From what I saw and experienced on Saturday at the Washington Convention Center, books and reading are alive and well, at least in the DC area.
The Library of Congress’ National Book Festival, first started in 2001 and held on the Mall until this year, moved inside, and all indications are that it was a terrific move.
Last year the Festival had 200,000 visitors over a two day period. This year, the Festival was held for one day, from 10 am – 10 pm. No announcement has yet been made about the attendance, but when I arrived at 9:30, the Convention Center was mobbed with kids and adults of all ages. And none of the activities had even begun.
I attended three separate 45 minute author sessions (E.L. Doctorow, Ishamel Beah and Claire Messud). One was done as an interview, the other two as author talks. For each of these three sessions, the Ballroom was filled (perhaps 1,000 people), and those that did not arrive early had to stand in the back. Each of these three sessions was terrific.
If you multiply what happened in the those three sessions by 100 (there were actually more than 100 authors present throughout the 12-hour Festival), then you begin to get an idea of the success of the Festival.
There were 20 separate author signing tables set up for those who wanted to get their books autographed. And many of those had long lines. You could bring your own book or buy books on site for signing.
At the Politics & Proses bookstore on the second floor, there were 16 cash register stations that were constantly busy throughout the day, with fast moving lines of book buyers, usually holding at least several books for purchase.
The children’s sessions and activities were mobbed too, with well known authors reading from their books.
The 50 state pavilions were also crowded as Festival goers went to see what authors were being featured by the various states.
I had to leave in the early afternoon but could easily have feasted on the offerings until closing at 10 pm. There were panels in the evening, and while I don’t know how well attended they were, I would have liked to have been there for at least one of them — Great Books to Great Movies. Paul Auster, E.L. Doctorow, Alice McDermott and Elizabeth See were on that panel, moderated by Ann Hornaday, Washington Post film critic.
And those were just the parts of the Festival that caught my attention. There was so much more happening and so many competing offerings that next year I will plan to attend for the entire day. (See these two Post articles, National Book Festival Lures Hugh Crowds and Even Indoors, Book Lovers Flood to National Book Festival for more coverage of Saturday’s events.)
I will mark my calendar for next year’s Festival as soon as a date is announced.
And unlike this year, I will give MillersTime readers plenty of advanced notice of the event.
PS – All the sessions were taped and will be available on the Library of Congress’ website. When that happens, I’ll post notification of it and how you can access it.