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'The planet's biggest and best literary party'

26 July 2004

There's still time to book for most of the 650 events at the world's largest annual literary and cultural showcase, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, which runs from 14th to 30th August. The Festival celebrates its 21st birthday this year with the biggest line-up of authors it has ever had, 550 writers from 30 countries ranging from Muriel Spark to Louis de Bernieres, from Carlos Fuentes to Germaine Greer, Richard Dawkins and Tony Benn.

Last year 185,000 tickets were sold and this special anniversary festival is expected to exceed that. Starting from just 40 events in 1983, this huge event now attracts massive audiences because it pulls in world-famous authors and ties in with the celebrated Edinburgh Festival. The readings have a more participatory focus, particularly those involving non-fiction, which include topical subjects such as science, current affairs and history.

The Festival's director, Catherine Lockerbie, says: 'A 21st birthday calls for a party, and we are throwing the planet's biggest and best literary party this August. We'll be celebrating the writers of the future as well as the writers of the present, and enjoying democratic discussions on everything under the sun, including democracy itself.'

The huge growth in the number of literary festivals worldwide, of which Edinburgh is just a part, is very good news for the book business. It is heartening to think of more than 185,000 tickets sold for people to listen to authors and then often buying a book afterwards as well. In some circles books have now become quite fashionable. Given the fact that they also commandeer an enormous amount of media coverage, the literary sector does punch above its weight in terms of publicity. The problem is still to turn this publicity bonanza and the huge public interest in books into actual sales and to sustain levels of reading (see News Review last week).

Edinburgh International Book Festival