Taking Stock

Last Saturday, I attended Wordstock, a large literary festival (8,000 people attended this year) held annually in Portland. Wordstock took a year off last year and is actually under new management, since it apparently struggled financially the last few years. With a new organization comes new ways of doing things. Here’s how it breaks down:

The Bad: Unlike previous years, Wordstock was held in the Portland Art Museum, instead of the Oregon Convention Center. This allowed much less space overall, so there were fewer exhibitors at the book fair, the entrance and exits to the events were jammed, and things were overall pretty cramped. Also, there were lots of stairs.

Additionally, ticket price went up from $11 to $15, and, more significantly, the festival moved from a two-day event to a one-day event. On the whole, everything was smaller: fewer authors, a shorter festival, and the smaller names. While Ursula Le Guin, a big name in science fiction, spoke at a panel, and Jesse Eisenberg, big-time Hollywood actor and apparently a writer too, spoke at an event, I hadn’t heard of any of the other authors there. This year was definitely a step back in scope from the 2013 Wordstock.

The Good: It’s back.

And that’s enough. Yes, it’s disappointing that it wasn’t bigger, and the change in venue was tricky, but I’m really just happy that it’s back at all. Because Wordstock means a lot to me. I think I’ve made it every year it’s been held since I first went in high school, and each time I’ve gone with my dad. My dad is a big part of why I’m in to books at all, and so that continuing connection we have maintained has made Wordstock, itself a massive celebration of books, even more special.

It’s also important to me for who it’s enabled me to meet. In 2012, Colin Meloy and his wife Carson Ellis were at Wordstock to promote a new book they made – he wrote it, and she illustrated it. For anyone not in the know, Colin Meloy is the lead singer and songwriter of the Portland-based band The Decemberists, one of my favorite bands. These were heady days for a young fan of the band: their most recent album, “The King is Dead,” whose popularity originally attracted my attention, had just come out the previous year. I heard the big single, “Down by the River,” once, and I was hooked. From there, I expanded outward, devouring anything I could get my hands on online. By 2012, when Wordstock rolled around, The Decemberists were my favorite band in the whole world, and Colin Meloy was not someone I could possibly allow myself to miss.

I sat and watched the couple discuss their book – it was actually a sequel – and a variety of other topics: songwriting, illustration methods, their philosophy of art, that sort of thing. It was a good talk. When it was done, it was time for the book signing. With a freshly bought copy of their new book in hand, I stood in line, nervously waiting for my brush with greatness.

To be continued…


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