Tens of thousands of lovers of that 20th century artifact – the book – flocked downtown Berkeley the weekend of June 6-7 when publishers the likes of Dharma Press to Heyday, Berrett-Koehler and White Cloud lined in tents along ten traffic-blocked streets. Situated on the border of the inaugural Bay Area Book Festival in Civic Center Park was a walk-through dome built of 50,000 books, all free for the taking.
It turns out the books were from the Boston Public Library, which gave its excess stash to Brewster Kahle’s Internet Archive for scanning. I interviewed lovers of the artifact, including children getting their hands on comic book classics, with a new live streaming video app called Stringwire, created by a skunk works inside NBC Universal, a client of mine that is joining the crowdsourcing news frenzy with Periscope and Meerkat.
While I was over in the poetry section, I happened to look up and notice a volume by James Dickey, who taught at Reed College while I was there in the mid-sixties. This collection was from the same period, so I stopped shooting and grabbed the book. The poems are dark, like a terrifying one about the imagined thoughts and motions of a stewardess who actually fell thousands of feet to her death in Kansas when an airplane door sprang open. I could see why death was on his mind since one never saw the sun or sky in the pre-climate- change rainfall that shrouded Portland, Oregon.
Back to the book fest. Maybe it’s an “only in Berkeley” experience, but it seemed as if Amazon and its Kindle had never existed, or maybe only flourished in foreign lands across the bay, like Silicon Valley. People lined up to hear the hundreds of authors, critics, and reporters like David Streitfeld, a NY Times reporter who has lampooned Amazon for its devious boycott on authors published by Hachette when it refused to agree to sell books on Amazonian terms.
At a gala the night before the festival, I met dozens of authors and even more readers. Everyone was exuberant about reading and writing. No matter how much technology proclaims the age of mobile video is upon us, the written word still reigns supreme, at least in an intellectual haven like Berkeley.