What a perfectly momentous time to launch the Boston Book Festival. Three years in the making, the ambitious inaugural event arrives in a marketplace mired in recession, with Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon locked in a price war and as the publishing industry faces head-on the turmoil and transition familiar to anyone whose livelihood involves that future relic called paper.
“Historically, the conventional wisdom was the publishing industry was recession-proof, and if the adage was ever true it doesn’t remain the case,’’ said Gary Gentel, president of the trade and reference division at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a sponsor (along with the Globe) of the Boston Book Festival. “That said, this is the perfect time for a festival. What a great escape.’’
While I applaud the sentiment and fully agree that book culture needs to continually be celebrated, I must chime in regarding this article's enthusiasm about the festival. I was in Boston this weekend. I walked through the festival on Saturday, unaware that it was standing in my beloved Copley Square. And it was not all this article claims.
Apparently, there was a lineup of"brand-name authors" participating--the only one of whom I've ever heard of is Tom Perrotta (Little Children)--as well as an array of "scholarly sessions" taking place. But all I saw was maybe 20 small, white tents/booths with a miniscule selection of books on display. There weren't very many people at the festival either, with some booths entirely empty. Granted, it was drizzling off and on and I only walked through the area, but it was less than impressive.
I'm a self-proclaimed book enthusiast of sorts and even I thought Boston's effort here was somewhat pathetic. The book fairs I had in school as a child were more complex and compelling. The most appealing part of the festival was the huge stage Berklee College of Music set up directly in front of Trinity Church, where performances were taking place (and the only real crowd gathered).
So, while I think Boston's heart was in the right place here, if they're trying to launch a fantastic inaugural book festival, they failed somewhat miserably. It was a sad day for Boston...and for books.