Last Saturday, I attended the L.A. Times Festival of Books. It was my second year going, and my first volunteering. Two friends and I manned an info booth for the first shift of the morning. We were given mustard yellow volunteer shirts, a map, and nothing else. It took a while to get the hang of things, and we gave a lot of bad directions at first, but within an hour, the three of us had become Festival experts. We were giving out directions and drawing lines on maps like we were pros. We got a free lunch out of it, too.
Wandering around the festival after our shift, we had a great time checking out all of the booths for different publishers, writing groups, and bookstores. We even caught an appearance by R.L. Stein on the kid’s stage. He had the audience help him write a ghost story, which ended with one of his trademark horrifying twists. I was pleased to see so many little kids in attendance holding up their Goosebump books and waiting in an insanely long line to have him sign them. It made me feel a little more hopeful about the future of books and reading.
It seems like, aside from the Harry Potter and Twilight-esque fads, reading has really started to disappear as a childhood pastime, and even as an adulthood pastime. The fact that the Borders near my house, the one I’d been going to on a monthly basis for ten years, closed forever definitely doesn’t make me feel optimistic. I can’t imagine that everyone in the world has turned to Amazon.com. I think people just don’t read much anymore.
I have to admit that I don’t read as much as I should. Sometimes it’s so hard to tear myself away from watching reruns of The Office or 30 Rock. But I think that literature is so important as a means of connecting with the world, a way of getting a chance to experience new things and put yourself in other people’s shoes. That’s why I write, and why I care so much about helping other people write. TV and movies can do those things to an extent, but it’s just not the same. Nothing compares to an evening spent with a good book.
That’s why I’m so glad that the L.A. Times Festival of Books, along with all the other book festivals around the world, exist. If nothing else, there are a few days a year when thousands of people come together to celebrate reading. That gives me hope that books, no matter what form they come in, will never die.