I had been informed that Decatur’s annual Book Festival is a big deal. I read on its website that it is the largest independent book festival in the entire nation. But none of this prepared me, as I arrived at the event, for the number of cars parked in every conceivable spot for several blocks in each direction.
On the fringes of the festival sit long tables covered with used books. Signs advertise bargains in big, hand-printed letters. Farther away stand the tents that make up most of the festival, clustered along sidewalks and blocking off streets.
In the years since the Book Festival’s 2006 launch, it has grown into one of the most important events of its kind. Each Labor Day weekend, the festival brings more than 300 authors to Decatur for readings, talks and panel discussions. These guests include Pulitzer Prize winners and best-selling authors of fiction.
The festival also provides an opportunity for used book-sellers to hawk their wares. Each attraction tries to draw in as many visitors as possible, usually through large signs that grab the eye. “Any 3 Books for $10,” reads one; “Smart Women Read,” announces another.
Of course, there is more to the festival than an array of book vendors. Many booths represent small publishers or even self-publishing businesses. Ahmad Meradji, the CEO of BookLogix, a self-publishing company based in Alpharetta, Ga., took a moment to speak about the festival.
“We support self publishing, and the Book Festival gives us an opportunity to do this,” Meradji said.
His booth at the festival features a number of his clients, who sit along a table in the shade and answer the questions of curious passersby.
In a nearby tent, “Write Here, Write Now,” an internet radio show, broadcasts live with a guest author. Employees of “Write Choice,” which supplies writing coaches for aspiring authors, also hand out flyers and business cards.
Strands of ukulele music drift through the shade in the center of the festival as children hone their hula-hooping abilities on a wide grass area. People in pirate costumes mix with excited visitors, and the smell of fresh carnival food is present everywhere.
In the center towers a tremendous inflatable dinosaur, mouth open in a roar. The dinosaur is an annual fixture of the festival, and one of the most memorable sights. Many visitors pause in front of it to have their pictures taken.
A tent on the edge of the festival is marked with Emory University’s familiar logo. In this “Emory Libraries” area, books by Emory professors are sold alongside histories of the University itself.
One of the most impressive attractions at the festival is a portable storage unit decorated with wallpaper depicting bookshelves. Attendants hand out markers and urge festival-goers to write the title of their favorite novel on the blank book spines.
The titles scribbled on the walls vary greatly. They range from Diary of a Wimpy Kid
to David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest
, from The Giving Tree
to Great Expectations
. All kinds of novels are represented, from all genres and eras.
I could hardly leave the biggest book festival in America without picking up a book or two, so I stopped by one of the nicer-looking tents. I left with two new novels to explore and the satisfaction of having finally experienced the book festival I heard so much about.
— Contact Justin Groot.