Reading is Sexy: The Tucson Festival of Books


I have wanted to go to the Tucson Festival of Books for many years.  Every year they have some very interesting authors. So this was the year we decided to go.  I was unable to secure tickets in advance. This was  a mistake.  But, I figured, that should not be a problem; after all for each venue they reserved 25% of the tickets for walk in traffic. We would just walk up right? Wrong!

To begin with we were late getting off by about 30 minutes and we missed the first event called “Sizzling Suspense” and featured 3 authors. We only knew one of them. That was J.A Jance as one of the authors. Chris and I had both read at least one of her books and liked them. However when we arrived we had a very difficult time finding parking. We had been told it was Spring break so parking would be easier. Wrong! Maybe it was easier than it was regularly, but it was definitely not easy.

As we were walking in we noticed there were a lot of people here. As we walked beside some enthusiastic attendees we were assured we would have a great time. One said she came very year and loved it. We were getting exciting despite the late start.

First, we were amazed at how many outdoor booths there were. Most were related to books or reading. All kinds for all kinds of readers. Childrens’ books, University of Arizona books, nature books, mystery books, religious books,  non-fiction, etc. There were Mormons trying to give away information about tracing our ancestral roots. Maybe they wanted to convert our dead relatives. That’s what people back home say they like to do. How do you convert dead people? There were more traditional religious nuts warning us to repent. You name it there was something there for your taste. The crowds were large. There was a busker in a pedestrian underpass under  a street who played wonderful music.  The acoustics were astounding where he stood. Even cheap Mennonites tipped! This actually was the highlight of the festival for me. Now you know it did not end well. I also loved some bumper stickers: “He’s not My President.” “Reading is sexy.” ”Keep the Immigrants. Deport the Racists.”

Eventually we found parking, not that far away from the site but we missed the first event. Still no problem as we took time to review the brochure.  We took so much time that we got to it “only” about 15 minutes before it was scheduled to start, but that should be enough time. Right? Wrong! The subject was “Is Democracy in Danger?” I thought that could not be very popular. Wrong once more! I went to the end of the line while Chris sat down near the entrance to the Hall. It was a very long line. I was getting doubtful about this process. About 25 feet from the entrance, after about 20 minutes of standing in line, it was announced that we would not get in. The line had been too long. It sucks to be us.

This was frustrating but we decided to get in line for the 3rd event even earlier so we could get in. This event  was called “Lets Get Real” and featured writers from the southern border. Although this was currently a very popular subject of debate, given Trump’s declaration of an emergency on the southern border, I thought there would not be big crowd for this talk. Wrong again! I was not there early enough. Many people support the wall; many do not. Same story. Just before getting to the entrance it was announced we would not get in, even though I had been in line for nearly half an hour. So the day was half over and we had got into zero events.  Needless to say I was frustrated with how this worked. I confess I even said a few bad words. I am not a very good Mennonite.  Me bad. No. Tucson Festival of Books bad.

I wanted to hear Noam Chomsky, one of my favourite political writers, and the featured speaker, who would be talking in the evening but I feared the same problem. I had been enough line-ups. I told Chris, “We are going home!” Wisely, she said, “no.”  Lets go to Madera Canyon so we get something out of our 90-minute drive to Tucson. Good thinking Chris. So we left without seeing 1 single event. We walked around, ate some food, looked at some weirdos and left.

It was not a total waste however. I figured out that there was no purpose in going to this Festival without tickets.  Had I bought them I realized I would still have to stand in a lineups, but only for a few minutes. There was a special line-up for ticket holders and provided people were not late they would get in.

The Festival  often have some very interesting authors. Here is a very partial list from years past:

2011 – Elmore Leonard

2012 – Larry McMurtry & Diana Ossana

2013 – R.L. Stine

2014 – Richard Russo

2015 – Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, Sam Barry, Greg Isles, Ridley Pearson, Amy Tan & Scott Turow -The Rock Bottom Remainders

2016 – J.A. Jance

2017 – T.C. Boyle

2018 – Billy Collins (America’s Poet laureate)

2019–Noam Chomsky

That is a pretty impressive list.

I also realized this was an immensely popular festival. The 2010 United States Census put the population of Tucson at 520,116, while the 2015 estimated population of the entire Tucson metropolitan statistical area was 980,263. That is similar to Winnipeg in other words. Yet this festival was huge. Many writers. Thousands of attendees. Everything free! Even parking (after we found it) was free.

What really amazed me though were the thousands of people who showed up. People of all ages. Not just intellectuals. Kids. Moms. Pops, odds and sod,  Hundreds of friendly volunteers. How could there be so many people to come to hear about books? I was stunned. Yesterday when we told a friend where we were going today he was perplexed. “Why would you do that?’ he asked. Tucson has many intelligent people that was my conclusion.  I hope to try it again when I am wiser.

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