Should we gather in person again to listen to authors give their sales pitches?

I just got back from a week in the wilderness of Gros Morne national park where I attended and spoke (twice!) at the Writers at Woody Point festival — a magical spot among the mountains that I very much love returning to every year.

In 2020, the venerable festival (a favourite among writers simply because of how beautiful it is there and how frigging well they treat you) was all-online, but this year they got the go-ahead to do it live, with some changes. So there was reduced capacity at events, distanced seats, etc. That said, much of it was still indoors, and people were hugging and shaking hands (a thing I haven’t had to endure for 18 months). In many ways it was a relief, even for someone like me who doesn’t like public things. That said, it was also deeply strange and uncomfortable at times.

Our mask mandate in Newfoundland ended a couple weeks ago and the Delta variant has yet to take hold here. Further, we’re doing quite well with the vaccine rates and myself and all my family are double vaxxed, so I shouldn’t really worry, right? Some people wore masks anyway, myself included, but as the week went on, more and more masks got forgotten in pockets or left in rooms, and the world did not end. (Well, we’ll see if it ended in about 2 weeks, I suppose.)

That all said, as someone who is already uncomfortable in crowds but who is also good getting up in front of one when he needs to shill a book, I found myself constantly looking for excuses to leave (moreso than usual) and head off to a river somewhere with the missus.

I kept finding myself among groups of people not only wondering which of them might be anti-vaxxers (I would imagine a small portion of this particular crowd would be so stupid, but, like conservatives, they are surely among us), but also whether even us double-vaxxed people could drag something like the Delta variant from a “major” urban centre to a rural one simply by showing up. Don’t get me wrong, it was fun to see people and great to read from my new book to a live audience (it sold out!), but I was very discombobulated the much of the time.

In contrast, I am currently recording “events” for two other literary great festivals (Wild Writers North in BC and THIN AIR! in Winnipeg), and I’m worried it’s going to be super underwhelming. There’s no audience reaction to let you know if you’re killing it or bombing, no… “energy” beyond what you bring to it yourself. And that’s a serious impediment to being even remotely entertaining for a guy like me. I can feed off a crowd, so long as I don’t have to stand among it. So I don’t know what’s right and wrong. And I imagine this is how it will be for a while.

I wonder how everyone else feels about it? We’re in a special position here in Newfoundland being isolated from the mainland and having both a very low case rates (all travel related) and a largely compliant population, but other places probably deserver my anxiety more? I don’t know. Here’s a story about the National Book Festival creeping towards live in the USA.

The festival will kick off with a virtual conversation between Burton and Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden on Sept. 17. Burton, known for hosting Reading Rainbow (and, if hosts of his fans get their way, Jeopardy!), is also hosting a PBS special about the festival, titled Open a Book, Open the World, on Sept. 12.

While most of the events this year will be virtual, there will be two in-person conversations, one on Sept. 21 featuring Shortz and Thinking Inside the Box: Adventures with Crosswords and the Puzzling People Who Can’t Live Without Them author Adrienne Raphel, and another on Sept. 25 featuring Giovanni and Hayden.

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