Susan Tourial could barely contain her enthusiasm.
“I’m ready to go already. How much longer?” she asked one recent afternoon as she sat at the kitchen table of her Sandy Springs home. “I’m ready to start. Get this party started, already!”
She wouldn’t have to wait much longer. The party she eagerly awaited is the Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta’s 24th annual book festival. It starts Nov. 5 and continues through Nov. 22.
Tourial’s enthusiasm is understandable. This year, she co-chairs the event. She’s been involved with the festival for five or six years and started working on this year’s edition last January.
Besides, she thoroughly enjoys this annual showcase of Jewish writing that has grown from presenting just three authors in its first year to hosting more than 40 this year, including such recognizable names as Ted Koppel, Alan and Arlene Alda, Mitch Albom and Dr. Ruth Westheimer.
“We feel like this is our gift to the community, to have the caliber of some of these authors,” Tourial said. Besides, she said, “it’s so much fun. It’s probably the most fun volunteer thing I have ever done.”
Through the years, the festival also has been fun for the writers, too, she said. More than 13,000 book fans are expected to attend the festival’s events this year. And they buy books, Tourial said.
“Over 24 years, Atlanta has built up a really good reputation for the number of people in our audience, the way we treat authors and the fact we sell books,” Tourial said.
Author Joey Reiman of Buckhead, who will discuss his book, “Thumbs Up! Five Steps to Create the Life of Your Dreams” on Nov. 22, calls the Marcus Center festival “one of the most important festivals that has ever been created.”
Part of its appeal comes from its attachment to the Marcus Center, which was named for Home Depot co-founder Bernie Marcus, Reiman said.
“In Jewish nomenclature, there is something called a mensch,” he said. “A mensch is a genuine human being in the moral and ethical arena. When I see Bernie is involved with an organization, the word mensch comes up.”
The festival’s appeal also is based on the authors it chooses to present and how it presents them, Tourial said. More than 200 volunteers are involved in 14 different committees that put on the festival, according to the MJCCA.
From 75 to 100 volunteers are involved in the author selection process, Tourial said. Some read books and rate them. Some take part in one annual event, held in New York, that functions as sort of “speed dating” between writers and book festival officials from across the country, she said. Other authors are chosen after their publicists contact festival officials to promote their work, she said.
Is it worth all the work?
“I think it’s an important thing to do,” Tourial said. I think it’s an important cultural festival for the whole community. Atlanta’s a big community. I grew up in a Jewish Atlanta where there were maybe five synagogues. Look how many there are now.”
Besides, she said, “I love to read. When I started going to the book festival, I realized how much I enjoyed hearing an author talk about their process.”
So, after months of putting the festival together, Tourial is eager to get things started.
“I really and truly enjoy it,” she said enthusiastically. “It’s fun.”