Last week I visited the 20th edition of a remarkable Book Festival called PordenoneLegge. That translates to “Pordenone Reads. Pordenone is a small city (around 50,000 residents) in northeast Italy, not far from where I live.
It is simply a fantastic event. Over the years, I have met – and by that I mean had a one on one conversation with – superb authors. Included on that list are Margaret Atwood, the late Umberto Eco, John Banville, Jeffery Deaver, Peter Hoeg, Robert Harris and many more.
On any day during the Festival, you’ll see school groups (from little ones to university classes) attending author presentations. You will see hundreds, perhaps thousands of people walking around with a book in their hands, a rare sight indeed. Authors make presentations in majestic historical buildings, modern auditoriums, temporary festival tents, or even outdoors in open squares.
As I said, this was the 20th edition of the Festival, so it was well-hyped in anticipation. Here are a few interesting numbers:
- 366 author presentation
- More than 50,000 visitors
- More than 10,000 books sold
- 235,743 visitors to the web site (during the 5 days of the festival)
- 6,000 Instagram followers
- 30,000 Facebook followers
- Top Facebook post had 684 “likes”
- 8,000 Twitter interactions
So, yes. This Book Festival is a big deal.
And it was a big deal for me, as well. Here is what I did.
I attended a press conference with Sara Shepard, author of the “Pretty Little Liars” series (in fact she has written more than 30 books).
She talked about how much preparation she puts into her work. She begins with many weeks of research and outlining and planning before she ever begins to write. As an author of Young Adult fiction, she discussed the pressure that young people, not just in the US but all over the world, experience. Everything has become much more competitive to the point kids can’t just be kids anymore. They have to be perfect kids. That is exacerbated by the influence of so much social media, particularly on younger people, who might lack the maturity to be themselves rather than caving to peer pressure.
She believes nobody is perfect and everybody has secrets. Those are the traits she builds into her characters. She recounted a story where her mother once told her the thing she hated most was secrets. That maternal observation filled Shepard with a vivid imagination as to what kind of havoc secrets can cause. We have her 30+ books as a result and are thankful for that.
I also had the chance to sit down with international best-selling author Stuart Turton. His book, “The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is winning awards at an impressive rate and has been an enormous commercial success. You can read about my interview with him right here.
I sat through a reading by Maurizio de Giovanni (who writes the crime series featuring Detective Commissario Ricciardi (“I Will Have Vengeance,” “Blood Curse” and “Nameless Serenade” to name a few). As he read passages from his latest work, he was accompanied by live music. It was a stirring event.
Finally, I attended the presentation given by multiple award winning and many times best-selling author David Grossman (“Duel,” “The Zigzag Kid,” “A Horse Walks Into a Bar” and “Life Plays With Me” among many others). I learned Grossman is a serious thinker. His presentation was called “The Sweet Reward for Writing,” a phrase coined by Franz Kafka. Grossman said the reward is writing itself. He elaborated by saying when he is writing, everything he observes fits; everything is interwoven into what he writes, from emotions, anecdotes, facial expressions, news events and on and on. He continued by saying everyone starts with many options for their existence but we narrow it down into – one gender, one language, one set of beliefs and so on.
Here are a few more pearls of Grossman wisdom:
- There is no greater joy than to escape from doubt.
- We should each look at our own memory with some suspicion.
- We yearn to be seen by the understanding eyes of our enemy, the eyes that see our humanity.
Of course, this is Italy, so there was food involved, as well.
As happens each time I attend PordenoneLegge, I left with a renewed appreciation of the genius that is great writing and full of motivation to continue my own journey as a writer.