The Unbound Books Festival, to be held on Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23rd, in Columbia, Missouri, will be one of five book festivals I’ve attended in my life. I expect to enjoy this one more than any other because Columbia is home and because, with Alex George and many other local writers, I’m helping to bring it about.
In the ’80s I strolled through the Seattle Bumbershoot Festival, browsing, drinking coffee, hearing authors read, and watching locals hawk their self-published novels. Years later I was thrilled to see some of them publishing big-time (i.e., J.A. Jance, mystery writer).
In the ’90s I strolled through the San Francisco Book Festival, timidly hoping to interest publishers in my first (and unfinished) manuscript. Instead, I ended up having stimulating conversation and buying their books.
In the early 2000’s I spent an entire day on West 47th Street in New York City strolling through the polished wooden interior of a historic building, climbing up and down creaking stairs that curved from level to level. In that lovely setting I bought a terrible book about Humphrey Bogart, cynical and pornographic. Thus I learned that writers reflect themselves as well as the subjects of their books. Reader, beware.
But the most important book festival I ever attended was in the first grade at General Pershing School in Arkansas City, Kansas. One day a children’s textbook publisher lined our school hallway with long tables full of books. I was stunned to see so many in one place; to smell their fresh glue, paper, ink. I don’t think I strolled – probably hopped and skipped – among the tables. Forgetting the playground and my classmates, I was as happy as our neighbor’s family whose son was home from the war. If tables full of books can shape a life, then that book festival worked its magic from 1946 to the present day.