Exploring the First Bay Area Book Festival
I’ve been having some awesome bookish adventures lately. One of the reasons I love my annual reading challenge is that it keeps me much more plugged in to what people are writing and reading these days. As a result, I feel like I’m much more informed about local (and not so local) bookish events and able to enjoy them more when I go. One of my favorite recent adventures was at the first ever Bay Area Book Festival, a fantastic FREE event held in downtown Berkeley last weekend.
More than 300 authors participated in around 100 sessions, and the center of the city was hopping with an estimated 125 exhibitors, from independent bookstores to literary magazines, nonprofits, and writing programs, plus food trucks, inflatable art, and a massive “temple” of free books. The events were scattered around downtown, with several streets closed off to car traffic.
The program looked pretty awesome, but I had a pretty busy schedule, so I only attended one event called “Up Close with Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman.” Chabon and Waldman are both writers who happen to be married to one another and live in Berkeley. The conversation was one of the most entertaining that I’ve seen in this kind of festival context, ranging from their coping strategies for being married to someone in the same profession to their adventures writing TV pilots.
I was most familiar with Chabon’s work, having recently read Telegraph Avenue, which is basically set in the part of Berkeley/Oakland where I currently live. You may also know him from other works such as Wonder Boys, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, or The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Or perhaps you saw him on an episode of The Simpsons, where he got into a pretty amusing altercation with Jonathan Franzen.
(For fellow fans of The Simpsons, I had a lot of trouble not shouting, “Chaaabooooon!” from the back of the room at various points.) Anyway, I have to say that I was also very impressed and intrigued by Waldman, and I picked up a copy of Love & Treasure to read. They both did signings afterwards, and I got her to sign my copy of that and Chabon to sign my copy of Telegraph Avenue. I also took a selfie with Chabon, who apparently only takes photos with people if they are selfies.
Where’s a selfie stick when you need one, right? Anyway, after the event, I took some time to wander around and look at some of the other sights. Without a doubt, the centerpiece of the festival was the Lacuna, a public art installation in the form of 50,000 books free for attendees to take home with them. According to Berkeleyside, Brewster Kahle, director of the Internet Archive, offered the founder of the festival the books. His nonprofit’s mission is to create a free Internet library by scanning and archiving the world’s cultural artifacts, and people send in millions of physical books to be scanned, which results in a lot of duplicates. Kale offered the festival the books “on condition that they be given away to be read — that they be used as books.”
The result was an impressive structure built around the dormant fountain in MLH Jr. Civic Center Park. By the second day of the festival, many of the books had found new homes, but there were still plenty of people walking through the structure and looking through the remaining items.
The atmosphere around the structure was really lively and the concept behind this art installation seemed to be something that really brought the community together. There were a number of food trucks parked close by, so many people chose to sit in and around the Lacuna, eating or reading.
There were also a number of places specifically targeted toward kids. One of my favorite areas was this little group of inflatables in the park near the Lacuna.
I spent a long while wandering around the festival and looking at the kiosks run by local publishers and book sellers. I also picked up some cook tote bags and a Bay Area Book Festival mug, of course, because I can’t resist bookish swag. At the end of the day, my book haul included copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Buried Giant, C. Montgomery Burns’ Handbook of World Domination, No Plot? No Problem!, Love & Treasure, and The Brilliant Ideas Launch Pad.
All in all, this was a great event for readers in the Bay Area. I really hope that they’re able to make it happen again in the future–it would be amazing if this became an annual or semi-annual fixture in the Bay Area book world. I also went to the Berkeley Library Book Sale this past weekend and brought home all of these goodies for just $6.50:
Do you like bookish events? Have you attended any good ones recently? Tell me about it in the comments!
And for those of you who like hearing about my Japan adventures, I’m going back to Tokyo in a few weeks, so you should hopefully be hearing more about that soon! In the meantime, don’t forget to follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook!