Let’s be honest: Gwinnett County is not exactly a literary mecca. Google “Gwinnett” and “books” and you’ll mostly get stories about the nut jobs who wanted to ban Harry Potter a few years ago.
That doesn’t mean we don’t have good things going on in Gwinnett, book-wise. We probably have one of the best library systems in the world. (And I’m not saying that just because I owe them $4.56 in overdue book fines.) We have some pretty good bookstores, too, including my own personal bookstore, Books for Less near the Mall of Georgia. (OK, it’s not really mine personally. You can go there, too.)
We also have our very own “Gwinnett Reads” program each fall, sponsored by the Gwinnett County Public Libraries. This year’s book is “Water for Elephants” by Sara Gruen, which is a great read. That program will culminate on Sept. 16 when I interview Gruen onstage at the Aurora Theater. But more about that in a future column.
Perhaps the best thing Gwinnett has going for it, though, in literary terms, is that it’s not far from Decatur, home of the Decatur Book Festival.
Yeah, I know. I’ve lived in Gwinnett long enough to be aware of the animosity that true Gwinnettians feel toward all things DeKalb. Remember Gwinnett’s unofficial motto, “Ours is Better.” That especially applies to DeKalb. (Just wait till we get a real airport. It’ll make PDK look like a dirt runway in some godforsaken wilderness.)
But Gwinnettians (and especially Gwinnett book lovers) have to understand that the Decatur Book Festival is not DeKalb’s book festival. It’s not even Decatur’s book festival. It’s metro Atlanta’s book festival, and if Interstate 85 South at 8 a.m. on a weekday morning is any indication, that certainly includes us.
Consider: In only its fifth year, the Decatur Book Festival is already the largest independent book festival in the country, and the fourth-largest overall. This year, organizers have booked more than 300 authors (including “big names” like Jonathan Franzen and Emily Giffen) and expect to draw more than 70,000 visitors to downtown Decatur over Labor Day weekend.
That would be like the entire Georgia Dome emptying out after a Falcons game and everyone going to a book festival. (Hey, it’s just an analogy.)
If you’ve never been to the Decatur Book Festival, it works like this. Authors read from and discuss their work at several different venues, including the Decatur library, the old courthouse and the Baptist and Presbyterian churches. Then they stick around and sign books afterward. There’s also a children’s stage under a tent on the square, a street fair with food vendors and beaucoup book sellers. And it’s all free and open to the public.
Basically, it’s a giant, two-day party for book lovers. If you fit that description, don’t miss out just because it’s in DeKalb. Remember, Gwinnettians: It’s our book festival, too.
Rob Jenkins is a free-lance writer who lives in Lawrenceville. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.