Once upon a time, Seattle had a book festival. Called Northwest Bookfest, and taking place in the fall, it ran for a decade in various locations including Pier 48, where my colleague Mary Ann Gwinn wrote of hearing waves lapping beneath while listening to authors speak. Due to struggles with finances and the lack of a perfect venue, Northwest Bookfest was discontinued in 2004 (though versions of it have popped back up a few times since, most recently in Kirkland).
Maybe someday we’ll have an annual books-and-authors festival in Seattle again, but in the meantime, two other such events in the Northwest are worth planning an autumn-weekend trip around. The Vancouver (B.C.) Writers Fest, now in its 30th year, has long attracted a strong slate of authors. This year’s event, taking place Oct. 15-21, has more than 100 guests scheduled, including Rachel Kushner (“Flamethrowers,” “The Mars Room”), Tommy Orange (“There There”), Jodi Picoult (“A Spark of Light”), Gary Shteyngart (“Lake Success”), Elaine Castillo (“America Is Not the Heart”) and Patrick DeWitt (“French Exit”).
What’s fun about the VWF — which I’ve attended several times in recent years, with my book-loving mother — is its setting on Granville Island, one of the city’s nicest places to spend an afternoon. (I grew up in Vancouver, and spent two teenage summers working at a produce stand at Granville Island Public Market, gazing at the tourists and the seagulls. Local tip: On weekends, don’t even try to park on the island; such an effort will only end in tears.)
Events in the festival take place all over the island, whose venues range from tiny and intimate to cavernous; numerous restaurants, bars and food kiosks (make a picnic from what you find at the Public Market) add to the experience. Tickets for festival events begin at $15 Canadian (about $11.50) and go on sale to the general public Sept. 12; see writersfestbc.ca or call 604-681-6330. And note that VWF has year-round events as well; two intriguing ones coming right up are appearances by Kate Atkinson (whose new novel “Transcription” is out this fall) on Sept. 29, and Ian Rankin (whose latest Inspector Rebus novel is “In a House of Lies”) on Oct. 27.
I’ve never attended the Portland Book Festival (formerly called Wordstock), but it sounds like a kick; perhaps I’ll have to head south this fall. It takes place over just one day — this year it’s Saturday, Nov. 10 — and features 100-plus authors on nine stages, as well as an extensive book fair with dozens of vendors and those famous Portland food trucks. Last year’s lineup included Jeffrey Eugenides, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Tom Perrotta and Nancy Pearl; this year’s lineup will be announced Sept. 6.
The PBF is based downtown, at Portland Art Museum and neighboring venues — and yes, the great Powell’s Books, along with other local independent bookstores, is an official bookseller to the fest. Tickets are a bargain: just $15 for the all-day event when purchased in advance, which includes a $5 voucher to spend at the book fair (day-of tickets are $20). Advance passes can be bought now at portlandartmuseum.org/pdxbookfest/; see literary-arts.org for more details on the festival, or call 503-227-2583.
Meanwhile, back at home, those who love rare and antique books will want to take note of the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair, to be held Oct. 13-14 at Seattle Center Exhibition Hall. One of the largest such events in the country, SABF will feature thousands of collectible books, prints, maps, manuscripts, autographs, photographs, posters, postcards, broadsides, fine bindings and ephemera.
The fair is geared both to the interested public (admission, at the door, is just $5) and to serious collectors, with the list of exhibitors signed up so far including dealers from all over the U.S. as well as Canada, England and Australia. SABF producer Bill Wolfe, in an email, said it isn’t uncommon to see a dealer making a six-figure sale of a rare or historic book during the fair. But there’s treasure for every price range, as well as plenty to see for those just browsing.
Wolfe added that it’s been a sad year for the antiquarian book trade, with the deaths of three key figures in its world: William Reese, Michael R. Thompson, and longtime Seattle book dealer Louis Collins, who for many years produced SABF. “May they all rest in peace,” wrote Wolfe, “and may their legacies live on in full display at this year’s show.” Information on SABF: seattlebookfair.com or 206-323-3999.