Read and Gone

If San Francisco's such a great book town, how come we don't have a book festival?

One group Zacchino never talked to was Bound Together, the anarchists' collective that puts on the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair (at Kezar Pavilion on March 30). Perhaps such a conversation would have been instructive.

The Anarchist Bookfair keeps its costs low. It draws its 60 exhibitors from a national mix of bookstores, distributors, publishers, and activists -- many of them the same folks who exhibited at Litstock -- charging each a tiny exhibitor fee ($40 to $60, as opposed to $350 to $500 for the Book Festival). It houses the event in a low-cost venue. Finally, the festival doesn't pay or house its speakers, and it doesn't take out ads.

Fairer Days: Posters from early Book Festivals -- back 
when the event was still "absolutely free."
Posters courtesy of David Cole
Fairer Days: Posters from early Book Festivals -- back when the event was still "absolutely free."

The group also keeps its funding close to home. It hosts various benefits as well as a raffle with prizes donated by exhibitors to raise money. And it doesn't look for sponsors. Explains Ramsey Kanaan, a member of the collective, "Part of our success is that we're not beholden to huge financial burdens, but we're also not trying to do necessarily more extravagant things that could backfire." Like the early Book Festival, the Anarchist Bookfair is free.

Perhaps, as Litstock's Jack Boulware suggests, the whole concept of a big book festival is absurd. After all, enjoying a book is "solitary, internal, personal," while your average fair is a "screaming bazaar" of people, "alien to the concept of reading." Even so, it seems ironic that three groups that longed to stay independent -- the NCIBA, the Litstock planners, and the Book Council -- may be folded into a festival sponsored by a major conglomerate and funded by chains. In one telling encounter, the Book Council's Brenda Knight met the Chronicle's book columnist, David Kipen, at a party. She asked him, "What was your role in the San Francisco Chroniclesaving the Book Festival?" His response, according to Knight: "Don't you mean, the San Francisco Chroniclestealing the Book Festival?"

Knight is still hopeful, but her comments belie a feistiness that may be incompatible with cooperation, and the Book Council remains in disarray; it has no Web site, no upcoming meetings, and few in the publishing industry know it still exists. Meanwhile, Narda Zacchino continues to talk about a SoCal-style festival. "San Francisco is such a wonderfully literate community," she says, "I really think if we did that same kind of event as L.A., it'd be even more successful." You'd think that six months of frantic negotiating -- topped with the personal and professional hell of canceling the proposed Chroniclebook fair -- would have taught her the absurdity of that remark. But hell is paved with good intentions.

« Previous Page
My Voice Nation Help
©2014 SF Weekly, LP, All rights reserved.