I was excited to see Boston in the fall — only Boston this fall felt like winter anywhere else: the high 46 degrees, the sky grey and sunless, the people moving quicker than usual to escape the inhospitable outdoors. The construction outside of the Boston Public Library seemed to persist in slow motion against the fast cars and hurrying people in the foreground. An orange banner hung on the corner of the library, rippling in the wind: “Boston Book Festival. Saturday, October 24th. 200 authors. Free admission.”
Every fall, Boston turns Copley Square into a haven for readers and writers. Booths of publishers, literary magazines, bookstores and other vendors line the sidewalks. Book characters come to life with the help of elaborate costumes and willing human participants. Various venues all over the city host free literary events. This year’s events ranged from a keynote for children by Louis Sachar, author of Newbery Medal-winning “Holes,” to an interview with singer and now memoirist Amanda Palmer, hosted by her husband, author Neil Gaiman.
This was the festival’s seventh year running and my first year attending.
I heard many authors speak on a variety of interesting topics. Authors Linda Wertheimer and Katherine Stewart discussed the role of religion in schools, arguing that a critical approach to teaching faith results in an increase of religious tolerance in students.
Novelist and professor Heidi Julavits read a passage from The Folded Clock, her diary-style memoir about a summer outing in Maine and what Julavits calls “island behavior.”
“Islands make people competitive,” she read, “maybe because the subconscious fear of shipwreck and survival permeates even the most casual outing.” (I cannot help but consider this as a possible theory behind the aggressiveness of Long Island drivers.)
Nina MacLaughlin, journalist turned carpenter, read from her memoir Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter, in which she describes her life-changing career change and debunks Gabriel García Márquez’s claim of literature being just like carpentry. “Marquez obviously never worked with wood,” she said.
I find a sense of relief in a city collectively celebrating literature. It shows me that maybe the articles foretelling the “death of the book” in the digital age are wrong. Maybe bookmarks and library cards won’t fall away into oblivion like payphones and floppy disks did. Maybe people walking the city streets will continue to hurry into libraries and bookstores, escaping from the unrelenting cold.