Forget the kid in the candy store. Any Toronto book lover will tell you that the Word on the Street book festival is much more exciting than that. And infinitely more tasty.
This annual festival, held recently again not just at Queen’s Park in Toronto but in several major cities across Canada, might start with books, but it then extends well beyond them. In fact, this event might be better described as a readers’ and writers’ festival, instead of narrowing it down only to books. Where else can you find one speakers’ tent devoted to e-readers and other digital ways of reading, another tent for magazine publishing, another for readings by the authors of recent best-selling books, and another whole tent completely devoted to cookbooks?
In one tent, people gathered to hear history authors read from and talk about both their writing process and the actual historical events they wrote about. In another, hopeful writers learned some of the manuscript submission process from publishers and agents. Some even had pages of their work critiqued on the spot by published writers and writing professors.
Beyond all the speakers’ tents, the streets on either side of the park were lined with information booths, populated by representatives from publishers and writers’ clubs, bookstores and magazines, and published authors promoting their books. Whatever aspect of writing or reading you were interested in, you could find it there.
I’ve attended several of these September festivals, usually looking at things from an author’s point of view. It’s been interesting to see the digital world gradually infiltrate and begin augmenting the physical. Three or four years ago, the farthest it went was the panel discussions about the great things that could be done by blogging as either a pastime or an occupation. This year, the panel about e-readers was conducted twice. And both agents and published authors talked at great length about how to use social media like Facebook and Twitter to promote your writing and build a fan base, even before you submit your manuscript anywhere.
Yet judging by the interests of the crowds and the brisk business being done at the booths of the bookstores, the physical paper book is no less alive and vigorous, even if digital books are also becoming popular. And despite complaints by many social analysts that the skill of solid reading is being used less and less in society, that doesn’t appear to be true in Toronto. You may get some clues from hearing about the frequent author readings throughout the city each year, not to mention the International Festival of Authors held each October.
But the best evidence you’ll get, of how Torontonians love their books, is to visit the Word on the Street festival in the autumn. And slowly work your way through the crowds and the immense feast of reading and writing laid out before you.