Why We Need Books: Boston Book Festival and Lit Crawl Boston Come to Back Bay

By Jessica A. Kent

October 16, 2016

The past few days in Boston have been a celebration of all things books - their writers, their readers, their agents, and their publishers - as the Boston Book Festival held its 8th annual event on Oct. 14 and 15 in Copley Square and surrounding venues. With over 200 presenters spread over 75+ events, there were sessions for every kind of writer or reader: fiction, nonfiction, memoir, graphic novel, poetry, craft sessions, contests, keynotes, panels, industry talks, walking tours, and exhibits, as well as robust offerings for kids. Over 70 vendors, including literary magazines, local MFA programs, publishers, booksellers, and writers organizations, set up shop in Copley Square for the multitude of attendees to browse through if they had any downtime between sessions (which was hard to find!). There were even food trucks to provide sustenance. Now in its eighth year, and trending in first place on Twitter all day, the Boston Book Festival has become one of the largest and most significant celebrations of books in the world.

This year also saw the inaugural Lit Crawl Boston, serving as a kind of pre-game to the larger festival, on Thursday night in various shops up and down Newbury Street, including readings, writing sessions, writing games, literary improv, and even some James Joyce performanced at a hat shop. Many of the events were standing room only, with patrons spilling out the doors, and the evening capped off with a gathering by the graveyard in the Common reading "The Tell-Tale Heart" by lantern light.

But why do we need these events? Why did hundreds of people attend the Lit Crawl, thousand attend the Boston Book Festival? Ann Hood, in her session "The Book Revue" at the Boston Book Festival, touched on why books have such meaning to us: because they have meaning to us. They have influenced us, inspired us, challenged our beliefs, comforted us in times of need, and helped us to see our surroundings in revised ways. She told the story of how books come along at just the right time in her life, and many members of the audience nodded their heads in agreement. For writers, the act of writing books is similar: it helps us make sense of the world around us, helps us makes sense of the past, helps us explore single ideas or see where many ideas not previously juxtaposed may link together (Colson Whitehead, in his keynote, explained this for his novel), and it helps us give voice to something we need to speak.

Foundationally, the past few days have been about the need to tell stories. Why did so many people bring a first page of their novel to Writer Idol to have it be read aloud? Why did the writers, over and over again, confess to tweaking characters and scenes in stolen bits of time, confess to having a "need to write" for many years, have a story stay with them until it was told, pursue an idea until it became a story to tell? Why did we wait in line in order to get a seat to see our favorite author speak, get a favorite book signed? We have this desire to tell stories; we have this desire to hear stories. That's why we need books, and that's why we need events like these: to stoke our bibliophilic tendencies, certainly, but also to remind us that we, as humans, need narratives, need ideas, need characters to champion - need stories.