Union-Tribune's Festival of Books returns for in-person event

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Around 10,000 people crowded the University of San Diego on Saturday for the first in-person San Diego Union-Tribune Festival of Books in two years.

Now in its sixth year, the festival — with sponsors like KPBS and Topo Chico — featured roughly 100 authors, several independent book sellers and panels with authors. The festival was held online in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic.

Organizers said the event was about more than just selling books, with an emphasis placed on expanding literacy, celebrating curious minds and increasing understanding.

“Reading teaches us to see through the eyes of others, people who are unlike us,” said Jeff Light, Union-Tribune publisher and editor, at the event’s kick-off in the university’s Shiley Theatre.

Attendees and book sellers mingled in the university’s courtyards under sunny skies as the smell of fried food from food truck operators like Chef Budda Blasian Soul Food filled the air.

Rebecca Au, of Rancho Bernardo, came to the event with her 5-year-old son Elliott and said she is always trying to expose him to books. In addition to going to the last in-person Festival of Books in 2019 in Liberty Station, Au said she takes Elliott to the library once a week.

She said books open her son up to a world he doesn’t see on a daily basis. It also has another benefit: “It’s better than TV,” Au said.

Authors in attendance said they were grateful the festival was up and running in person again. Book events across the nation were canceled when COVID surged, making it much harder to promote their work.

Self-published author Beth Sotelo said she has been sitting on top of boxes in her Chula Vista home of her 56-page graphic novel “Grump” since it got printed right before the pandemic. Sotelo had a lengthy coloring career for Marvel Comics, DC and independent publishers before deciding to write, draw and color “Grump”. It is a story about a child who has trouble making friends.

Sotelo said comic convention crowds haven’t been the best for promoting the book because many comic fans have a set book — like Marvel’s “Thor” — they are interested in and are not necessarily looking for new work. Sotelo said the book festival crowd has been much better.

“People very much want to discover something new,” she said.

In addition to up-and-coming authors, several big names were on hand to speak and sign autographs: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) with his book “Midnight in Washington”; Nikole Hannah-Jones, author of “The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story”; Silvia Moreno-Garcia with “The Daughter of Doctor Moreau” and actor David Duchovny.

Duchovny, known for his acting on “The X-Files”, just completed his fifth book “The Reservoir.” It’s a tale about a former financier stuck in his apartment during COVID-19 lockdowns who is slowly going mad. Duchovny has a bachelor’s degree in literature from Princeton University and a master’s degree in English literature from Yale. He said at Saturday’s event that he fell out of love with literature during his schooling and later turned to acting.

In front of a crowd in the Shiley Theatre, Duchovny recounted how he eventually reunited with his interest in literature by caring about plots in TV shows he was working on. He wrote and directed several episodes of “The X-Files.”

“It was through becoming an actor and getting involved in the portrayal of stories through a screen that I got back into telling stories,” he said.

Independent book shops shined at the event. Barrio Logan’s Libélula Books & Co. prided itself on diverse titles like “The Lesbiana’s Guide to Catholic School” by Sonora Reyes and “There are Trans People Here” by H. Melt.

“We hope people see some titles that they might not see in other places,” said co-owner Celi Hernandez.


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