With a number of longer established and larger festivals such as the Fringe and the International Festival competing for your attention, it is too easy to overlook the joys of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, held in a series of marquees in the city's Charlotte Square in the second half of August each year.
The Book Festival started life as a biennial festival in 1983, becoming an annual event in 1997. Now the world's biggest book festival, the Edinburgh International Book Festival sees capacity audiences, not just for world-renowned writers and thinkers, but also for new and international authors little known in the UK.
In 2015 over 800 authors from 55 countries were in attendance at almost 800 events over the 17 days of the festival and more visitors than ever before flocked to Charlotte Square Gardens, making it the most successful year in the history of the festival. Audiences enjoyed sessions with the Reverend Jesse Jackson, Alan Cumming, Val McDermid in conversation with the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon who publically stated her belief in the importance of reading, 9 of the 13 authors nominated for the 2015 Man Booker Prize, and 56 debut novelists including Celia Imrie, Chigozie Obioma, Jesse Armstrong and Anna Smaill. Performance poets Kate Tempest and George the Poet received standing ovations from sell-out audiences as did Scottish musician Edwyn Collins and his wife Grace Maxwell who were interviewed by Ian Rankin. And, in the most international programme to date, authors explored the concept of Trading Stories, with pairings of international and British writers examining how stories cross borders, languages and cultural barriers.
The Book Festival has more than doubled its audience in recent years and is the largest public celebration of books and ideas in the world. Since the success and international prominence of the 2004 Book Festival, there has been rapid progress in developing Edinburgh's status as a major year-round literary centre. This resulted, in October 2004, in UNESCO's declaration of Edinburgh as the world's first ever City of Literature. Work has now begun on establishing an international network of such cities, based on the Edinburgh model.
The core of the festival are the events that bring together authors and their readers. These include a series of book signings throughout the festival, as well as talks, interviews, discussions and more, all held in a series of venues around the square. Refreshments are also on offer at several locations around the festival.
Two bookshops also operate (one for children's books) as part of the festival and a wide range of books are on offer. Coverage is comprehensive, but books from and about Scotland are especially well represented. You can browse to your heart's content. And because both bookshops are owned and operated by the festival, all profits made from the books you buy go straight back into making the festival better, for readers and writers alike.
Or you can simply sit back and relax, taking in the unique atmosphere generated by a gathering of like-minded people interested in understanding more about the world of books. Space is made available just to sit and talk or read, both inside the marquees and outside on the grass where you can also enjoy the wider delights of Charlotte Square and the (hopefully) blue skies of Edinburgh in August.