Reflections on the Festival of Books

This is coming a day or so later than planned but that’s not bad compared to what I’m going to confess. Despite my book addiction, this year was the first time I ever attended the South Dakota Festival of Books. So a couple days late is far better than years late.

I have no good reason for not attending before, particularly those here in Sioux Falls. This year I saw what I missed and my experience was enhanced because I volunteered for the festival. While all the attendees had an opportunity meet and greet a wide variety of authors, my role as a moderator gave me the opportunity to have personal discussions with Peter Orner, Hampton Sides and Deborah Amos, among others. Interestingly, though, given the swing in my reading toward fiction and foreign fiction, ever panel I moderated or attended, with the exception of the one below, dealt with nonfiction.

The panel discussion “Are Books Obsolete?: Reading in the Digital Age” with book critic Michael Dirda, Project Gutenberg’s Michael Hart, and author Marilyn Johnson was intriguing, particularly given the audience’s interest and involvement, but, as others have noted, perhaps a bit of posturing. (Dirda also expressed his disdain for blogs, which he once called “opportunities for shallow grandstanding and overblown ranting, all too often by kids hoping to be noticed for their sass and vulgarity.”)

That panel, though, revealed one problem the Festival has. Many who attend a session by an author or a panel want them to last longer. The “Are Books Obsolete?” discussion could have gone on for an afternoon or a day. Most of those attending the presentation of Deborah Amos would have stayed another hour, I’m sure. The Festival, though, is not responsible for the fact there’s only so much time in a day.

As far as I’m concerned, the festival was a success and I’m kicking myself for not having attended before. A tip of the hat not only to the South Dakota Humanities Council and the South Dakota Center for the Book for their hard work but also to all the authors, booksellers, volunteers and others who made it possible. It is now on my “do not miss” list.

Literary imagination is an aesthetic object offered by a writer to a lover of books.

Gaston Bachelard, Fragments of a Poetics of Fire

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