On September 30, in the heart of the Plateau Mont-Royal,
Montreal’s second annual BookCamp
took place on The Main.
There have been several of these in different parts of the
world (New York, Paris, London, Rimini, etc) and different parts of Canada
(Vancouver, Halifax, Toronto); the first Montreal BookCamp took place in 2010.
Billing itself as an “anticonference,” a translation of
“unconference,” which means (see here
that there is no pre-set agenda, the Book Camp brings together publishers, writers,
booksellers, librarians, programmers and a few academics for a day of dialogue
Attending this just
four months after the Forum on Literary Creation at the Grande bibliothèque
this past spring,
I was struck by the difference in approach to the digital revolution.
Forum participants –
mostly writers – were hesitant, at best, and some of them in outright denial
about the new realities in writing and publishing. Only one of the eight panels
focused specifically on the challenges of this brave new world, and the main
priority was increasing funding under existing programmes.
participants are fully aware of current realities and future probabilities and some
of them are in panic mode as a result.
Annabelle Moreau, Eve Pariseau, and other BookCamp participants
The morning session,
ably facilitated by Patrick Lozeau, started off with a complaint that few
electronic books are available in French. The students in his CEGEP are ready,
a librarian said, but there aren’t enough e-books around for them. Another
reported the huge popularity of the two tablet e-readers her public library has
to lend out.
Questions about the
future of bookstores and libraries soon resulted in bold statements to the effect
that “Bookstores will die. It’s a pity, but that’s the reality.” Booksellers
fared better in this imagined future, but not by much. To the suggestion that
booksellers can continue to play a role in providing advice on books, one
participant cracked, “you might have difficulty living on that.” Publishers came
in for some dismissive comments, as well, and radio and television got it in
Gone the days when
people openly lamented the dearth of literary programming on Radio-Canada. The
chickens are coming home to roost, one participant suggested, and it looks like
the public broadcaster that has reneged on it its literary mandate in recent
years is finally going to get its comeuppance.
Besides, the man behind me added, The media have their limitations. “The books
I’m interested in are not the books that can be reduced to a short sound bite.
His term was “une phrase choc.”
There was some
agreement that Facebook is the place to be, for that’s where the 16-18
year-olds are. Except, of course, that they’re on Facebook to hang out with
their friends. They are not, as one realist reminded us, necessarily on Facebook
to read literary criticism.
By lunchtime there
was hardly a literary institution, organization, or profession left standing,
and the baby of literature was in danger of being washed away with all the
Some level of denial
and panic may be inevitable at this juncture. More encouraging was the black humour
that dominated the day, as in comments about the funny kind of economy we have
nowadays, when money so rarely changes hands.
Did I really say that?
Text and photos by
© Linda Leith 2011