Festival of Ideas JCC’s Book Fair Becomes BookFest 2018by Brie Stimson March 28, 2018
“The publishing industry has changed so much in recent years,” Brian Garrick, director of cultural arts programs and festivals at the Center for Jewish Culture (CJC), mused as we began talking about the Lawrence Family JCC’s upcoming BookFest. “The habits of readers has really changed as well and so has the media that people are using to get information these days.”
For these reasons the CJC decided to change the long running Book Fair into a book festival that was less focused on new releases and more on hearing from authors, radio hosts, podcasters, journalists and thinkers – who may or may not have a freshly printed hardback.
“So we’re sort of asking ourselves in this … changing landscape in which information is deployed and delivered, how can we have something called a book fest that is … keeping up with the times,” Garrick added. “I think this is our attempt to do that. And I think we are trying to bring in some figures which have a diversity to them.”
For example, author Davy Rothbart, who is a contributor to “This American Life,” a filmmaker and publisher and editor of FOUND magazine, will meet for an evening of funny and sweet stories about himself and the people he’s met through his magazine. “People may know Davy Rothbart from the radio or his podcast or from an article in Vanity Fair but didn’t know he had a book,” Garrick explained.
“We have Joan Nathan coming, who’s the Jewish queen of American cooking, and we’re having a brunch with her. But it’s not your typical, you know, bagels and lox,” Garrick told me. “We’re mixing it up because her book is about Jewish cooking around the world. So we’re looking at food throughout the diaspora. So it’s not just going to be that traditional kind of Ashkenazi appetizing fare that many of us are accustomed to … I think it will really be an opportunity for the community to break bread and have some interesting conversations together.”
The festival program will open with professor Tal Ben-Shahar giving a talk on positive psychology and the science of happiness. “Here’s someone who … taught at Harvard for many years and kind of stepped out of academia to take his message to a larger group,” Garrick said. “He’s going to be giving tools that can actually make us happier … I don’t know if that kind of thing was in our programming in the past.” Ben-Shahar’s positive psychology class was one of the most popular at Harvard, according to the JCC.
Rabbi Irwin Kula, who’s giving a talk called Beyond The Tribe: Judaism as a Path of Human Flourishing, also doesn’t have a new book out. “They don’t necessarily care that he doesn’t have a brand new book … His book that he came out with four years ago still has relevance – that’s what I think people are caring about,” he said.
Garrick is especially excited about Barbara Boxer’s appearance. “She’s a legendary figure in California politics,” he said. “She just retired, but I think given our political climate, which is quite divisive right now, we need to be able to hear from people who have that kind of longitudinal viewpoint to be able to help us understand where we’ve come from and where we’re going.” He said it’s “another opportunity to have an intimate conversation with someone who’s influenced our lives whether we know it or not in profound ways over the course of her tenure.”
On Yom Ha’atzmaut, the festival will host a debate between a liberal and conservative about “the future of Israel’s soul.”
“It is framed as a civil debate between J.J. Goldberg who’s the editor-at-large of the Forward newspaper and Jonathan Tobin who’s one of the online editors for Commentary magazine, and he writes for National Review,” Garrick explained. “It’s wonderful to see how we could have a constructive conversation between two people who are diametrically opposed.” Goldberg and Tobin have been hosting similar debates throughout the country. “They’ve become such good friends,” Garrick commented. “They come and do this and they go out to dinner afterwards … I kind of see this in some ways as somewhat of a healing program.”
Garrick said instead of mainly selling physical books (which they still plan to) they are focusing more on helping readers download the book online and having the proceeds go to the CJC, similar to Amazon Smile.
The festival will also include author Dara Horn, a live performance of the radio show Selected Shorts, scholar Rabbi Michael Berenbaum and “speed dating” with local authors.
“People don’t need someone who has a new book. They want to hear ideas that are relevant and current,” Garrick added. “I think they’re interested in people who can pivot within all the changes … and it doesn’t matter what the medium happens to be.” Α