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Saturday, July 13

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Feature Wed Dec 20 2006

Holiday Book Bash 2006

The idea of getting a bunch of books together, inviting the authors to mingle with the reading public, adding food and a couple of demonstrations sounds like perfect event. This is precisely the idea behind the Chicago Headline Club Foundation’s Holiday Book Bash. This year marked the Club’s second Book Bash and featured such notable authors as Rick Kogan, Gale Gand, Alpana Singh, Stacy Ballis and more, as well as a silent auction for numerous gift packages. Although these seem like the perfect elements for an excellent literary event –- and the hefty price for a general admission ticket would seem to hold some promise –- Alice and I both came away from the evening wanting more. I admit that I’ve never planned a literary event myself, but I’ve been to plenty of them and at the Book Bash several issues immediately stood out as problematic. In the interest of fostering a more satisfactory Bash, below are some suggestions to make the ticket price worthwhile.

Issue #1: Seating
While many literary events don’t offer food, or if they do they’re light refreshments, the Book Bash featured an extensive Italian buffet, complete with pasta, chicken, mushrooms, artichoke and calamari. The plates were ceramic and the silverware was real, but for the hundred or so attendees there were less than ten six-seat tables. If you weren’t lucky enough to snag one of these or one of the few smaller, bar-height tables that held about two plates safely, you were stuck eating standing up with a heavy food-filled plate in one hand and no room for a drink in the other. Proposed Solution: Use ticket sales to judge the number of tables needed. Generally, if one purchases a ticket for an event that includes a full dinner, one also expects that a table and chair are similarly included in the price.

Issue #2: Acoustics
The Book Bash was held at the Galleria Marchetti in a large ballroom just past the entrance. I don’t know what the room is normally used for, but it was nearly impossible to understand the hosts and author speakers throughout the evening. The chatter of the dining guests combined with the clink of knives and forks, the ringing of cash registers and the murmur of waiters refilling food trays formed a looming racket that forced the speakers to shout into the microphones, the amplified shouting adding just another layer to the thick blanket of sound. The fact that the guests seemed more interested in continuing their conversations than quieting down for the authors perhaps says more about the type of people this event attracts than it does about the quality of the meeting space. Proposed Solution: Inquire about acoustic quality when visiting potential event sites. Formalize the schedule so that the featured authors are the main focus rather than background noise. Leave out the stale holiday tunes, especially if the event is being held in early November.

Rick Kogan, Steve Cochran, Richard Roeper, Sylvia Ewing

Issue #3: Authors
Building on Issue #2, the authors for whom the Bash was created were almost secondary to all the other commotion in the room. No author made his discontent with this clearer than Richard Roeper. As the author of the recently published Sox in the City, Roeper took the stage with Tribune columnist Rick Kogan for several truly uncomfortable moments of banter. WGN’s Steve Cochran and WBEZ’s Sylvia Ewing hosted, but Roeper took matters into his own hands. “The first thing you want to do is have the food stand right in front,” he griped, pointing to what was not a food stand but Gale Gand’s demonstration cart. “And if you have four people, you should have two mics! I have to comment on these things as they happen!” True, the evening was disorganized, but deriding it onstage certainly didn’t help. In sharp contrast, Kogan gracefully attempted to exchange a few jokes with the hosts and stepped quietly off the stage when the Book Bash Chat was over. Proposed Solution: Featured authors should be featured, not incidental to the event. Additional Suggestion: Don’t invite Richard Roeper to anything. Ever.

Issue #4: Vendors
In a city brimming with home grown literature, there is nothing quite as disappointing as realizing that the book vendor for a non-profit literary event is not one of our fabulous independent bookstores, but Barnes & Noble. I find it hard to believe that no other bookseller would have been happy to offer their services. Proposed Solution: Do some marketing research and help out other local businesses. Going with the big business is the easy way out.

I check out the sales table

Issue #5: Prizes
For an organization that purports to promote literature, the silent auction prizes were decidedly unliterary. Although there was the occasional obvious pairing -– Alpana Pours with four bottles of wine, a copy of Jen Lancester’s Bitter is the New Black -– most of the prizes had little do with the authors featured at the event. Spa packages and theater tickets may be enticing on their own, but they’re far too typical silent auction prizes. The prize table felt more like a Macy’s than a book event. Proposed Solution: Put your thinking caps on and come up with some interesting, literary themed packages. People will bid on out of the ordinary prizes.

Alice and I left before the event was over because we simply weren’t having any fun. Having been to a number of local literary events, it’s easy to know that very little is required to make them enjoyable. In fact, I’d venture to say that little more is needed than an engaging author and an interested audience. They say the best things in life are free and after having been to the Holiday Book Bash, the same thing might be said of literary events.

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Book Club is the literary section of Gapers Block, covering Chicago's authors, poets and literary events. More...

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