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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Festival promises books are here to stay

    The question on the mind of every aspiring writer, publisher and reader today seems to be, “”What’s to become of the book?”” Since alternate media, first and foremost the Internet, entered the scene, people who love books have been wringing their hands, fearing the wdemise of literature.

    The answer to that fraught question, if we’re to believe the tens of thousands of participants and hundreds of writers, artists and publishers at the Tucson Festival of Books, is that books aren’t going anywhere. In fact, they’re only going to get better.

    When asked what devices like Amazon’s Kindle and Barnes & Noble’s Nook mean for printed books, Grace Lin, a children’s book writer and illustrator, had a decidedly cheerful prediction.

    She said she thinks physical books will adapt to offer more than their e-reader counterparts, incorporating aspects a screen can’t capture. She added that physical books will have to become “”art objects”” to remain relevant. All this means is that writers will have to step up their creative game, something the best among them will have no trouble accomplishing. And although the Tucson Festival of Books featured an E-Reader Experience tent this year, readers seemed intrigued by the devices as novelties rather than necessary or even worthwhile replacements for the centerpieces of the festival: the books. Passionate, dedicated readers, of whom there are still many, seem inclined to stay true to print.

    And even if e-readers do take over, many authors hope that won’t be such a bad thing. At one panel, a member of the audience told presenting author Jess Walter that she had just downloaded all his novels onto her device, and was looking forward to reading them. Would that same woman have been as likely to buy all six of his physical books at the same time? I doubt it. Lin said she hoped that access to e-books would actually make consumers buy more books, a possibility that seems likely. I wouldn’t make half the purchases I make online — whether through retailers like Amazon and iTunes or programs like Groupon and LivingSocial — in a physical store. It’s just so much easier to hit “”Buy,”” and so much more tempting. Yes, the profit model for authors selling their e-books may need tweaking, but that doesn’t mean the book is dead. It’s just, like everything else, evolving.

    In a nutshell, the Tucson Festival of Books taught me not to be so frightfully worked up about the death of the book. It’s not imminent, plain and simple. While panels about other old-school print media like magazines and newspapers took a decidedly dire, and sometimes rather nasty, tone, presenters and audience members alike were pretty uniformly psyched about books. Several of the highest-profile panels were full to capacity, with security personnel actually having to ask those sitting in the aisles to leave. And the authors whose talks filled up massive lecture halls weren’t just writing what might be considered “”trashy,”” commercial books. They were people like Ishmael Beah, a former child soldier from Sierra Leone whose memoir “”A Long Way Gone”” has received numerous awards and incredible critical and popular acclaim. Beah’s talk was funny, enlightening and extremely enjoyable, but it certainly wasn’t light. He talked candidly about his experiences in Sierra Leone and beyond, and about the importance of language and storytelling techniques in recounting difficult, harrowing tales. Talks like Beah’s and others’ proved that people are still both creating and consuming serious, evocative, important literature.

    And sure, maybe the tens of thousands (attendance may even have hit 100,000) of people who spent time at the Festival of Books don’t speak for everyone in their commitment to support literature, whatever form it takes. But for a scrappy desert town, Tucson sure has climbed the ranks of successful book festivals, a triumph for the books and authors themselves as much as for the festival’s organizers. People are still reading, and they’re not going to stop.

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