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What Is a Reading Festival?

By Tara Barnett
Updated May 23, 2024
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A reading festival is a gathering that focuses on celebrating all aspects of books and reading. Typically, this type of festival focuses primarily on books and literature rather than other types of materials that can be read. The actual activities presented during the festival usually include storytelling, author presentations, and exhibitions. In some special festivals, particularly those that focus primarily on children's literature, programs that promote literacy and provide books to children in need may be offered.

Festivals take many different forms, and while some might be large outdoor events with music and fun activities, others are indoor gatherings with scheduled lectures and book signings. A reading festival can be a combination of these two types as well. The organizers of the festival often attempt to highlight one or two special guests, but also devote significant amounts of time and resources to promoting lesser-known works and the simple joy of reading. This is one reason many people enjoy attending reading festivals, as the attendees are often lovers of literature and the authors are often on the verge of becoming popular.

Booksellers are often a major part of the reading festival attraction, and many publishers and bookstores run booths at these exhibitions in an attempt to both sell books at the festival and gain customer loyalty. Small gifts may be given away at booths, and publishers may host previews as well. Likewise, literature departments at local universities sometimes use this type of festival as an opportunity to recruit lovers of literature for degree programs.

While large towns may sponsor extensive and lengthy reading festivals, small town libraries and schools often attempt to encourage literacy using the festival model as well. These events may not have authors in attendance, but storytelling and book sales are often a major component of the festival. Depending on the area, local authors may be available to promote their own works. Libraries also sometimes use book and reading festivals as fundraising opportunities, often selling older materials in order to purchase newer books. Raffles, contests, and other fundraising strategies may be part of this type of festival.

One interesting component that may be part of a reading festival is a writer's area, where aspiring writers can often meet their favorite authors and even workshop materials together. This often goes well with a reading festival because many readers are also writers. Not all book festivals include this component, but many authors who attend these festivals do provide valuable information during their lectures that might appeal to unpublished writers.

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Discussion Comments
By clintflint — On Sep 22, 2014

@croydon - It's a rare author who has that kind of fame, though, and you can't really blame them for that. If Rowling or Martin go to a festival, they end up taking over the entire thing, just because they are so popular.

I've heard of people going to insane lengths to see Stephen King as well. But that's not what I think of when I think of a reading festival. I'm more interested in the panels where they have people discussing philosophy and the future of storytelling.

By croydon — On Sep 22, 2014

@Iluviaporos - The only thing I don't like is when they only have the authors there to sign books and there isn't really any other kind of interaction with readers. It just seems too commercial to me and I can't help feeling like less of an individual standing in line with thousands of others, for ten seconds with an exhausted author.

It's one of the reasons I prefer to go to small, independent reader festivals now, where the focus is more on panels and collaboration, rather than on attracting lots of ticket buyers with big names.

I know it's wonderful for people to read no matter how it comes about, but I like it better when books aren't treated like a product, even if that's what they actually are.

By lluviaporos — On Sep 21, 2014

The best thing about a reading festival is being able to see your favorite authors in person. I get more excited about that than about seeing any other kind of celebrity, to be honest.

I got to hear Neil Gaiman do a reading once and that was really awesome, although I was a little bit annoyed at some of the silly questions people kept asking him.

It's magic to hear an author read their own work though, because there are nuances that you can't understand until you experience that.

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