Books. Sure, you’ve heard of them, but when’s the last time you actually read one?
In our increasingly digital world, books are struggling to retain their cultural relevancy — but for at least one day this year, they’ll be more important than Twitter, Facebook, and Adult Friend Finder combined (well, maybe not Adult Friend Finder, but you get the idea).
This Sunday’s fourth annual Brooklyn Book Festival will honor the second best things printed on paper, as more than 200 literary luminaries will gather at Borough Hall to hawk their wares and discuss their trade.
And it couldn’t come at a more crucial moment, according to Johnny Temple, publisher of Akashic Books,
“Books have such a hard time keeping up with more popular cultural forms — a lot of people are complaining about how no one is reading and buying books anymore,” said Temple, who is also chair of the Brooklyn Literary Council.
“The best way to [get people to read books] is to bring books to the public as opposed to expecting the public to come to books,” he added. “We need to be proactive about it.”
And that’s just what the festival intends to do, with appearances by big book-world names like Haitian novelist Edwidge Danticat (“The Farming of Bones”), who will be honored with a “Best of Brooklyn” award; as well as New England wordsmith Russell Banks (“Affliction”), hipster scribe Tao Lin (“Shoplifting from American Apparel”), and Park Slope stalwart Paul Auster (“The Brooklyn Follies”), who will all read from their latest works.
In order to attract lovers of all kinds of books, the printed word party will feature specialized events for niche genres.
Fans of comics and graphic novels might enjoy a panel on the role of their art overseas with Guy Delisle (“The Burma Chronicles”), Peter Kuper (“Diario de Oaxaca: A Sketchbook Journal of Two Years in Mexico”) and Sarah Glidden (“How To Understand Israel In 60 Days Or Less”) or a conversation titled “Hip Hop Loves Anime,” while romance fans might enjoy a discussion about steamy stories featuring Rochelle Alers (“Man of Fantasy”), Anna DePalo (“The Billionaire in Penthouse B”) and Donna Hill (“Wicked Ways”).
Meanwhile, kids writers including Judi Barrett (“Pickles to Pittsburgh”) and Mo Willems (“Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale”) will read, and young adult authors including Kate DiCamillo (“The Tale of Despereaux”; “Because of Winn-Dixie”) and M.T. Anderson (“The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing”) will share their works.
The book festival will also play host to at least two newsworthy revelations: the announcement of the members of a “screening committee” that will help Borough President Markowitz choose a successor for poet laureate Ken Siegelman, and the selection of a winner in St. Francis College’s $50,000 writing contest honoring fourth time scribes, one of whom might be Cobble Hill auteur Arthur Phillips.
As books continue to cede their popularity to newer media forms like the Internet version of The Brooklyn Paper, Markowitz’s Book Festival will attempt to merge literary culture and pop culture with a discussion featuring rapper Lupe Fiasco and Sonic Youth rocker Thurston Moore.
Writers will even discuss the technological advances that are bringing about biggest revolution to the book world since Gutenberg invented the printing press in a lecture titled “Literature in a Digital Age.”
Some traditionalists, like Markowitz, say that the book will always beat the computer screen.
“Nothing to me will ever replace the book, the smell of a book, the feel of a book, the excitement of turning pages of a book,” proclaimed Markowitz, who told The Brooklyn Paper he was in the midst of reading “The Third Reich at War” by Richard J. Evans.
“I don’t think a computer, a Kindle, or a Sony reader will ever replace the excitement of having a book in one’s hand,” he said.
But publishers, including Temple, acknowledge that the printed word is in quite a predicament — though that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
“It’s silly to lament the changes in culture and the way people will consume their culture,” he said. “Culture is constantly evolving, and that’s a good thing. For those like myself, who run businesses based on printed books, there are some major challenges, but these are challenges that we have to embrace.”
No matter what happens to books as a medium, the stories that fill them won’t go away, added Temple.
“People are not going to stop telling stories — and people are not going to stop buying stories,” he said.
Of course, on Sunday, they’re all free.
Brooklyn Book Festival at Borough Hall Plaza (209 Joralemon St. between Court and Adams streets in Downtown), Sept. 13; 10 am to 6 pm. For schedule and a full list of authors and events, visit www.brooklynbookfestival.org.