Ellen Hellard, a charter board member of the Kentucky Book Fair, said the 38th annual event on Nov. 16 was very successful. More than 2,600 came to Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena to buy books and meet authors.

“It had a good atmosphere with readers and writers talking to each other,” said Hellard, a retired division director at the Kentucky Department for Libraries and Archives in Frankfort. “I saw more of that than I have in recent years. Having two celebrities there — noted journalists Scott Pelley and Jim Acosta — really helped. Both of them spoke to large crowds and they were excellent. Both put in a major pitch that all of us (regardless of one’s political party) have to talk to each other (in a civil manner).”

Pelley, known for his work on “60 Minutes” and “CBS Evening News,” sold out of his book, “Truth Worth Telling: A Reporter’s Search For Meaning In The Stories Of Our Times.”

In his 11:30 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. conversation on the main stage with KET’s Renee Shaw, Pelley said, “We’re seeing political violence in this country for the first time since the 1960s. I’m worried about the rhetoric. . . . Every single person in this room has a different idea about their lives, their families’ lives and what the country should be doing. A democracy allows us to have that conversation and then move the country not left, not right, but forward.

“At this moment in time in our country, we need to take a step back from this violent, hateful rhetoric coming from both ends of the spectrum and start talking to one another in the middle.”

Pelley said he believes America is the greatest nation that has ever existed “because we are peoples from every corner of the earth. We have come together not because we are ethnically alike, not because we all speak even the same language, but because we have all come here around the idea of freedom and opportunity. . . . That has created empirically, just by the numbers, the most successful country the world has ever seen. Why would we tear that up?”

In a book chapter titled “To a Young Journalist,” Pelley writes, “There is no democracy without journalism. . . . The quality of our democracy is bound to the quality of our journalism.”

In Pelley’s view, there are four threats poisoning democracy today: “Biased media on the Left and the Right that treat their work not as a responsibility but as a business model; aggregators who recycle stories without checking the facts; hostile nations and political operatives; and charlatans who peddle outrage to compel clicks on advertising algorithms.”

Sara Volpi, director of the Kentucky Book Festival, said after Pelley sold out of books in the afternoon, “he went to his car and got one of his personal copies and sold it to a woman because she really wanted one,” Volpi said. “That was really nice of him. He and Jim Acosta were both very nice.”

Acosta is CNN’s chief White House correspondent. He arrived at the book fair in the early afternoon and signed his book, “The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America.” Then at 2:30 p.m. on the main stage, he had a conversation with Linda Blackford of the Lexington Herald-Leader. He received a standing ovation.

Acosta sold 107 books and Pelley sold 99, for second- and third-place, respectively, in this year’s Top 10 bestsellers at the book fair.

Author Linda Bruckheimer’s book, “Road Map to Heaven,” was the number one bestseller with 124 sold (see accompanying story).

Overall, 200 national and regional authors signed books and met patrons at the book fair founded by the late State Journal Editor Carl West and held in Frankfort for the first 35 years. As always, the book fair had many bestselling and award-winning authors. 

In 2017, the book fair moved to the Kentucky Horse Park near Lexington after the state announced it was demolishing the Frankfort Convention Center. With a seating capacity of 5,000, it was the capital city’s only gathering place large enough to host the book fair.

This is the fourth year Kentucky Humanities has organized the event with the guidance of the book fair committee. 

Frankfort’s Mary Lynn Collins, a book fair committee member, said there was a good crowd all day long this year.

“It was fun to step back and see folks coming in and engaging authors in discussions about their books and the process of writing,” Collins said. “Having a huge room with hundreds of discussions going on between readers and authors — that’s what Carl West intended when he started the Kentucky Book Fair.”

In addition to the Saturday book fair, Collins was involved in Kentucky Book Festival School Days. Eight regional authors visited with nearly 3,000 students at 23 elementary or middle schools.

“I went to Pendleton County to introduce second graders to author Sherry Howard and her book, ‘Rock & Roll Woods,’” Collins said. “The children were excited to hear how Ms. Howard set out to write the book. They were even more excited to get to talk to the author one-on-one as she inscribed her book for each child.

“I have no doubt that visit sparked creativity and love of books for many of the participating children.”

The School Days program was made possible through grants from the Elsa Heisel Sule Foundation, Kosair Charities, the Honorable Order of Kentucky Colonels, and the Raymond B. Preston Family Foundation.

Other Frankfort residents on the book fair committee include Connie Crowe, Miriam Fordham, Tom Midkiff, Diana Munson and Lynda Sherrard. Frankfort’s Betty Sue Griffin serves on Kentucky Humanities Board of Directors.

The 38th book fair was the anchor event for the Kentucky Book Festival, which held a wide variety of events in Lexington throughout the week of Nov. 10-16. In addition to the book fair, Festival Director Volpi said over 500 attended events through the week.

“The staff at Kentucky Humanities was absolutely thrilled to see the support of the literary community during this year’s festival,” Volpi said. “We’re so grateful for the support and enthusiasm and are already looking forward to 2020.”

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