First Annual Boston Book Festivalby Jill D'Urso • 10.26.2009
Despite the drizzle and forceful winds, hundreds of Bostonians converged at Copley Plaza on Saturday to attend Boston’s first annual Book Festival. Though Boston has a long and impressive literary pedigree, the historic city never had a book festival to call its own–until now.
The Boston Book Festival was characterized by an informal feel, an eye toward the future of books, and a full schedule of lectures, readings, panels, and activities. Spread out between the green in Copley Square, the Boston Public Library, and the Trinity and Old South Churches, most of the events were well-organized, if a little too well-attended (I was shut out of two events because they filled up so fast).
I began the day with John Hodgman and Tom Perrotta, two local boys made good. In an interview format, Perrotta joked and reminisced with Hodgman about 1990s Manhattan, the era of the SASE, when the two bonded over their many rejections. Perrotta was delightfully funny and self-deprecating, remembering how he spent his weekends rollerblading around Prospect Park, bitterly cursing the editors who so callously rejected his work. Hodgman was brilliant, as usual, elaborating on his quirky career path–from his one “exquisitely crafted” short story published in The Paris Review , to his stint as a literary agent when he realized there was “no great fortune” to be made on short stories, to the wild ride from a comic writer for McSweeney’s to becoming an ubiquitous pitchman for Macs. It was a great start to the day, which continued with a walk around the exhibitors’ booths (complete with free Brigham’s ice cream samples), catching up with fellow bibliophiles, and a session titled “And Now For Something Completely Different,” which featured three authors discussing their creation of quirky characters and situations. Paul Tremblay, author of the noir -inspired Little Sleep, discussed his “anti-P.I.” protagonist, and how, though he set his debut novel in South Boston, he purposely set out to debunk the common Southie stereotypes. Jessica Anthony, winner of the first McSweeney’s Amanda Davis Highwire Fiction Award, read from her novel The Convalescent, talking about where she got the idea to write about a 34-year-old Hungarian dwarf who sells meat from a schoolbus. R. Sikoryak gave a presentation on his book, Masterpiece Comics, resplendent with slides from the vibrant collection, which fuses literary classics with comics (for example, Gregor Samsa as hapless Charlie Brown).
Across the plaza, Grub Street put together “Writer Idol,” where the first 250 words of anonymous manuscripts were read aloud to the audience and a panel of Boston editors and literary agents. If more than one of the “judges” raised their hand, the reading stopped, and the panel discussed what it was they didn’t like about the piece. It was a little difficult to listen to (they were a tough crowd), but eye-opening to see all the reasons why editors and agents stop reading.
The keynote address was given by Nobel-prize winning author Orhan Pamuk. He read from his new novel, The Museum of Innocence, a love story he wrote not to “sugarize love,” but to analyze it, presenting a “survey of what we do when we fall in love.” Like all his books, the story takes place in Istanbul, giving the universality of love a cultural, geographical, and historical context. The words, especially when read in Pamuk’s richly accented English, were beautiful–at one point, he describes the physical pain of love as “sticky red starfish attaching themselves to my organs.” Responding to allegations that his books stir controversy between the cultures of the East and West, he demurred, saying that he writes about Istanbul simply because it is what he sees from his window, what he has known his whole life. It is rare that I attend a reading and am so enthralled with the writer that I am immediately compelled to read the book, but this was definitely true in this case.
All in all, the festival was a success, and I think that it will only get bigger and better with every year.