Who’s Got the Books?

New York versus DC
make that
Brooklyn vs. DC
The War of the Festivals

In 2010 and 2012, I made the trek down to DC for the National Book Festival. Seeing the personification of all those interesting and varied voices was the inspiration that made me invest in my official writing pen, Retro 51’s Dream Catcher. (I can think of no higher compliment than this!)

Traveling with an infant ruled it out this year, but we were able to handle the subway to Brooklyn to catch our first Brooklyn Book Festival.

The two events were as different as the places they grew out of: the National Book Festival was a TALK, the Brooklyn Book Festival was a conversation.

National Book Festival

When the National Book Festival was outdoors, tents that could contain between fifty to a hundred people were positioned evenly across the Mall. They provide plenty of maps and signage, but you don’t really need any help figuring out where everything is. One author spoke at a time and, afterwards, would retire to the autograph tent on the other side of the lawn. If you were unprepared for exactly how much you were going to need certain signatures, you would hit up the Barnes and Noble tent, the furthest out from the action, to purchase a copy of those people’s books.

By Borough Hall, visitors to the Brooklyn Book Festival were greeted by tables from several independent book stores and the Brooklyn Branch of the New York Public Library. You could pick through over twenty different booths to see what is for sale and by whom, finding some literary-themed gifts along the way, like the faux-sporty apparel from NovelT’s. The main stage overlooks the steps to the Court House- where people gathered both to listen and to hang. The other two outdoor stages seated possibly 50 people, and the other talks took place in buildings scattered around the immediate area: a church with some of the oldest stained glass windows in North America, a Court Room, a college classroom, etc. Most of the talks had three writers in conversation with a moderator and each other.

Despite sharing a festival category, the two events were extremely different in feel and scope. Both events were well organized, but the National Book Festival is the one that really felt organized. It’s a much larger event so probably has to be. The Brooklyn Book Festival was much more relaxed- it was much easier to pretend you were in on something with the people up on the stage. I’m not quite sure if this brought more focus to the books, versus the writers, or not. If, however, you were extremely keyed into on one author, you would likely come away still thirsty- and the procedure for autographs was much less clear.

I’d recommend them both, but if you walk into one with expectations from the other, you’d need some time to readjust.

So, any other attendees out there… Find my observations on the nail? Completely off base? Anyone else done both and come out with a clear preference?

In fact, since I couldn’t make it this year, I would love to hear about the effect moving the National Book Festival indoors had.


2 thoughts on “Who’s Got the Books?

  1. I’ve lived in the DC area for about 7 years and have yet to make it to the National Book Festival! I love to read and browse books, but something about the size of the Festival seems so daunting. I loved your descriptions of both and find the Brooklyn Book Festival rather enticing. Perhaps I’ll give the National Book Festival a go next year though!

    1. My friend who lives in DC loves the National Book Festival so invited us to go down… it is a huge event, but- at least when I went there- it was so well organized that it was pretty easy to navigate without much advance planning. When we didn’t have specific authors in mind, we just hung out in the tent for the genre we read the most of at the time…. Outdoor book events have been my favorite activity to bring our daughter to… we just sit on the side so we can get out of there quickly if she starts to fuss. The indoor ones are harder because every time so much as laughs, the sounds carry…

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