Steam rose from many, many mugs of coffee on Saturday morning as the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival began at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown. More than 30 authors attended the two-day festival, participating in readings and panel discussions at the Harbor View on Saturday and on the grounds of the Chilmark Community Center on Sunday.
The book festival has been held on the Vineyard every other summer since 2005, conceived and organized by Suellen Lazarus, a seasonal resident of Chilmark.
Saturday’s panels at the hotel included discussions of power, the future of journalism and independent bookstores, coming of age novels, the life of Rosa Parks and Whitey Bulger, to name a few. The panel on the life of Mr. Bulger featured Dick Lehr, Kevin Cullen and Shelley Murphy, three Boston Globe journalists who have written books about the notorious Boston mob boss. Mr. Cullen and Ms. Murphy co-wrote Whitey Bulger: America’s Most Wanted Gangster and the Manhunt That Brought Him to Justice, and Mr. Lehr is the co-author with Gerald O’Neill of Whitey: The Life of America’s Most Notorious Mob Boss.
The large crowd listened attentively as the panelists plumbed the depths of Mr. Bulger’s personal life in an attempt to make sense of his life of crime. The Bulger family lived in the South Boston projects and although his brothers worked hard and were good students, Mr. Bulger chose life on the streets.
“To understand Whitey, we have to place him in context,” said Mr. Cullen. “South Boston is as much a character as anyone else in the story.”
“In South Boston, aspiring to being a gangster was as lofty a goal as being a lawyer,” added Mr. Lehr.
At other points during the day, photographer Mariana Cook spoke about her latest book, Justice: Faces of the Human Rights Revolution, Eric Asimov, chief wine critic for the New York Times, talked about his love of wine, and Linda Greenlaw discussed her latest book, Lifesaving Lessons: Notes from an Accidental Mother. The crowds moved from one room to the next inside the hotel but had to be redirected at one point to the side of the hotel to make way for a wedding party.
The last panel of the day, The Future of Journalism, addressed the journalism industry’s recent transition from print to digital media, one that has raised many questions about the industry’s future. Panelist David Wessel, author of Red Ink, clarified that the discussion was not to be about the future of journalism, but the future of the funding of journalism. The panel concluded that a major issue facing the journalism industry is the question of how to make money from online content.
Mark Leibovich, author of This Town, expressed concern that the internet has degraded the high standard for reporting that once existed in newspapers. He said he fears that bloggers have created a dearth of quality reporting and an excess of opinionated punditry, leaving readers with less substantial content.
“Lots of people consume news on social networks like Twitter,” Mr. Leibovich said. “The question is, is their Twitter diet nutritious enough?”
During day two of the festival at the Chilmark Community Center, authors gave readings and signed books under white tents while guests enjoyed the sunshine and a light breeze.
In the Squibnocket tent, Moíses Naím, former executive director of the World Bank and former minister of industry and trade for Venezuela, discussed the changing nature of political power. His book, The End of Power, addresses the growth of democracy around the globe and the proliferation of what he calls “micro-powers,” which are posing a challenge to the world’s “mega-players.” To illustrate the competition between mega-players and micro-powers, Mr. Naím presented the example of the Eastman Kodak Company, the downfall of which coincided with the rise of Instagram, a smartphone-based photo sharing application.
“Micro-players survive the waves of change that mega-players cannot,” Mr. Naím said. “No human endeavor is not being re-shaped by this trend.”
According to Mr. Naím, we have entered a “world of profusion,” in which there is simply more of everything. According to Mr. Naím this culture of more, combined with the mobility of information, goods and power, has led to a drastic change in mentality throughout the world.
“These three revolutions [‘more, mobility and mentality’] are changing the barriers that shield the powerful,” he said.
Mr. Naím viewed these changes as a positive shift, but added that the one area of concentrated power that has not experienced any significant change in recent years is the American political system and its fiercely competitive political parties.
Mark Leibovich also spoke about the culture of American politics underscoring the increasingly self-serving attitudes of senators and representatives in Congress. He agreed with Mr. Naím’s assertion that the time has come for a change in American politics.
The day, and the festival, ended with author Maggie Shipstead reading from and discussing her first novel, Seating Arrangements. Her book is set on Nantucket and explores a family of New England WASPs both chafing and clinging to their heritage.
And with that the Martha’s Vineyard Book Festival came to a close and everyone headed home to their porches and couches, bags loaded down with books, to settle in for a very long read.
For more photos, visit our gallery: Martha's Vineyard Book Festival