Copley Square is overflowing with books. Vendors stack battered copies by the dozen. Publishers display new titles in strategic isolation. Kids read them and drop them and color them a little when no one’s looking. According to a series of massive orange banners, this is the Boston Book Festival.
Obviously, Boston likes to read—the place is packed. Festival-goers fall neatly into two categories. The first is a subset of curious tourists, whose confusion suggests that they may have happened upon the festival by chance. The second is a horde of eclectic book-lovers, easy to pick out of the crowd thanks to their tortoise-shell glasses, strange piercings, colored hair, and beanies. Some rush through the square, clutching armloads of books and scanning for more. Others linger.
The main event is an outdoor market housed in a huge expanse of white tents. Its basic units are its stalls, which boast a variety of services: There are publishers, booksell- ers, literary magazines and other arts publications. A live acoustic band plays in the background, adding to the general coffee-shop vibe.
At the Brattle Book Shop, people mill around wheeled shelves of books, perusing wrinkled pages and chatting amiably with shopkeepers. The books are gold-edged, some slightly frayed and stained with watermarks, others with broken bindings. A few are limited editions. We spy a “History of England” by Thomas Babington Macaulay, Volumes I through V. An adjacent shelf houses modern teen favorites like “Breaking Dawn” and “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” The placement of these books mirrors the festival itself: It is a mish-mash of activities and events, some designed to cultivate a love of learning for young children and others to appeal to an older, well-worn crowd.
We get caught up in it, too. We join kids scribbling in chalk—“Books are the best”—on the sidewalk and pasting stories—“Once upon a time, we all went to go look at the books”—to the side of the Mass Literacy tent. We join a couple paging through a beautiful hardcover written by a class of Boston seventh graders; we join a mob of kindergarteners as we fill out and bind our own diaries.
As we drift down the row and away from the Square’s main intersection, though, that energy changes. Storytelling free-for-alls morph into handouts of submission guidelines. Children’s books make way for semi-annual literary magazines. We spy typewriters and Times New Roman font and a workspace for “serious” writers.
A brief Expos flashback forces us to a stop outside the
Center for Narrative Practice. The tent is stark and mostly bare, its sole decoration a cryptic banner: “The future is in stories.” It is supervised by a man with striking pale eyes and several hoops in one ear. We ask him about the slogan. “I actually wrote that,” he says. “It’s funny—people usually assume it means ‘stories’ like ‘books.’ But I thought about it like a building. Our narrative grows, one story at a time. Up and up and up.” He pauses. “Also, it sounds cool.”
The adult section becomes slightly less grave. After some time spent wandering through the chilly outdoors, we seek refuge inside Old South Church and stumble into one of the Festival’s many keynote addresses: “Louis Sachar Talks with Roger Sutton.” We do a double take. The Louis Sachar? The author of “Holes,” of “Wayside School,” of books we’d read religiously in middle school? We’re late, but we swallow our pride and creep into the sanctuary as quietly as we can.
Sachar talks about creativity, about perseverance, about the evolution of his career. “When I was younger, I used to write a book every one or two years,” he says. “I find that harder as I get older.”
Emily claims the mic and tells him about her own lingering fear, that creativity is finite and that as we write, we exhaust it. He tells her that he wonders the same. “I have that feeling right now. I’m trying to figure out what to write next.” He’s confident, however. “The ideas will come.”