The WordFest 2012 season officially wrapped up last night following Will Ferguson, this year’s Giller winner, and his performance last night. Of course many think WordFest ends the weekend after Thanksgiving, in Banff; but they would be wrong. Since then, Calgary book lovers and WordFest junkies have been privy to three fantastic events. Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the Will Ferguson event, but I was lucky enough to take in two of the best events I’ve ever seen, these past couple of weeks.
The first, on October 25th, featured Alexander McCall Smith the author of over 100 books, including the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and was held at the KnoxUnitedChurch downtown. I believe this was the largest venue I’ve ever attended a WordFest event in and the crowds were there to prove it, as they packed the room to hear what the Scotsman, by way of Zimbabwe, had to say.
I had never read any of Mr. Smith’s books, but know of their popularity and am familiar with the photograph of him that is found on the back of most books. It features the man adorned in a kilt with his glasses in hand as he lets out a hearty laugh. The photo has always caught my attention and he’s always struck me as somebody who seems to enjoy life. I’m happy to report he didn’t disappoint. While many authors sometimes seems as if they’d rather be somewhere else other than a literary event of this nature, it seemed Mr. Smith wouldn’t rather be anywhere on Earth, other than the Knox United Church on October 25th.
Much like Richard Ford in September, Mr. Smith didn’t just answer questions, he told stories about his answers, and more often than not, they had the audience laughing out loud. Of course it didn’t hurt that he was usually leading the laughter, letting out a loud chortle every time he told a story. It was impossible not to enjoy the show.
The comedic theme continued into November, as WordFest welcomed Lemony Snicket to the John Dutton Theatre at the Calgary Public Library. Again, I had never read any of the author’s books, and was really only familiar with him because his name was in the title of that Jim Carrey movie, “Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.” In fact, I really expected him to look like Jim Carrey did in the movie. Which, of course, makes no sense, but that’s what I was thinking; I always expect authors to look like their characters. Imagine my disappointment when I first saw Peter Benchley.
The Lemony Snicket’s event was great because it engaged the children without losing the adults. When kids were screaming with a combination of fear and excitement, the adults in attendance were laughing until their sides hurt. A personal favourite was after having called four volunteers to the stage to help with a bit, he said to the audience, “I now need two…” at which point fifty little hands soared into the air, “…HUNDRED THOUSAND DOLLARS!” at which point fifty hands disappear just as quickly.
While it was a literary event, and did feature an author reading from his “bothersome” book, it was an event that would appeal to anybody, regardless of whether or not they have read his work, and regardless of whether or not they had any interest in attending a book reading. Instead of following any of the standards for similar events, Mr. Snicket provided a truly unique and entertaining experience, which provided me with so many first-time experiences for my WordFest career. For example, it was the first time I’d ever seen an author run up and down the aisles, it was the first time I’d ever seen an author take pot shots at the audience’s appearance, and it was the first time I’d ever seen an author borrow an accordion from somebody in the audience. (And the first time somebody in the audience had an accordion to lend too for that matter!) If you missed out on seeing this event, that’s too bad for you.