This weekend, for the first time in years, the Twin Cities Book Festival did not have to compete with a sunny and beguiling fall day. Saturday’s snowfall made staying indoors to meet authors and browse books an easy choice for hundreds of local bookworms. A robust lineup of star authors didn’t hurt, either. The volunteer ushers declared Lorrie Moore the rock star of the day; the author read to about 400 from “A Gate at the Stairs,” her first novel in 15 years, although she begged off a little early due to illness picked up on an extended book tour.
Other big names included Robert Olen Baker (“Hell”), Nicholson Baker (“The Anthologist”), David Alen Sibley (“Sibley Guide to Trees”), Diane Ackerman (“Dawn Light”) and sound poet Christian Bök. Gourmet magazine editor Ruth Reichl cancelled — something to do with her magazine getting shut down last week, along with several other Conde Nast titles. We heard dispiriting things from the book world as well, including the sacking of longtime Twin Cities bookseller David Unowsky (more on him later). With that in mind, the whole event had a tinge of the spirit of the indomitable.
As I browsed the exhibit tables, I couldn’t help but wondering, as I passed one tiny publisher after another: How are these people staying in business? There’s always a brisk business in murder, so the Sisters in Crime booth looked busy, as did the tables for the Loft and various MFA programs; after all, people go back to school in a bum economy. But my heart ached for the little independent booksellers selling used books here; the Internet, with its penny used books, is killing them (although I was grateful to pay a buck each for a stack of goodies from the Rain Taxi book sale; thanks for putting this shindig on every year, guys).
Bravest of all souls, the self-published authors camped behind stacks of books, yearning for buyers, or conversation. Poor Scott Muskin: The guy had a publisher, until his publisher shut down. I should have bought a book from Iowa musician Ben Weaver, whose lyrics are so compelling he’s probably a terrific writer, too. Sid Korpi has a book about pet loss, which no one coming from the read-to-dog corner wanted to open, although likely it will do someone a world of good. Likewise, the lady with the book about pelvic organ prolapse. What kind of small talk did she make at her booth? I slunk past and didn’t find out.
Perhaps the day belonged to the outliers, then. Llewellyn, with its full lineup of spell books and witch’s calendars; the Animal Rights Coalition booth, with books for children and adults about not eating animals; and Xexoxial, a publisher of poetry so experimental that really, you had to be there. And in the face of all the claims that Kindle and the Internet are killing books, the all-online literary magazine MidwayJournal.com sat quietly, unplugged, unable to get a connection. But the people selling blank books with handmade wooden covers were doing pretty well. In the end, to have and to hold still wins.