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. (Continues below image...)
In 2016 over 800 writers, illustrators, poets, politicians and philosophers from 55 countries took part in a packed programme of passionate ideas, engaged debates and pure entertainment. With around 230,000 visits, Charlotte Square Gardens were the busiest they have ever been with visitors attending events, browsing the Bookshops and relaxing in the cafes and Gardens. Ticket sales in 2016 increased by 3.5% and book sales were up by 3% - the highest ever sales in the Book Festival's 33-year history – selling more than 62,000 books in 17 days. Audiences enjoyed sessions with authors from every genre, welcomed exclusive previews of upcoming new books from Jonathan Safran Foer, Alan Cumming, Mark Thompson and Ray Mears, as well as enjoying first sightings of new writing from Philippa Gregory, James Kelman and Eimear McBride. 45 debut novels and short story collections were featured in the 2016 Book Festival programme from as far afield as Nigeria, Spain, Hungary and the USA. And, on the final day of the Festival, over 3,400 primary school children from across Scotland came to enjoy talks, workshops and discussions.
The Book Festival 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.