The National Book Festival, hosted by the Library of Congress and located on the National Mall in Washington, DC, is a yearly even for book lovers both young and old. Nestled at the end of September in between the end of summer and the start of fall, it’s a perfect weekend outing for you and yours — if you like books.
Over the course of the weekend book lovers and authors descend on Washington. Through out the day (days, now, as the Festival has been extended to be a full weekend event) authors do book signings at one end of the Mall while at another there are numerous tents set up for author presentations or activities for children. Typically, there are tents to buy books or get that year’s Book Festival poster as well.
I’ve had the pleasure of going to the book festival twice and intend to do it time and time again. There is nothing quite so exciting, as a book lover, than to be surrounded by other book lovers. But this draws a large crowd and to avoid missing your favorite author or getting too overwhelmed, here are some tips to make your experience a little more organized and less overwhelming.
- Make a Plan of Attack: The Washington Post and Library of Congress have, in the past, provided a list of authors who will be making appearances long before the festival takes place. Decide who you’d like to see and…
- Signing or Presentations: Both times I went to the festival I had some authors presenting while others were signing or two were signing at the same time. I had to pick one over the other and figure out my scheduling for the day so once you know who you want to see and you arrive at the Mall, stalk out the booths and see how far you have to travel to get from one place to another because you may not have the time to do it all! Or –
- Bring a Friend! I went to see John Green’s presentation while my roommate kept a spot on line for me to get a book signed by Green. This worked out wonderfully in the end as the hundreds of people who had gone to his presentation ran to the book signing line afterwards. I had a secure spot and didn’t have to worry about being turned away.*
- Prepare for the Weather: with so many people there is no way you can all seek shelter from rain or storms. There is also an almost guarantee that you won’t find a chair or bench to sit on if you’re tired. Plus, if you are waiting to get a book signed you will spend half of your time in the shadeless area of the Mall. The one year it was over 100 degrees and yes, people were passing out from heat exhaustion. So bring an umbrella no matter the weather. September is still prone to random thunderstorms and if it’s hot you have portable shade. Also bring a fold up chair or blanket so that you can toss it down and sit comfortably, unless you’re find with laying on the grass (which I have done plenty of times).
- Make a Meal Plan: there are food vendors in the area but they can get expensive. Plus, if you’re stuck on a line in a coveted spot, you probably don’t want to abandon your position in favor of getting food or drink. This is another instance where bringing a friend comes in handy or, better yet, packing a meal. Whether or not you bring your own food there is one thing that you really should take with you: bottles of water. Believe me, it helps.
- Expect an Exhausting Commute: DC isn’t known for easy, stress free travel and with the DC Metro always having work done on the weekends or other events happening in the District you can guarantee packed metro trains or congestion on the highways. Check the Metro site to see what sites may be closed and what trains are delayed for the weekend before you go.
- Adhere to Typical Metro Rules: You’ll see this a lot when I discuss tips for DC tourism and I’m sure it applies to most cities. When there are events like this the trains are always uncomfortably packed and it’s especially stressful on your way home when the trains are packed with sweaty, exhausted people. Nothing like body heat and the scent of sweat to make a 45 minute train ride miserable. But there are ways it can be a little bit easier for you. 1) Find out where the front of the train is and stand at that end of the platform; typically people cluster near the stairs/center of the car but you have a better chance of a more empty car at the beginning of the train. 2) move to the center of the train, even if there is only standing room 3) sometimes, if there is only standing room, you will have to get out of the train so that other people can get out, don’t worry, you can still enter the train again
*Some authors have some weird rules set up, some are very carefree and awesome but only set up rules after they’ve been signing hundreds of books; you will have a mix of people to be dealing with and it’s always best to come prepared and hope for the best but find out what you’re dealing with. Some author’s will do personal messages, others will only do their signature, some will sign multiple books, others will be willing to sign the festival poster, it’s always a mix.
I was able to get Katherine Paterson’s signature the first year I went to the festival but I was told I would only receive her signature and no more. No personal message. Nothing. She had been signing for awhile and it was disgustingly hot so I just took what I could get. To my surprise, Katherine did more than that when signing my book and I was extremely thankful.
While I was waiting for John Green’s signature I wasn’t too far from the tent but was quickly told he was not doing personal messages anymore as he had a plane to catch in two hours. This rippled through the crowd and some people were concerned that they would be turned away. This has happened before, authors will sign for the time they are given then get up to leave whether or not people are still waiting, but to the best of my knowledge everyone on John Green’s line left content that day with a signed book. By the way, he’s kind of awesome.
If you know that your author of choice is extremely popular I suggest getting to their booth as early as possible. I arrived at Green’s booth two hours before he began to sign but that’s nothing compared to some other authors.
And for the kids in the group: there is a tent set up for children to be entertained. I wouldn’t say this is a babysitting service as I don’t think it’s advised to leave your child there, but at least your kid won’t be bored out of their mind waiting on lines and there is still some bookish fun for them to partake in as well.