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Boston Is a Literary City Too

18 November 2017

From Publishers Weekly:

Imagine that your city hosts a book festival that attracts authors of international acclaim and readers of virtually every genre. Exhibitors representing publishers, writing centers, universities and colleges, writing groups, and booksellers (not to mention the best local grilled cheese company) fill a beautiful, historic square in town, and their booths have lines throughout the day. Tourists mix with locals walking, biking, and popping out of the subway stations nearby. Most events—whether in a church, a hotel, or the historic library; whether featuring a bestselling YA author or a scholar-activist—are standing room only.

The next day, you open your city newspapers and see nothing about the festival. Did it happen? Was it just a book lover’s dream?

The Boston Book Festival took place in Copley Square, in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood, for the ninth time on October 28. Around 200 authors appeared throughout the day, and attendees filled around 18,000 seats and standing room, to boot. Speakers included Geraldine Brooks, Daniel Handler, Chris Hayes, Lisa Ko, Dennis Lehane, Claire Messud, Eileen Myles, and Jacqueline Woodson.

Local media in Boston primed the pump ahead of the event, with pieces in the Boston Globe and on NPR, but once it happened there was radio silence. I suspect many people who participated in it in whatever way, like I did, are frustrated, as I am.

. . . .

How often can a fan of the stylish New York Review Books’ reissued paperbacks meet someone in marketing from the company? In what other space can writers watch agents consider new work, as they do at the massively popular Writer Idol event held each year at the Festival? Not covering this unique space sustains the myth that the walls between readers, writers, and gatekeepers are high and getting higher.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Although PG doesn’t live in Boston, the spine-tingling adventure of watching agents consider new work isn’t a compelling draw for him. Perhaps the newspapers felt the same way.

Books in General

8 Comments to “Boston Is a Literary City Too”

  1. Considering I never heard of a single one of the speakers – I wouldn’t considering going to hear them.

    • Dennis Lehane wrote Mystic River, Shutter Island, and Gone, Baby, Gone, which have all been made into movies you’ve probably heard of. I’ve never heard of the other ones either, and I lived in the Boston area for eight years. I still keep in touch with several authors back there, and none of them mentioned the Boston Book Festival–ever, as far as I can remember.

      I, on the other hand, will be promoting the Tucson Festival of Books a lot as it gets closer. (It’s held in March.) I’d promote it even if I weren’t selling and signing books there because it’s so fabulous.

  2. I love it. “…. the myth that the walls between readers, writers, and gatekeepers are high and getting higher.” I haven’t heard such a myth. Perhaps a man of straw? Readers and agents, so far as I am aware, don’t interact in these particular capacities. Readers and Authors? Never have more authors been more accessible? Authors and Agents? Well, agents are fast becoming obsolete, at least in the publishing world.

    These types of events, at least in Australia, are usually taxpayer funded gatherings of the self-appointed literary elite. They gather to discuss politics, on which they all agree, pat each other on the back and listen to usually pretentious authors who survive on government grants and critical acclaim but don’t sell very many books.

    • Well, it is from ‘Publishers Weekly’ after all, not ‘Indie/Self Publishers Weekly’, so they are more concerned about trad-pub and their lapdog agents that can convince most of those foolish writers to hand over their work for hardly anything in return …

  3. Let’s not make rash judgments.

    It might have been fascinating to watch “agents consider new work.” I’ve never witnessed such a thing before, so how would I know? How would any of us know?

    It might have been entertaining. Perhaps the agents did cartwheels or rode unicycles or hung from trapezes. I might have turned out for that, given that Ringling Brothers is no more.

    • It actually is pretty fascinating to watch. I’ve attended similar sessions at writer conferences and you get to hear the writer’s pitch and listen to why an agent or editor accepts or rejects a story. Since the audience is made up of both writers and readers, everyone gets to consider the question: “Would I read this story?” and analyze why they would or wouldn’t. It’s educational for every writer.

  4. Maerwydd McFarland

    Daniel Handler is Lemony Snicket–hear of him? If you’ve never heard of Geraldine Brooks, treat yourself. She’s a brilliant novelist with a stellar line-up of titles that are worth your time: People of the Book, Caleb’s Crossing, Year of Wonder, The Secret Chord, March. They are beautifully written and rich experiences. IME, books like that are rare and discovering them is a real pleasure.

    • Which, sadly, does not entail that seeing these authors perform in person is either a rich experience or a real pleasure. Writers are not in show business, except in so far as they furnish scripts to those who are.

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