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Boston bound in literature

First ever Book Festival brings authors to Beantown

Published: Thursday, October 22, 2009

Updated: Thursday, October 22, 2009 06:10


Danai Macridi / Tufts Daily

Turn off that TV, stash the remote and bury your nose in a book — or better yet, book it to Copley Square this weekend for a festival sure to make any bookworm squirm.

This Saturday, Oct. 24th, marks the very first Boston Book Festival, a free all-day extravaganza for book lovers of any age that will last from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Famous authors will gather to meet fans, discuss literature and celebrate the joys of writing.

Deborah Porter, the founder and president of the Boston Book Festival, said the event has been in the works for over four years. She brought on Emily Pardo, the festival's executive director, a little over a year ago to finally make the idea a reality in 2009.   

"Boston is probably one of the only major cities that doesn't have a book festival," Pardo said. "It seems pretty amazing given the number of colleges and universities that are here."   

As Boston has been home to more than a handful of great writers — including Hawthorne, Longfellow, Emerson and Thoreau — it seems a natural location to celebrate literature. The festival will take place inside buildings that highlight Beantown's history, notably the Boston Public Library, Old South Church and Trinity Church, as well as outdoors in Copley Square.   

Pardo has been working non-stop for the past year to bring authors to town to speak at the festival, organizing panels and events and working to raise funds. She received significant support from Tufts for the festival, with students interning over the summer and fall.

"There's a lot of Tufts muscle behind the festival," Pardo said.

The result is a literature lover's dream. About 100 authors and presenters are expected to attend, and a variety of events cater to every reader's taste. The festival features everything from historical works to fiction to children's books.

Joseph Finder, one of the presenters in a panel entitled "Thrillers and Killers," has written eight novels set in the corporate world. His work focuses on themes of corruption and espionage. Finder segued into fiction after beginning his career as a journalist and admitted that the transition was difficult.

"I had to really teach myself how to write a novel," Finder said. "I was really bad, but I read a lot of thrillers and a lot of novels and taught myself how."

One of the most important aspects of writing today, according to Finder, is understanding how entertainment and literature are related, and how each meshes with the goals of the author.

"Readers want to be entertained, even if it's literature. Fiction is escapism," Finder said. "I think people who write entertainment and people who write literature have two different objectives, but you still have to grab people."

Finder first wrote a non-fiction work about a real-life corporate scandal. The book got him into a lot of trouble and prompted him to move to fiction. Though Finder is still interested in the corporate world, he now builds on true events to create spellbinding fiction rather than factual accounts.

"When you're writing this kind of book, there are questions like how accurate do you need to be, how obligated are you to get all the facts right, how do you do research, those sorts of things," Finder said. "I always want to figure out if you can use fiction to reveal truths that non-fiction can't."

Finder's newest book "Vanished" (2009) has become a bestseller, and another novel of his, "Paranoia" (2004), is lined up for a silver screen adaptation. Finder will speak at "Thrillers and Killers" at 4 p.m. this Saturday in the Boston Public Library's Popular Reading Room.   

Another panel at the festival, "And Now for Something Completely Different," highlights the works of three writers, all of whom are putting a new spin on fiction writing.    One of the panelists, R. Sikoryak, has written a psuedo-comic book novel, "Masterpiece Comics" (2009), in which he inserts classic stories, such as Dante's "Inferno" or Dostoevsky's "Crime and Punishment," into old comic strips like "Batman" or "Garfield."

"I wanted to retell these stories in comics, in my own language that I understand," Sikoryak said. "These stories have withstood the tests of time. It's a way of combining two things that mean a lot to me."   

Sikoryak noted that although some may see his work as irreverent or frivolous, he feels that there is a depth to comics that is only now being understood in American culture. He argued that comics are being taken increasingly seriously, while literature is being relegated to a lower rung.   

"I hope that people see the affection with which I'm treating these classic stories as well as the cartoons, and I get the sense that they do for the most part," Sikoryak said.   

Sikoryak will be discussing these issues as well as his process for writing a comic book novel starting at 2:30 p.m. in the Trinity Church Forum.

The Boston Book Festival promises to engage readers in discourse about the written word and allow fans and newcomers alike to meet a slew of literary artisans.

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