Reading Rights

Magdalena Waz

(Drawing by Annie Raccuglia)

The Fox Cities Book Festival is an annual, week-long event that brings authors to the area to read from their works and speak about the craft, and I only went once. And even then it was more like a field trip required for school. I should have thrown in the towel then and quit writing this column, walking out of the Appleton Public Library after with my friends knowing full well that I would not return for whatever else the festival had to offer.

In a few of my classes, we discussed how to make the festival better, more student-friendly. One of the suggestions was, of course, to bring writers that students know. The only problem with that suggestion is that we are already supposed to have at least a vague familiarity with the authors visiting town. Some of them have been on that best-seller list that I sometimes complain about. And even if the names sound unfamiliar, doesn’t the goal of the festival have something to do with education?

We’ve hit a wall. The same wall we’ve hit in a number of my most recent columns. Nothing seems to matter to us unless we can develop a personal connection with the speaker, with the book or with the event, which means that we have a higher chance of going to a reading if the author is someone whose name we’ve seen on a billboard and a lower chance of going to a reading if the author is someone who is a “nobody” according to our memory of recently released books.

I, too, offered a number of excuses for not going. The weather was the first one. It was a bit of a joke. The second was the lack of information about the schedule that I had grown used to in our library. My real and probably best excuse, though, was that I just forgot. I was busy thinking about my own things, and sometimes I tell myself that my absence won’t be felt at these events because the older residents of the Fox Valley are still showing up, still interested in books. It’s not as if these authors are speaking to empty rooms. 

But the guilt doesn’t just go away. Not attending the festival directly contradicts many of my suggestions in this column. It even calls into question my desire to become a writer. Shouldn’t I — a future M.F.A. student — care about contemporary writing enough to interact with the people writing today? It points to the inherent selfishness of writing because all it really is, when you boil it down, is the desire to put your thoughts on paper for others to read.

And if we’re all writing and clogging up blogs, twitter feeds, Facebook walls, then there’s not enough time to stop and read anything anyone else has to say. It’s information overload that makes us not trust that these unknown authors at the festival have something new to say to us because they’re not famous in the ways we want to be. They’re about as important as the pesky person on our newsfeed who keeps updating his status.

Everyone is writing a memoir in real time. Because it’s about all we’ve got time for.