Montreal BookCamp

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  or 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 and exchange.

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.

BookCamp 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 the neck.

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 bathwater.

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.

More encouraging? Did I really say that?

Text and photos by

Linda Leith

© Linda Leith 2011


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