National Book Fest
The Library of Congress’ Center for the Book is not a sponsor, but has endorsed the week-long promotion.
I find it interesting this celebration, attention producing event, is the week after National Book Festival.
– which is squarely hosted by the Library of Congress. It marks a blur between the abstract notion of being free to read, a general celebration of reading and print culture and the world of authorship. It works as a federally funded library event for the whole family on that Saturday and Sunday. At the same time, both events have investments by retail-based organizations. American Bookseller Association in the case of Banned Books Week and big companies like Barnes & Noble Booksellers at National Book Fest. As far as I know, the book selling tent is coordinated by Barnes & Noble most years.
In no way am I criticizing B & N’s involvement in these events. It’s a great thing to be a large bookseller and to be able to promote literacy events on a national scale. But the book selling tent at National Book Fest is not a store per se – it’s a table full of books featuring the authors at the festival (and a few other sundries published or distributed solely by Barnes & Noble). It is my belief the National Book Festival, given its prominence on the mall, should be an antagonistic force drawing attention to authors who may not often get such a large platform to get noticed. If not authors, then smaller presses carrying high quality authors. I think about presses such as Talon Books, Dalkey Archive, New York Review Books and the fabulous Melville House. As it stands, the list of featured authors at this year’s book festival contains high quality writing from people attached to much larger publishing conglomerates.
These authors, such Don DeLillo, Joyce Carol Oates, James McBride and Linda Ronstadt are published by Scribner, Ecco/Harper Collins, Riverhead/Penguin and Simon & Schuster respectively. These are not independent publishers by any stretch of the imagination. And if we take this festival into context with Banned Books Week starting just the day afterward – a celebration of alternative visions judged by communities as too alternative to be accepted – we find a strange contradiction of terms. On one hand, we find a quieter education model of thinking designed to link the history of culture and oppression of ideas to other ideas discussed in American schools and libraries. The ALA, as a whole, is very supportive of the freedom to read. Banned Books Week is often used as an alternative teaching tool in public schools.
In tandem, Barnes & Noble Booksellers often displays a Banned Books promotion table in honour the same week. In other words, corporate Barnes & Noble is playing both sides of this issue in the name of the dollar. And bless them for doing so. In addition, each of the authors featured is talented in his or her own right. There is no dearth of great writing in every genre at the book festival. I want to be clear, I am a big fan of many authors doing readings and signing this year. And each publisher featured has a roster of real artists in its ranks.
There has to be a better way of unifying NATIONAL BOOK FEST with Banned Books Week. The reason for said position is the scale of ambition implied by the name of the festival itself. It’s called National Book Fest, not Recently Featured on New Release Shelves Fest. Unless that is the point. There is something to be said about using such a large event to promote newly published books each year from the same spot on the National Mall annually. It does not have to be an activist festival. But with a title like National Book Fest, I must admit I keep hoping for a more philosophically well-rounded festival agenda – similar to that of Library of Congress’ Center for the Book mentioned above.
Banned Books Week on the other hand, a promotion of alternative reading and ideas, a celebration with a narrower focus offers a much more philosophical relationship to books, reading, education, literacy and libraries. Center for the Book HAS endorsed Banned Books Week because maybe their relationship to reading is more philosophically rounded than the Book Fest – which seems to be a festival steeped in the NOW. In my humble opinion, National Book Fest could embrace a slightly different rhetoric in order to realize the scope implied by its title.
Just a thought.
Thank you for reading.
PS: I am starting a new #hashtag this year on Twitter to promote bicycling to the National Mall for the Festival: I am calling it #biketobookfest. I see this hashtag as one reusable from year to year. Promote it. Use it. Thank you.