by Pete Mazzaccaro
So there was a book festival in town last weekend.
The 5th Annual Chestnut Hill book Festival was a slightly more subdued event than it has been in the past, with a single day of events instead of the three-day affair it was in the beginning. The festival still drew some impressive guests, however, including Inquirer writer Michael Klein, Daily News columnist John Baer and former Daily news writer Al Hunter Jr.
There was much more. Temple professor and award-winning novelist Don Lee read from his novel “The Collective.” Children’s Author Daniel Kaye read from his book “Never Underestimate a Hermit Crab.” There were readings by historian and photographer Joseph Minardi, memoirist Beth Kephart and poet James Hoch. Philadelphia Stories led several workshops for both adults and children, and Chestnut Hill Improv returned for a repeat performance in the Bombay Room of the Chestnut Hill Hotel.
There was quite literally something for every interest. And it drew a healthy crowd of neighborhood bibliophiles who listened to authors, asked questions and participated in workshops. There were 14 events spread out over nearly eight hours.
The event was put together by a very small group of local volunteers: Chestnut Grill owner Greg Welsh, Chestnut Hill Business Association Deputy Director Kate O’Neill, local author Hugh Gilmore, Musehouse owner and writer Kathy Bonanno and neighborhood book festival supporters Marie Lachat and Bob Rossman.
A book festival in itself is a fairly brave undertaking by any measure. There is no apparent shortage of people writing books, and the path to publishing and promoting those books has never been easier. Self-publishing options are capable of producing good-looking volumes, and Amazon makes bringing a book to market almost a point-and-click process.
With that, though, comes the sense from the reading public that there is an awful lot of “noise” out there. With more and more books available from nearly anyone with the time and inclination to print them, how does one choose what to read?
Also, in an age where conventional wisdom suggests that attention spans are being drained by the ever louder and greater noise of the World Wide Web, the concept of sitting down and typing out a manuscript seems as antiquated today as delivering milk door-to-door.
I had the chance to ask John Baer and Al Hunter about the impact of Internet noise on their own writing, both in their experience as journalists and as writers of book-length works of non-fiction.
Neither writer was terribly optimistic about the evaporation of the professional journalist and the resulting decline of informed and expert writing on important matters of government, science and more. Baer said that all we would have left is news about sex and celebrities. In the drive to produce more page views, the carefully considered work of writing doesn’t stand a chance against the latest paparazzi photos.
It’s all pretty depressing in that light.
But despite frequent death predictions, the book is not nearly dead yet. Authors are writing great stories, and people are buying them. And many are buying them electronically, which is just as good as if they bought them in print.
Dedicating a day to books is more proof of that concept. There are still great writers and audiences willing to hear what they have to say.