Saturday, August 30, 2014

Still Life With Robin: National BookFest 2014 - Better Without Grass

Book Festival Poster 2014
by Peggy Robin

I bring you a report from this year’s National Book Festival on the advantages of life indoors. I am so glad that plans for the restoration of the grass on the National Mall resulted in relocation of the BookFest to the Washington Convention Center this year. Not only does it give the Mall a chance to regenerate the greenness of our nation’s lawn, but it gives book lovers a relief from so many things that distracted from enjoyment of books, authors, readings, cooking demonstrations, and other delights of the festival – and those distractions were:

- Those giant, perpetually roaring fans, needed to keep circulating air under the BookFest’s heavy outdoor tents.
- The dust and gravel, continually stirred up by thousands of trampling feet.
- Over-amplified sounds from competing events -- especially problematic when a tent for an event with music or film was placed too close to a tent for an author reading poetry in a soft, subtle voice.
- Intense sun glare quickly that left you blinking idiotically as you emerged from the shadowy grayness of a tented canopy, or the fuzzy gloom that enveloped you as you stepped out of the bright sunshine into the grayness inside a tented author pavilion.
- Those flimsy plastic chairs lined up too close to one another under a tent – and there were never enough of them, if a bestselling author was at the podium.

In contrast, I offer a top-ten list (Letterman-style, from number ten to number one) of the things I like most about the move indoors:

10.  Easier access to events when they’re all together in one big building rather than spread out over several city blocks outside.
9. Convention Center chairs are padded and wider than the usual outdoor folding chairs.
8. When an author event is so popular that all available seats are taken, it’s fine to sit cross-legged on the carpet off to one side. You can still see and hear quite well from that vantage point.
7. The weather inside is always fine; it can be 100 outside or the middle of lightning storm, and the BookFest will not be affected.
6. The book signing lines are well laid out and it was easy to find the right line for the right author at the right times, as the maps and schedules in the BookFest brochure made it easy to plan your day (that is, easier than it was when you’d have to dash from one book-signing tent at 11:30 AM to another at the far end of the Mall at noon.)
5. The book-selling section was spacious and well lit, with wide aisles and books neatly stacked on separate tables by category (unlike the crowded tables piled high with books under a sweltering tent in last year’s BookFest on the Mall) – so it was a snap to find and buy any particular author’s work.
4. Far superior access for handicapped patrons (I saw lots of wheelchair users able to get to events without apparent difficulty, something that was not so easy on the often muddy or rutted paths of the Mall).
3. Food was available in a few different areas, with adequate seating….but if you didn’t like the offerings from Convention Center vendors, it’s a short walk to down 7th Street to a good selection of both fast food places and sit-down restaurants of all kinds.
2. Sound check -- in the spacious salons of the convention center, you can hear the featured author speaking over sound equipment amplified to the right level for the room.

And now to the Number One Reason why the Convention Center is the best place to hold the National Book Festival, instead of outside on the Mall: Real bathrooms, no port-a-potties!

So, here’s my take-away. Yes, let’s fix the Mall. Let’s come up with a workable plan to keep the large expanses of green grass, but let’s also create better walkways, make it more accessible for the disabled, and still find a way to accommodate large demonstrations, and all the massive annual events like the Fourth of July celebration, the annual Smithsonian Folk Life Festival, and the quadrennial inaugural crowds. But after we do all that, let's still keep the National Book Fest indoors. Reading is not an outdoor sport!


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv and on All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

1 comment:

  1. [This note was sent to the Library of Congress organizers of the National Book Festival on the subject of handicapped access.]

    My husband and I attended the National Book Festival at the convention center yesterday. The lineup of speakers was great and we were really looking forward to it. And after several years of sweltering on the mall, we were looking forward to the air-conditioning!

    My husband is disabled and uses a mobility scooter.

    Unfortunately, he gave up on the event after just two sessions because it was too difficult find seating in the sessions and to get from one event to another on time.

    The people who organized this event may not know that people in wheelchairs and scooters have particular difficulty in getting through crowds because they are not moving at eye level with most of the people in the crowd. Also, in a scooter or wheelchair, you don't have the flexibility to sidestep your way around knots of people in the crowd.

    Most of the events were on the first and third floors, but the elevators closest to the events only went to the first and second floors. This meant that it was a long way from the events to the elevators that did connect the first and third floors and back again.

    There was not much in the way of handicapped seating in the events and what we could find was generally near the front of the room. Also, there was no arrangement for a companion to sit next to the person in the wheelchair or scooter.

    Because of the long distance to the elevators, a slightly raised platform with a ramp at the rear of the room would have been much more useful.

    Finally, to add insult to injury, the elevator for people coming into the convention center from Metro at the street level was out of order, so we had to go halfway around the building to get in.