Book Festival opens city’s mind, venues to wide range of authors

The National Endowment for the Arts reported that last year less than 47 percent of Americans read even one book for pleasure. One way Bostonians are trying to remedy this deplorable state of affairs is by promoting the Boston Book Festival (BBF). This Saturday the fifth annual BBF will attract between 25,000 and 30,000 people to Copley Square for twelve hours of free book-promoting events.

“In just five years, the Boston Book Festival has become one of the most anticipated events in the cultural life of the city,” organizers said in a press release. “The festival takes advantage of the great architectural treasures in Copley Square, utilizing such venues as Trinity Church, Old South Church, and the Boston Public Library, among others.”

BBF’s three days of programming has something for everyone from pre-schoolers to the most avid “lit-heads.” Events include presentations and panels featuring internationally known best-seller writers, scholars, critics and commentators, but also literary agents, bloggers, advice columnists and a wide range of journalists.

There will be sessions for children, teens and families; writing workshops and competitions; and spoken word and music performances. At the street fair in Copley Square exhibitors offer bargains on rare tomes, indie publications and periodicals. Berklee College of Music will keep the mood festive with a wide variety of live music throughout the day. All daytime events are free, but most require First Night-style waiting in line for limited seating.

Tonight the ticketed events kick off at the Back Bay center with “Writing Terror: An Exploration of Fear,” explored by a panel including an ex-CIA operative, terrorism experts and horror flick meister Wes Craven. One change to this year’s festival will be the keynote speaker appearing Friday rather than Saturday. Controversial novelist and essayist Salman Rushdie will give the keynote speech at Old South Sanctuary. Rushdie won the Booker Prize and many other international literary awards. Another new wrinkle will be a third ticketed event, a live taping of the podcast show “You’re the Expert.”

There is no charge for the Kids’ Keynote speaker, Tomie dePaola, one of America’s most respected picture book authors and illustrators (Old South Sanctuary at 10:15 a.m.). DePaola’s Strega Nona was a 1976 Caldecott Honor Book, and the New Hampshire resident just came out with her latest adventure, Strega Nona Does It Again. Everybody’s favorite “Grandma Witch” will be available to meet and greet after the talk. Check schedule for similar photo ops with Bad Kitty, Curious George, Lilly, Lyle, Lyle Crocodile, Martha, and Pat the Bunny.

Crime fiction fans will flock to a panel of “Plot Conjurers.” Using audience suggestions, five best-selling crime fiction authors—Peter Abrahams, Linda Barnes, Mike Cooper, Sara J. Henry, and Steve Ulfelder—will cobble together a plot, sharing their tricks for weaving together setting, characters, and storyline.

Each year BBF’s One City One Story (1C1S) initiative disseminates free copies of a short story throughout greater Boston, culminating in a town hall discussion with the author (11 a.m. Boston Common). This year’s selection, “Karma” by Rishi Reddi, concerns the plight of an immigrant couple. It was the lead story in a collection that won the 2008 PEN New England / L.L. Winship prize for fiction.

Dot residents still have time to be part of 1C1S. Copies of “Karma” are at all branch libraries and selected Dot Avenue fast food places and the Fields Corner Farmers Market.To download Reddi’s story in a variety of languages and formats or simply to browse through all the BBF options, go to