The streak continues: Boston Book Fest 2012

The BBF 2012 info station.

Living in Maine, even near one of the great “small” cities in the United States, Portland, makes a trip to Boston special. I say special because for me, cities have always signified wonder. I marvel at the activity—the hustle and the bustle—not to mention the energy, sights, sounds, and the smells that are remarkably different than rural places.

Attending the Boston Book Festival (BBF) has become a tradition for me. There is a protocol that’s developed. I’ll detail some of it below. BBF has become something that my son and I take in together. We have done so since the inaugural event in 2009.

Baseball was our passion for a long time. Now, books and writing (along with NBA basketball) fill the space that was once solely baseball’s.

Recent changes in work and scheduling made this year the most tenuous of the four. I feared that this might be the year when our streak could end. It may at some point; I’m just glad it wasn’t this year.

Mark doesn’t stress out or make a big deal about changes, or variances in plans. He handles the last minute switch better than anyone I know.

A few weeks before, he emailed to say that he had scored discounted bus tickets on Concord Coach Lines. He wanted to know if I knew BBF was coming up. Did I want to go? Of course I did.

If schedules worked out, he was planning to bus home on Friday, spend Friday night with us, and then we would bus down from Portland Saturday morning. After our day celebrating books, literature, and spending time together, he’d grab the commuter rail back to Providence and I would head home to Portland. He’s a great kid and didn’t want to add any additional stress for dad. He said he could always resell them at face value if things didn’t work out. He didn’t want me to worry about it.

I’m not going to go into a detailed description about bus travel. You either know about buses, or you don’t. I think there are certain people that find bus travel intriguing and even convenient in some sense, or if not convenient, a practical alternative to driving, especially driving home when you are tired. It also saves the hassle and cost of parking. My round trip pass cost $14; I paid $4 to park in Portland. I can’t imagine a more economical option. Mark made it happen.

What I liked about the trip down is the free WiFi that Concord offers. It allowed us a chance to fire up our netbooks, catch up on emails, or just surf the internet (or post a few Facebook photos).  I found that it made the trip pass quickly and offered diversion from watching the scenery pass, or being forced to watch the on-board movie (Mrs. Doubtfire). I also had a chance to catch up on my New Yorker reading including another stellar Ryan Lizza article, this one about the Obama ground game. We talked a bit of politics and then the bus pulled in at South Station. It was 9:30 and we had time to grab a coffee on our walk to Copley Square.

Festival attendees browsing vendor booths bordering Boylston Street.

Now back to the Boston Book Festival. Here are a few essentials (or important elements) that define the Boston Book Festival for us each year, and have since the first one back in October 2009.

1) We exchange a series of emails back and forth about what events/panels interest each of us; from our mutual lists of our top three or four, we narrow the total down to three to four that are targeted and we attend these together. We also note back-ups.

2) Our goal is to get to Copley around 10:00 giving us both a chance to browse vendor booths ringing the square.

3) Mark’s events are generally oriented towards fiction and mine towards nonfiction. The festival offers us “cross-pollination,” opening up new authors and ideas that we might not have discovered on our own.

4)  I blog about the festival and share my own experiences and perspective afterwards. So far, I’ve blogged 2009, 2010, 2011, and again this year. I think I’m one of the few writers that has done a summary of the festival each year. I’d love to learn about others.

5) Mark buys books and some years, he’s carried home two large book bags full. I tend to pick up one or two books, and usually will end up adding a couple of others throughout the year, based upon notes and remembrances of panelists I became aware of at BBF. Last year, my big “find” was this one. I’m looking forward to reading Tom Perrotta’s latest after attending the panel he was on with both Ben Marcus and Alan Lightman.

6) We take an afternoon food break, or grab a bite afterwards before we leave town. This is allows for interesting conversation that I treasure. It’s time when my son shares information with me, or tells me about something going on in his life. This year, there was an afternoon lull. Our food “find” was b.good, not far from Copley. They were serving Pineland Farms grass-fed beef on their burgers. Pineland Farms is located about 9 miles from where my wife and I (and where Mark grew up) live.

7) The ride home (and in this case, the bus ride) is always pleasurable, filled with thoughts and a positive glow from the festival.

We didn’t make it into our final event. The line for the “Future of Reading” snaked through the Boston Public Library lobby, almost back to the Boylston Street entrance. We knew from last year (or perhaps it was 2010) that we’d be relegated to the Rabb overflow room, so we decided to scrap it. Instead, we made a final pass of Copley Square vendor area and then proceeded northeast on Boylston to Boston Common.

Boston Common

It’s hard to nail precisely why the park was so enjoyable. It was a perfect post-festival locale to debrief. Part of it was watching the largest squirrel population that we’ve ever seen in one place, careen about, chasing each other, eating peanuts off the ground dropped by passers-by, and preening, as if on cue for the bevy of people taking their pictures. There were two weddings happening. The park on this beautiful fall late afternoon was filled with people enjoying what the park was created for—enjoying green space and some variation of natural beauty in the midst of an urban environment. Possibly, we were just appreciating the civic beauty of parks like Boston Common, a holdover from an era when civic/community infrastructure like this was a priority of politicians, and not something to look askance at.

From there, it was a bit more book browsing at Brattle Book Shop. We arrived about 20 minutes prior to closing, but we both found a couple of titles to take home with us.

With an hour to kill before Mark’s train was scheduled to arrive back to Providence, Mark wanted to show me the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway and suggested we walk a portion of it. We did. It was just one more aspect of a unique American piece of geography that I was able to experience and appreciate with my son. As if the BBF wasn’t enough, right

We said our good-byes, he checked with me to see if I knew where I was going. We hugged, told each other “I love you” and then I was up the escalator for my home to the north.

Plans are for us to converge again in 2013, life willing.

Part of the orange wave. Jane–providing info to festival-goers.

Vendor booths at BBF 2012

Fiction: Heaven Knows (Alan Lightman, Tom Perrotta, Ben Marcus. (moderator is Elisa New)