In Case You Missed It: AJC Decatur Book Festival 2015

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Bookzilla and the parade pass by my booth at Decatur Book Fest 2015.

The first time I attended the Decatur Book Festival in Decatur, Georgia, was on Labor Day weekend in 2010. At the time, I was an indie author of about nine months and I had a single publication to my name, a novel I’d dreamed up as a 17-year-old and rewritten as a sophomore in college, A Pirate’s Charm. By September 2010, I hadn’t much experience as a marketer or salesperson–these are two of many, many roles you’re obligated to fill if your independent title is going to reach any bookshelf other than your own. I’d done a few signings in my hometown and in the town I went to college, and felt pretty good about myself, but local celebrity is not that hard to achieve in small places. The first time I exhibited at Decatur, I realized that I shared a dream with quite a few other writers–hundreds more, just at that festival–and for the first time I felt truly connected to the larger reading and writing world.

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Agnes Scott College (above) and the Art Institute of Atlanta-Decatur are a short walk away.

This isn’t to say that Decatur, Georgia is a giant. It’s not, and mostly because it lives in the shadow of nearby Atlanta, one of the busiest and largest hubs of business, culture, entertainment, and the arts in the Southeast. To put it in perspective, as of 2013, Decatur’s population was a little over 20,000 according to the city’s own estimate. It’s small, but it packs a lot of unique identity and personality. Additionally, the town boasts several higher learning institutions and a highly educated populace (currently, around 35.5% of residents hold Master’s degrees), so it’s as smart as it is charming.

Its town square, my favorite area, is where the Decatur Book Festival takes place every year, and is swiftly becoming the hotspot for foodies and other big-reach bloggers from Atlanta. Consequently, two notable Atlanta chefs made an appearance this year:

Hugh Acheson is the chef-owner of restaurants in Athens, Atlanta and Savannah, including the Atlanta showplace Empire State South. He is the author of “The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits.” He will team up with Steven Satterfield, executive chef and co-owner of Miller Union and author of “Root to Leaf: A Southern Chef Cooks Through the Seasons.” Satterfield’s book offers 174 vegetable recipes (for “omnivores”).
–Bo Emerson, AJC.com (August 28, 2015)

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Mac McGee Irish Pub (above) and Brick Store are two of my favorite places to eat.

Nothing complements culture and education like good food and good books. Perhaps this is why the Decatur Book Festival is one of the best literary events in the Southeast (and already claims to be the largest independent book festival in the United States).

The crowd of readers that pours into Decatur, Georgia every Labor Day weekend consistently outnumbers the population that lives there year-round (many times over). Scores of thousands flock to the festival, some coming to take a peek after attending DragonCon, which occurs every year at the same time. Children, teens, parents, grandparents, college students–every demographic is catered to, and diversity shines. This year, the event featured several world-class guests, including feminist writers Erica Jong and Roxane Gay, who participated in author panels.

The festival kicked off on Friday night with a sold-out Keynote event at Emory University’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts. Former U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey gave a recitation of “Meditation at Decatur Square,” a poem examining how, after personal tragedy, the city has been redeemed for her through the festival.
Decatur Metro (September 9, 2015)

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I was visited by the Decatur Book Fest haiku team.

In 2014, attendance capped at around 90,000 visitors (Decaturish.com). Attendance at this year’s event was as big as it’s ever been, and according to Executive Director and Co-Founder Daren Wang, the event is becoming “a significant part of the nationwide landscape” (Sawicki), and I believe it. I was there. The Decatur Book Festival sees the kind of community involvement, attendance, culture, literature, and social engagement that any great festival should strive for. It’s why I keep coming back, it’s why readers keep coming back, and it’s why, for at least one weekend every year, Decatur is the biggest little town in Georgia.

Ref.

