Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Wisconsin Book Festival

The Wisconsin Book Festival kicks off today and runs through Sunday. To be honest, I do not look forward to it as much as I have in previous years. In fact, it took a great deal of poring over the schedule of events to find something I might actually be interested in attending. The reason? Despite what it says there to the left about encouraging Wisconsinites of all ages to "read widely," I feel that the festival has become more "literary" focused and, by extension, exclusive, the last couple of years. There is great emphasis on non-fiction, poetry and literary fiction, but anything else? Forget about it! Don't believe me? Look at the list of this year's presenters/events. How many names do YOU recognize? Me? Three, maybe four. Out of more than a hundred presenters.

Now, I have nothing against literary fiction or poetry. And while I generally don't care for non-fiction, I will pick up something on occasion if it interests me. Neither am I against being exposed to new writers or books. However, these genres aren't what most people read. It isn't what most people are interested in reading or hearing about. Yet the book fest organizers seem to actively seek the most obscure writers and books possible. I find it difficult to believe that a literate town like Madison, with the university and all its bookstores, has trouble attracting popular -- known -- authors. Of any genre. Yet romance, science-fiction, mystery, suspense -- they are routinely excluded from the book festival. In fact, I noted that Booked For Murder, a local store that caters to the mystery genre, is hosting their own, independent event this Saturday featuring a number of mystery writers. Sends a message to me.

In my opinion, if the book festival is to survive going forward, they need to stop being so heavily focused on literary fiction, stop thumbing their nose at popular fiction, and start being more inclusive. Will I attend any of the events being held around the Madison area this weekend? Maybe. There are one or two events on Saturday I am thinking of attending, but in general nothing has really called to me this year. By contrast, three years ago there were so many events I was interested in, that I attended three days, and had to decided between multiple events during some hours. That was not a problem last year, when I only attended three or four events, and definitely not a problem this year. Whether those one or two events I am thinking of this year are strong enough to woo me out into the frigid temps forecast for this weekend remains to be seen.


The Bumbles said...

Interesting. I trend towards more of they style the book festival promotes though. I enjoy NF and am always looking for good quality literature. But I like lots of pop-lit too. Diversity is a good thing so I wonder why they don't mix some of that in. Though I'm not really familiar with Wisconsin authors - are there a lot of them to choose from across all genres that people would be familiar with? I did think some of the themes they were addressing sounded interesting to learn more about - even if the authors didn't ring a bell. I just think it is cool that you have such a festival. I wonder if we have one of those here in Boston? You've inspired me to go looking!

Heather said...

Molly - I did find three events Saturday I am thinking of attending. Naturally two are opposite each other. Now I need to decide between one on Studs Terkel (who I have read) and August Derleth (who I have not). That's if I feel brave enough to battle the cold weather. Dropping below freezing here tonight!

Yes, there are Wisconsin authors across many genres. In fact, there are a couple mystery and romance writers in the Madison area, as well as those who write more literary fiction and nonfiction. A few names that come to mind: Jacquelyn Mitchard (fiction, YA, nonfic), Michael Perry (nonfic), Marshall Cook (mystery and nonfic), Ann Voss Peterson (rom)...I know there are many more.

It is nice that we have a book festival, I just wish it didn't seem like they were getting more exclusive and that the events weren't so spread out. While most venues are within the downtown area, some are not, and its still a PITA during inclement weather to have to dash between buildings. Worse for those with disabilities. I would honestly be surprised if they did not have something similar in the Boston area.