The cash-strapped festival was stripped down this year, and just by seeing what had been added and taken away you got an immediate and appalling sense of the festival organizers' priorities. Gone this year were the exhaustive exhibits devoted to antiquarian books and book arts (Bookfest has long housed the largest juried exhibition of book arts on the West Coast). In their place was such commercial garishness as a Target-sponsored area where you could sit in a chair fashioned out of giant plastic books and get your photo taken in front of a wall of Target logos, and such elaborate displays of intellectual condescension as the bizarre tableaux on little stages throughout the festival featuring actors excitedly reading--one in an armchair, one at a kitchen table, one in bed--as if to illustrate, I suppose, that reading is fun and exciting and that, to paraphrase the great children's book, you can do it here or there, you can do it anywhere. Which is a fine thing to teach children, of course, but a patently patronizing premise for a serious book festival charging serious admission prices.
If the sharp downturn of Bookfest's attendance this year is any indication, this is not the kind of cultural content people want to pay for. If Bookfest wants to drown itself in unliterary, book-shaped Target promotions and stagy, cloying, bogus reading-is-fun! crap, it can't afford to be restrictively priced to boot, because no one will come. My God, if it's going to be stupid, it should at least be big.