The wife and I went to the 2009 Decatur Book Festival on Saturday (for my entry about the 2006 Decatur Book Festival, click here). The Great Recession is making pretty much everything a little bit less good, and Georgia's biggest annual Book Festival did not escape the economic carnage unscathed. More on that later.
Though the Decatur Book Festival is a big event, with talks and panels and hours upon hours of emerging writers reading their work, for me the Festival consists of 3 things:
1.) The Antiquarian Book Fair.
2.) The tents.
3.) The big names.
1.) The Antiquarian Book Fair section of the festival, held each year in one of the ballrooms at the Holiday Inn in downtown Decatur, is a collection of booksellers from around the southeast who deal in rare books, some of which are signed by the authors of said rare books. There were fewer participants this year than in years past, which meant fewer booksellers selling rare, first edition novels (which is my thing). Worse than the decrease in the variety of books was the increase in their price. On a lot of 1st editions, prices had jumped 25% or more over last year for no apparent reason. There may be some complicated supply and demand forces at work here, but since the only thing I'm worse at than blogging is economics, I'll leave that for others to ponder. But the practical result of these unreasonable mark-ups was that I left the Holiday Inn empty-handed.
2.) The tents, which are open to anyone who can lay out the cash for the space, are the heart of the Festival. Which probably means the Book Festival needs triple-bypass surgery. The self-published cranks who populate the majority of these tents are pretty good at putting me in a bad mood, so we didn't spend much time there. McSweeney's, whose tent was a bright spot in the tent-sea last year with stacks and stacks of colorful and creatively-produced books for sale, had a tent again this year, though with many fewer books for sale, none of which tempted me to give Dave Eggers any cash. (The book I bought from them last year, "Arkansas", is still sitting on my shelf, unread. Soon!)
3.) There were a couple big name authors at the Festival this year, Charlaine Harris, author of the "True Blood" mystery series, being arguably the biggest (she was on-loan from DragonCon). But for me, there was only one writer visiting the Festival this year: Lee Child, creator of Jack Reacher. (He's the one in the photo who doesn't look like he's trying to creep his way into a photograph being taken of someone else.)
For a brief refresher on Reacher, click here for an old Inanities post.
In person, Child (his real name is Jim Grant) is tallish and looks in person exactly how he looks in photographs. His event was held in a church, so we all sat on cushioned pews while he spoke about how thrillers were the first genre, the best genre, and literary writers and readers shouldn't disrespect it. His talk was entertaining and low-key. He gave the impression of being not terribly overexercised about the difficulties of writing, and of viewing the process of writing a novel as being as much a commercial endeavor as a creative one. There are writers out there one suspects of being crassly market-minded, but would never cop to it in public, so it's vaguely unpleasant to hear this outlook admitted to so blithely. Guys like Clive Cussler and James Patterson, thriller writers who wrote very popular novels early in their careers, view their own books now as so much product. They subscribe to this view so completely that they're quite open about the inclusion of their name on a book's cover being more of a stamp of approval than a proclamation of authorship. Child has never done this, but gauging by his talk this weekend, it's conceivable he might one day decide to take this route. I went into the event thinking thrillers had, perhaps, been unjustly singled out as lesser than so-called "literary" books, but left thinking the thriller genre's bad reputation is likely deserved.
Outside, under the signing tent as he autographed my three Reacher books, I thanked him for writing about tall people. He laughed and said, "Yes, we're a much maligned minority. Not able to find clothes that fit, always having to bend down to look in mirrors." Seemed like a nice guy. And while some writers (often the "literary" ones) have stipulations at signing events that they will only sign multiple books if the new hardcover book is included among them (Ford), or will only sign one book and it has to be the new book (John Irving), Child told the crowd that he would sign everyone's books until there were no more books to sign.
All in all, not a bad year for the Decatur Book Festival. I hope the 2010 Decatur Book Festival occurs under far better economic circumstances.