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Monday, 9 July 2012

Book Festivals, good bad or indifferent?

I’ve been browsing through the latest events list for the Edinburgh Book festival again this year, and as usual I’ll probably try to attend something. I’ve generally turned up for at least a passing look at what’s happening most years for longer than I care to remember. Although I’ve seen some interesting things during that time, my most abiding memory of events-past is being stuck at work and missing the Terry Pratchett talk, something I really would have liked to attend ever since picking up a brand new just-of-the-press hardback copy of ‘The Reaper Man’ way back in my college years.

But is that the thing. Are they just pandering to our misty-eyed remembrances? Or to the poke-it-with-a-stick interest we have in the lives of the famous or controversial figures that generally turn up to promote their autobiographies etc. Is there still real merit to Book Festivals in our modern digital age?
One thing I have noticed is that there seems to be a lot more emphasis on promoting new authors this time around, something that has admittedly been growing over the last few years. Surely that can only be a good thing. As normal the ‘recognisable names’ are there. Paddy Ashdown’s talk on “WHY THE WORLD WILL NEVER BE THE SAME AGAIN” seemed to sell out quickly (shouting capitals and all!) while the more ‘literary’ based events take a bit longer to sell. Yes, I know that’s just the way things are. But it does make me wonder who is attending these events nowadays, and why. Are they avid book readers, does it matter? Should these festivals be trying to pull in the off-the-street punters? I would say yes, they should, the more ‘diverse’ the merrier. But when you sit in the book festival beer-tent and look around you see a very different crowed to those attending the seemingly less hi-brow events.

I see people sitting in bars or on benches or on a bus with kindles now, but I don’t think the majority of these readers would ever consider browsing around the book festival. It’s a perception thing, but I also don’t think the look and attitude of many of the attendees help maters ether.

So what do you think? Is there a future for book festivals in general?
Are they still relevant to our modern reading habits?