing in panels, talks and readings … and signing their books. But what makes these festivals so special are the attendees, with over 100,000 in Tucson (only in its fourth year, but attendance has gone up each year) and 150,000 in Los Angeles. When the LA festival moved from UCLA to USC a few years ago, attendance went down a bit, but this year it was back up again. Unlike traditional book fairs, the attendees at these festivals are young – not just thousands of families with their children, but lots and lots of young adults coming to listen to or meet their favorite authors. There was a woman with her 13 year old daughter in Tucson who wanted to thank Diana Gabaldon for the books they both enjoyed reading so much, and the group of teenagers in Los Angeles who wanted to say hello to Victor Villasenor. The lines for Judy Blume, R. L Stine, Cornelia Funke, and Lemony Snicket had hundreds of kids in them. These are wonderful vibrant events, free and full of variety. Even the often-long lines have a positive side to them, as they give you a chance to chat with other booklovers (and booksellers).
Traveling and visiting bookstores can also be rewarding. In the week we spent on the road after Tucson, the two bookstores where we found the most books to buy were both in small towns – one a very small town. Both had new owners, with one in her first weekend as the owner. Both stores had been owned by old-fashioned sellers who believed in packing in as many books as possible, and never getting rid of any. We didn’t have enough time to really check everything out, as books were double-shelved and piled on the floor. But we had fun chatting with the new owners and found enough interesting stuff to make the stops worthwhile.
In between Tucson and Los Angeles, we exhibited at the Sacramento Spring Book Fair. The manager of this fair advertises on television and the local NPR station. As a result, we always have a few people in our booth who are attending their first book fair ever. They often did not even realize that book fairs existed!
Our spring events ended with the Nebula Awards weekend in San Jose. This is a venue mostly for writers, but some events were open to the public, including an evening of reading and questions and answers by two Grand Masters: Gene Wolfe, who was just receiving this honor, and Connie Willis. There was a Kindle at this event – Gene used one for his reading (although as a first-time user, he needed some quick instructions) – but there were also hundreds of real books being signed.
But for just plain fun – and optimism about the future of reading and books – go to a children’s bookstore when an author is appearing. We went to just such an event this spring with Lemony Snicket and Jon Klassen, and it was priceless. The authors were very funny, but the children upstaged them with their spontaneous comments from the floor! The adults had as much fun as the children – and the excitement that revolves around book events like this can go a long way to offsetting the doldrums of summer.