by Joe Thacker
Pop culture should embrace all forms of media. Music, television, movies and online. This includes books. For several years the capital area has celebrated this medium with the National Book Festival. The Library of Congress runs this event.
This time there is a major change. Instead of having it outdoors on the Mall, it’s in the confines of the Washington Convention Center. Because of this they are able to have programming later at night instead of covering both days of the weekend.
There are several advantages to doing it this way. Air conditioning, more categories, and real flushing restrooms!
But some people I talked to, even the volunteers, preferred that the festival returned to the Mall. They felt that there was some prestige being on America’s front lawn. If you never been at this center, it can be very confusing. The cavernous halls and rooms give the place a corporate feel I have been told.
However, this larger venue gave the Book Festival more room to expand its programs to include science and graphic stories (don’t call them comics!) as well a some items that has become tradition. Most previous expos took place in the larger, lower areas of the center. But this time they were closed. On the bright side this gave a nice place to get far from the madding crowd. It has been reported that about 200,000 attended.
I want to mention that a good chunk of the festival is dedicated to children. Kids should be encouraged to read books as much as possible. Much of the expo floor is made for this purpose. Part of it is the Pavilion of States. Each of the 50 states and territories had a table promoting tourism, local literature, libraries or a combination of all. Children can get passports and have them stamped. When they are completed, they can have a choice of a yoyo or a Lego block squeeze toy as a prize. I’m a bit of a map geek, and this pavilion gives me a chance to add to my collection.
Another tradition is the iconic shopping bags that are handed out. These were provided by C-Span, a major sponsor that covers this event; other providers were Wells Fargo with their stagecoach marking a storytelling area, Washington Post and others. The Library of Congress had cameras recording all the events and you can find the videos here.
How can you have a book festival without an autograph session? A huge row of tables provides a place for the rotating set of authors to briefly meet & greet fans so dedicated that they are willing to spend a good amount of their time waiting in large lines. Forgot to bring a book to sign? Right next door is the store where you can buy the tomes being promoted that day.
Many of the writers happen to be the top people in their field. One example is Michio Kaku. If you watched any cable show about science, you know whom I’m talking about. He just wrote a book about amazing research on the human brain and the potential outcome.
The festival concluded with a poetry slam, a book to movies panel and a graphic novel “Super Session”. The movie panel included clips from the films featured and the authors talking about their experiences with converting their works into a different medium. Hint: it’s not a happy process. The super session was hosted by the Washington Post comic strip blogger, Michael Cavna. The session had each artist came up one at a time to discuss their work and present the latest story.
All in all it was a wonderful experience and if you are in the area and looking for a summer literary event, you should make your way here!