I went to the first Boston Book Festival in 2009, near the end of my first year in Boston. I wrote two quick posts about it, one of which I can never delete because it’s cited on Wikipedia. It was a great experience. Boston was still a new home to me and I didn’t have tons of friends or feel particularly connected to the city. Sitting in the Trinity Church’s Old South Sanctuary with hundreds of other people, listening to John Hodgman, I thought, “I could actually like living in Boston. Look at all these other people like me.”
I’ve attended most years since then, I think only missing the one when I was out of town. I love going to the sessions because I always love listening to writers talk, and I love the energy of all the fantastic Bostonian book-lovers bustling around Copley Square. This year, though, there was too much. I couldn’t really handle it.
I wanted to attend the Heroes and Antiheroes session but due to my own inability to get my butt moving on a Saturday, I didn’t get there until exactly when it started. The Sanctuary was already packed, and after a few minutes I decided I was an old person who didn’t want to stand for an hour and I went to check out other things. I ended up going to the Imagining the Past session, which also ended up overflowing its room but I got there about ten minutes early and was able to claim a seat.
Because I really wanted to go to YA: Other Worlds, I left Imagining the Past during the Q&A (sorry presenters), which enabled me to get across Copley to the library around 20 minutes before the YA session started. The room was already at capacity and a line was forming out the door of the room. 20 minutes early! So I hung around (talked to the guys at Soho Books who told me Peter Lovesey might be coming to Boston next year!) and then went half an hour early to the final session of the day that I really wanted to see, Graphic (Non)Fiction. That one seemed to have exactly the right amount of room for the people who wanted to attend, so that was fine, and the session was great.
Heroes and Villains was my fault—the big keynote events are always packed and it was my own damn fault I didn’t get there in time to find a spot. But everything else was also at or over capacity, and it’s a problem if you can’t get into a session because the sessions are the core of the BBF. Yes there are the vendor booths as well, but if you are on a budget and don’t want to spend tons of money they aren’t super useful. The music is fine but it’s not why I’m there. I’m also a homebody who doesn’t really love being in large outdoor crowds.
Now don’t get me wrong, I adore the Boston Book Festival and I am so glad that it exists and is thriving and is free. Love it! But it’s bursting at the seams. If I can’t get into the sessions I want, even arriving early, there’s not much point in my attending. I don’t know what they could do, exactly, to fix this problem—when you’re putting on a free event you don’t know how many people are going to come, and you take whatever space you can get. The BBF can’t control attendance. They can’t really add Sunday sessions because half their space is in various churches. So I don’t know what the fix is. On my end, for next year I might make a more targeted plan and pick one or two sessions to attend (arriving really early), and then bail.
I do love what it says about this city that both Boston Comic Con and the Boston Book Festival are so popular. Go Boston!