A Glut of Capital Area Book Festivals

09/23/2011 05:44 pm ET | Updated Nov 23, 2011
  • Alma Katsu Novelist, former senior intelligence analyst

Don't get me wrong: as a writer and reader, I'm not complaining. This area is blessed with multiple book festivals in both the spring and fall. But three major book festivals in the span of one week? That's what happens this weekend in the national capital area with the National Book Festival (September 23-25), George Mason University's Fall for the Book (September 18-23) and the Baltimore Book Festival (September 23-25).

It's really too bad that all three festivals share the same time frame, because it forces people to choose among them. Let's face it, only a total bibliophile or someone who works in the business is going to make the effort to attend more than one.

(And because I'm from D.C. and a former bureaucrat, I'm going to complain, like I have a right to, about this seeming failure of coordination between the three festivals, because that's what we do in D.C. We complain. Hey, I stopped owning a German performance car a few years ago and that means I'm on probation as an insufferable local; I have to keep up my standing any way I can.)

My favorite of the three is GMU's Fall for the Book, and it's not just because I'm a presenter this year (let's hear it for shameless self-promotion.) I've been attending Fall for the Book every year since I moved to Virginia because it's comprehensive (it's a week long, for pete's sake), generous to local authors, and brings in both popular authors and interesting, talented writers who deserve bigger followings. In other words, it's both tasteful and thoughtful.

Coming in second is the Baltimore Book Festival, an hour up the road in the Mt. Vernon Place area of Baltimore. It's quirky, and tends to cater to local tastes, so you see fewer of the big brand name authors stumping here and there's room for local organizations to set up booths (this is where I hooked up with the organizers of Balticon, the annual science fiction and fantasy convention held every Memorial Day weekend.) It's quintessential Baltimore: blue collar, unpretentious, doggedly local and sometimes a bit uneven.

My last choice would be the National Book Festival, for all the reasons that make it the most popular event of the weekend. It's the most homogenized of the three, a white-bread sandwich of inoffensiveness but lacking in color all the same. It draws the biggest authors with recent releases -- and authors in this case extends to actors, models and celebrities -- and has the least local talent. All right, yes, it is the National Book Fest, but would it kill you to have more area authors? We wouldn't have to have our own hour under the tents; maybe a panel discussion or special tent over by the food vendors where people could drop by to learn about new authors who actually need the exposure.

Or better yet, move the darned thing to October.

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