Decatur Metro. (2015, September 9). Decaturmetro.com – “Decatur Book Festival: ‘Easily Most Successful Festival’ Ever”

Emerson, Bo. (2015, August 28). Artsculture.blog.ajc.com – “AJC Decatur Book Fest highlights: get ready to book it”

Sawicki, Beth. (2015). 11Alive.com – “2015 AJC Decatur Book Festival-The Country’s Largest Independent Book Festival Returns With World-Class Authors and All-New Programming”

Whisenhunt, Dan. (2014, September 4). Decaturish.com – “Book Festival reports record attendance”

Images

Agnes Scott College – www.college-locator.com

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SocialBook: The Coolest Reading Tool You’ve Never Heard Of

It’s arguable that “social reading” has always been around. People read, and some talk about what they read, but social reading has never been envisioned in as productive, accessible, and pervasive a medium than the digital. Personal devices such as the Kindle and the NOOK exist for the purpose of reading electronic texts and even sharing them, but there is still no strong, digital community that promotes social reading in the most progressive and innovative sense.

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We often imagine the traditional reader as “tuned out”, “curled up”, or shut away in a study (Image from DailyGenius).

According to Bob Stein, founder of The Voyager Company and The Criterion Collection, not even Apple iBooks has really changed the book as we know it. iBooks and its competitors, namely Kindle and NOOK, are designed to facilitate the consumption of books and the sale of books in the quickly-evolving mobile and digitally driven world, but have done little to meaningfully transform the book, or the act of reading. E-books and other digital publications remain the same islands of text that print publications have always been. Where is the Social Media Age bridge between readers, writers, editors, publishers, and scholars? Where is the Facebook of fiction, the Pinterest of poetry?

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SocialBook’s landing page is simple but intriguing.

Stein and his colleagues are attempting to provide an answer in the form of a prototype social reading community by the name of SocialBook. Like Apple iBooks’s author app, or Kindle Direct Publishing, SocialBook allows the editor(s) and/or author(s) of a text to upload the work to a social network of readers, who may engage with the text on a digital platform. However, unlike current trending platforms, SocialBook allows readers to contribute their marginalia to an ever-expanding discussion that encompasses the text, and is accessible by all readers of that text. Users may open tabs, located along the sides of the text, and view reader commentary as well as author, editor and publisher commentary. They can also contribute to an ever-growing, public conversation about the books they read. Stein talks more about social reading here, on the Institute for the Future of the Book’s “If:Book” blog, and in this video from 2011:

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The Commons displays an assortment of currently available titles.

The possibilities of such a platform are great, and many have yet to be tested at length in a real market. All of SocialBook’s currently uploaded titles are also public domain, and therefore can be accessed by anyone. However, Stein explained, when he spoke at a digital forum at the University of Florida in 2012, in the future, the community will likely accommodate copyright protected material. Like any DRM-protected e-book, any works not in the public domain will have to be purchased. Upon purchasing access to a copyright protected book, the reader will unlock the socially engaging features SocialBook already offers for works in the public domain.

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The social reader is not only engaged with a book but tuned in to the greater public discourse surrounding the text (Image from blog.social2b.com).

Going forward, this technology raises many questions and concerns regarding our definitions of “publisher”, “editor”, and “author”. It is unknown for now but reasonable to guess that this process may diminish the need for the traditional publisher as we know it (or perhaps change the role of the publisher) and will allow editors and authors greater publishing freedoms. For the first time as well, it will be feasible for authors and editors to have round-the-clock, open-ended, and public dialogues with readers, critics, and scholars.

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Users talking about Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein”.

With the “Groups” feature, there is incredible potential for SocialBook within classrooms. With a platform like SocialBook, students can not only experience textbook learning as a fully socialized practice, they can also interact with the text by contributing public thoughts and notes to the margins. Their peers–in the classroom, at home, or on the go–can access and respond to those posts, add their own thoughts to the conversation, answer instructor-prompted questions, and pose questions of their own to other readers. Teachers and professors can guide or moderate frequently updated discussions, and even connect to other classroom group discussions anywhere in the world. Ten…one hundred…one thousand or more people–there’s no limit–can read the same copy of the same book at the same time, building an engaging, public, social, shareable, “super conversation” that’s organically curated for readers by readers.

When Bob Stein spoke at a digital forum at UF, he asked the attendees to imagine if Romeo and Juliet, the theory of relativity, or any other great work had originally been published on SocialBook. What if everyone had access to Shakespeare’s or Einstein’s personal annotations? What if great thinkers could speak to us about their ideas across time, and what if we, the readers, could keep the conversation going?

Images & Related Articles

Girl reading a book: DailyGenius – “10 Questions You Should Ask Yourself While Reading”

Social reading illustration: Blog.Social2b.com – “Social Reading and the Future of Publishing”