There's good news and bad news about next week's 13th annual Thin Air Winnipeg international writers festival.

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This article was published 18/9/2009 (4390 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.


Robert J. Sawyer is the star attraction at this year’s Thin Air Winnipeg writers festival.


Robert J. Sawyer is the star attraction at this year’s Thin Air Winnipeg writers festival.

There's good news and bad news about next week's 13th annual Thin Air Winnipeg international writers festival.

First the bad news: Dan Brown is not coming.

Now the good news: Dan Brown is not coming.

The Lost Symbol, the American thrillermeister's followup to his 2003 megaseller, The Da Vinci Code, has dropped onto the North American publishing scene like a boulder into a leaky canoe.

It's amazing the whole enterprise doesn't sink from the weight of it.

The only precedent in recent memory would be that series of children's novels about the boy wizard (whose name eludes me at present.)

Since Tuesday, when The Lost Symbol landed in stores, people who normally confine their fiction consumption to the back of cereal boxes have been clamouring for discounted copies at Costco and Wal-Mart.

As of Friday morning, there were 435 holds on the 37 copies available at Winnipeg Public Library. (The WPL also has another 25 copies in its one-week express system, but you can't place holds on those.)

If you are the first to join the wait list after reading this, by my rudimentary calculation, you will be in line for at least 35 weeks.

This is being pessimistic, because it assumes everyone will borrow the novel for the three-week maximum, and some people are bound to be quicker.

On the other hand, what if the 12th person keeps it past due or drops it into the bath?

However, if you'd like to read something by one of the 50 featured writers at Thin Air (which runs Sunday to Sunday), your wait could be shorter.

The star attraction this year is arguably science-fiction novelist Robert J. Sawyer, whose 1999 title, Flashforward, has been adapted into an ABC-TV action series premiering Sept. 24.

On Friday morning, there were four holds on the library's three copies. Thus you'll get it in a month.

The prestige literary name this year is Ontario's Bonnie Burnard, back with her first book since her Giller Prize winner, A Good House, in 1999.

Dealing with impact of a breast-cancer death on a group of women friends, it's called Suddenly and won't be officially published until Sept. 25. The library has three copies on order and there are already 37 holds on them. Thus your wait will be a minimum of 38 weeks, longer than for Brown.

Thin Air generally has been a low-wattage affair compared to other Canadian writers festivals. Artistic director Charlene Diehl has sophisticated tastes, and she claims to invite writers based on their literary merit rather than on their celebrity. (Go figure.)

She's also limited by Thin Air's timing. Because it takes place in late September (to gain access to the Canwest Performing Arts Centre as a main venue), the festival misses authors whom publishers send on the road in October to hit the other festivals, especially Toronto's massive International Festival of Authors. Some of these writers touch down at McNally Robinson for one-off signings in October and November.

Vancouver's festival (Oct. 18-25), for example, boasts John Irving, Audrey Niffenegger, Sarah Waters, Alice Munro, Richard Ford and Kathy Reichs. Ottawa (Oct. 21-27) has Ian Rankin, Waters, Michael Connelly, David Byrne, Susan Pinker and Alison Gopnik.

Even Calgary's Wordfest (Oct. 13-18) has Irving, Diana Gabaldon and Joyce Maynard.

Which isn't to say Thin Air has nobody of note. The brilliant Calgary-based Christian Bök (Eunoia) is coming, as is the wonderful Montreal children's illustrator Marie-Louise Gay (the Stella series), veteran cartoonist Lynn Johnston (whose For Better or Worse strip is probably better read than Brown's novels), Ontario's Robert Charles Wilson (whom Stephen King has called "probably the finest science-fiction author now writing") and one of Oprah's new favourites, The Peep Diaries author Hal Niedzviecki.

The mainstage evening readings at Canwest are where the stars cluster, but some of the daytime events offer meatier options.

Try the 12:15 Nooner series at the Millennium Library, the 2:30 Afternoon Book Chats at McNally Robinson Polo Park) and the Big Ideas series 4:30 p.m. at the Millennium Library. All these, by the way, offer free admission.

You can check the schedule of the 90-odd events online at, and elaborate paperback-sized programs are free at libraries and bookstores.

If you see Dan Brown soaking up the literary ambience, tell him he has to sign up for the Bonnie Burnard on the library's hold list like everyone else.