This year's Wordstock was a mere shadow of years past. Perhaps the shows failing was the result of the tough economic times, or the shift in the board of Wordstock. Whatever the cause this year's popular book festival was anything but festive.
There are a lot of places you can place blame for the failing of Wordstock: Widen & Kennedy's horrid website made it almost impossible to figure out what was going on when (a prime example of form over function) it was nearly impossible to discern exactly how to connect with authors. Instead of being a useful guide to Wordstock the site was merely a Wordstock brand experience.
Blame could also be solidly put on the shoulders of everyone involved with the show's logistics. Author signing tables were shoved in the far end of the convention center, behind a cage of ropes which left authors looking like bored lions on display at the zoo. With no real signage there was no way to see who exactly would be signing when. Authors were given tiny paper place cards to identify them in their misery.
Beyond the lonely authors just waiting for someone, anyone to ask them to sign their books, were the painfully depressed book sellers. As I strolled the show floor I heard several of the publishers remark that they hadn't sold a single book the entire day. Many wore long faces and a few had simply given up and were abandoning their booths to commiserate with fellow publishers.
A former centerpiece of the show, the Target kids area was also depressing. As we made our way over there just before 4pm they were already tearing it down and packing it away. Even the Target mascott dog looked bored. My daughter asked if she could color and they told her no. Nice.
With the poor floor design it was almost impossible to see and hear the main authors. When John Hodgman got up to speak the area was so confined I ended up standing in the Powell's booth that blocked the way between the show floor and the main stage. I finally gave up trying to listen to Hodgeman and left (I simply could not see or hear).
Another failing of Wordstock this year was their inability to pull in the same level of word class authors as they have in years past. Consider in years past Wordstock hosted luminaries as Gore Vidal, Ursula Le Guin, Sarah Vowell and Ira Glass. Between Powell's special author events and Portland Arts and Lectures, Wordstock seems to be left pulling from second tier authors – this year's highpoint was 'That guy from the mac commercial".
The one bright spot of the show was the alcove of comic book companies under the banner of "Stumptown Comics". I met up with Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones who were there signing their respective books, but despite the fact that their area actually had people mulling around they informed me that nobody was really buying anything.
After departing from the completely depressing festival I decided to try to make the evening event "The Text Ball". Unfortunately the logistical failings of Wordstock extended to this event as well. Who in their infinate wisdom schedules an event across from the Rose Garden on the same night as a major sold out Basketball game? How about the same night as BOTH a major sell out Basketball game AND a Winterhawk hockey game in the Memorial Colosseum! I literally drove around and around for a half hour, driving as far out as the lloyd center and was unable to find a single parking spot (paid or otherwise) so I had to skip it all togehter.
It's a shame that Wordstock is in the state it is in. Portland deserves better. While you can excuse some of the shows failing on the bad economy the real issues obviously run deeper.
Photos from Wordstock: