Utopia in literature to strike next week

MANCHESTER - So many books, so little time.

It's been the lament of readers and lovers of books probably since the invention of the printing press more than 550 years ago, but next weekend, the full force of that sentiment may hit home to those attending Booktopia 2013 in Manchester next weekend.

"Booktopia" is a gathering of authors and readers who will be converging here from April 12-14 to talk about - what else - books and the writers who write them. The discussion groups will be held at the Northshire Bookstore, where Booktopia was first launched in 2011.

Attendance at the discussion groups will be limited to those registered for the event to keep the numbers manageable and allow for more focused and intimate discussion, and those events were sold out almost immediately. But other parts of the weekend event are open to the public, such as a celebration of authors planned for Saturday night, where nine featured authors will each speak for 10 minutes or so. On Sunday, April 14, another free event will be held that's open to the public centering on book publishing in the age of social media. That will start at 10 a.m. and conclude at noon.

The idea for Booktopia was a brainchild of two book publishing professionals, Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness. The pair had authored a weekly book podcast for several years, titled "Books on the Nightstand," when several of their listeners began expressing an urge to meet them in person instead of through their headphones, Kingman said.

And so an idea was born: Combine a weekend retreat of readers and writers at an independent bookstore, and let the good times roll.

They expected to interest maybe 10 people, she said in an emailed response. Instead, more than 100 people signed up within a month, forcing them to close it down to further would-be attendees.

"We didn't know what we were going to do with all those people," Kingman wrote. "We were.. fortunate to have several friends who were authors volunteer to come, and we reached out to some local Vermont authors that we knew and who were gracious to give us their time." This year, the event has spread to three locations - two others will be held at bookstores in Bellingham, Wash and Petoskey, Mich. The format for this year will feature several small group discussions, limited to 25 people, each with one of the nine invited authors, during Friday evening and Saturday, before the evening author celebration. One of those nine authors is Sara J. Henry, who recently published her second novel, "A Cold and Lonely Place," and who lives most of the year in Newfane.

The conversation at her discussion event will be wide open, she said.

She may read a few pages from her new book, and talk about it and about writing. After that, it's whatever people want to bring up, she said.

"This year ... the individual author sessions are not spoiler-free, so we don't have to talk around key plot points and people can ask specific questions about why characters did or did not do certain things," she said in response to an emailed question.

Last year's event, which she also attended, transformed her as a writer, she said.

Readers can email her and tell her what they like - or don't like - about her books, but nothing compares to meeting individual readers one-on-one and talking shop, she said.

"I have never felt such an intimate sense of connection with readers - and never so thoroughly understood what they love about my work and why," she said. "It also let me connect with people who would have never otherwise have found my book or would have picked up a book they thought was a mystery. This event let them find me, and let me find them."

And the good feelings linger. The friendships and relationship made last year have continued to provide feedback and support, she said.

Booktopia gives readers the opportunity to get the insider, back story on the writing craft, and explore some of the underlying themes and thinking that guided an author through the creation of a particular book, said Mary Allen, the director of events and publicity at the Northshire Bookstore.

"(Readers) want to know what it's like," she said. "It's mutually great because a lot of writers don't get to spend time with their readers. This is a full weekend when they're discussing what they love best - books."

The book publishing industry, like many others, has experienced the full disruptive force of the Internet era and arrival of e-books and online book selling. These trends will also get a hearing, as well as the greater opportunities for writers to self-publish.

"The biggest conversation happening in publishing right now is this: With all the books that are being published today, how can readers find a reliable way to discover a book they will like," said Ann Kingman, one of the organizers of Booktopia. "And how do writers rise above the noise so that the right reader will discover their book?"

The public group discussion with the authors starts at 6:30 p.m., Saturday, April 13, at the Northshire Bookstore. For more information about Booktopia, contact the Northshire Bookstore at 802-362-2200, or visit their Web site at northshire.com.


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