Large gatherings of writers are normally not fun. More than two in a room are enough to make one wish for an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting instead, where more of the stories are true and no one asks you for your agent's email address.
Yet, here I am, four hours into Portland's Wordstock festival, and seeing things quite differently.
It turns out that businesses and not-for-profits associated with the written word, right down to the selling of handmade bookmarks, are booming. (Plus, the poser population is tolerably small at the third edition of the city's annual books and authors extravaganza; the hot dogs are kosher and the admission is only $5.)Wordstock is also more than a writer's huddle--it raises money for Community of Writers, which pushes the teaching and practice of writing in schools.
Best surprise: The exhibition hall at the Oregon State Convention Center that is packed, absolutely packed, with alluring booths. There are reps from some fine Pacific Northwest publishers, including tiny imprints; offbeat booksellers from Cosmic Monkey Comics to the Title Wave Used Bookstore, which is stocked from Multnomah County Library System's shelves; academic programs and other related vendors. These goods are really good, and the wares are within a few yards of the stages where most of the 185 writers do their readings throughout the festival, rather than miles apart in the vast venue.
In the space of half an hour I bought two hot-off-the-press books from publishers in Washington and Oregon; snagged an "Every kid's a writer" t-shirt for a promising nine-year-old graphic novelist, and joined those cracking up over a staccato reading by Peter Sagal, NPR host and renaissance-man writer. As he noted while offering tidbits from his latest work, The Book of Vice: Naughty Things and How To Do Them. it isn't easy to talk about sex at 10:30 in the morning, yet he managed nicely, comparing the human emotions associated with watching a lap dance and running a half-marathon, which as it turns out are worth comparing.
It's early, but so far my odds-on favorite for Best Booth in Show is the Bookcrossing.com display. It's a read-and-release program for books–read Ã¢'ê¬Ëem, register Ã¢'ê¬Ëem, set them free with a sticker that says (in six languages) Ã¢'ê¬ËÃ¢'ê¬ËTraveling Book: I'm not lost–I'm on a journey!''
People who pick up and pass on the book are urged to register it on the Bookcrossing site, so that the curious among us might see where the book has been. (It's like the WheresGeorge site that tracks dollar bills, only interesting.)
Don't be bummed out that Dan Brown's books (The Da Vinci Code; Angels & Demons) are among the most registered with over 2,600 copies listed. Some 151 copies of works by Seattle-based big-brain writer Jonathan Raban are listed too, so things are indeed looking up.