No Crowds at This Years Wordstock
No Crowds at This Years Wordstock

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:

Books Events

Wordstock – When Reading is A Party

wordstockPortland is one of the most literate cities in the country and so when we throw a book festival, it’s a big deal. Every year I make sure to make my way down to the sea of literature that is Wordstock. This Book-A-Palooza is a cornucopia of books, authors, readings, workshops and signings. The festival runs Thursday through Sunday with the main focus being The Book Fair at the Convention Center Saturday and Sunday 9am – 6pm.

The list of authors participating is completely overwhelming so here are the ones that caught my eye:

John Hodgman– You might recognize John Hodgman from The Daily Show on Comedy Central, but if not you’ve seen him play “PC” on many of the recent Mac commercials on TV. Despite the fact that people often say I look like Hodgman (I don’t damn it), he’s my top pick for Wordstock. Hodgman is as smart as he is funny, and it would be a mistake to miss him.

Heather Vogel Frederick – A true luminary in the youth lit category, Heather Frederick has penned a wide range of award winning books including: The Mother-Daughter Book Club, Much Ado About Anne, The Voyage of Patience Goodspeed and Spy Mice: For Your Paws Only. If you’ve got kids, make sure you don’t miss Heather Frederick.

Monica Drake – Put simply, Monica Drake is fucking amazing. Her book Clown Girl is inventive, original and extremely entertaining. Everyone knows that Chuck Palahniuk comes from Portland, and someday soon they’ll know Monica Drake. Catch her now so you can say “I knew her when…”

Jamie S. Rich and Joelle Jones – like peanut butter and jelly these two prominent Portland comic book creators are as complimentary to each other as you can get. Jamie Rich’s latest Have You Seen The Horizon Lately is one of the best undiscovered books of the year and Joelle Jones’s doodles are better than 75% of all the artists out there. Joelle is also a hot rising star with a new book out with DC.

In addition to the festival, Saturday night is the Text Ball at the Left Bank Project. I’m a huge fan of this venue which continues to develop as one of THE places in Portland to throw a bash!

The Text Ball is an opportunity for Portland’s rich literary arts scene to celebrate itself while supporting one of its most beloved organizations, the Independent Publishing Resource Center. Attendees are invited to come “dressed as text” and compete for prizes for the most grammatically-correct costumes. The theme this year is FIGURES OF SPEECH.

The Text Ball takes place Saturday from 6-11 at Left Bank Project 240 N Broadway.

The Wordstock web site sucks (Widen & Kennedy did a crappy ass job on it) but the physical booklet with the schedule is actually usable. So for the complete guide your best bet is to drop by Powells and snag a copy or pick one up at the show itself.