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Rob Jenkins - 08/30/09
Decatur Book Festival has something for everyone

For all its success over the past three years, the Decatur Book Festival has been guilty of ignoring one large but historically underserved demographic: book lovers who are also professional wrestling fans.

Not in Year Four, though. This time around, the festival will cater specifically to that all-important group by hosting a no-holds-barred grudge match between former-professional-wrestler-turned-author Michael Muhammed Knight and Atlanta's own Abdullah the Butcher.

OK, I don't really know about the "no-holds-barred" part or even if there's much of a grudge involved, but I do know that there will be a wrestling match, complete with referee, professional ring, and (rumor has it) a full complement of little old ladies sporting biker tattoos. They'll be there to get their books signed, of course.

Or maybe those books will be for smacking the combatants up side the head should they venture within reach. No one's sure.

The point is, the Decatur Book Festival offers something for everyone. Founded in 2006, the DBF has quickly become the nation's largest independent book festival and the fourth largest overall. Last year's event drew 70,000 people to downtown Decatur over Labor Day weekend.

Those kinds of numbers mean the Book Festival is now Metro Atlanta's second-most-popular annual event, trailing only the SEC championship football game. The nice thing is that the book festival crowd contains hardly any Gator fans.

This year's festival will kick off Friday evening, Sept. 4, with a keynote address by Sir Harold Evans, renowned journalist and author of "The American Century." Another highlight, on Saturday evening, is the Eudora Welty tribute concert featuring Mary Chapin Carpenter and Atlanta's own Caroline Herring. The festival will conclude Sunday night with a poetry slam at the Java Monkey in downtown Decatur.

In between, festival-goers can enjoy browsing for books at over 100 vendor booths, eating at one of the many fine restaurants around the square, and listening to readings by more than 150 authors, including five Pulitzer Prize winners.

(One of those is Robert Olen Butler, whose new novel "Hell" is a contemporary take on Dante's Inferno in which the streets are all named "Peachtree.")

For young book lovers, The Target Children's Stage will host Kate DiCamillo ("Because of Winn-Dixie") and Judy Schachner (of Skippyjon Jones fame), among others.

Thriller aficionados, like me, will enjoy hearing Lee Child, author of the popular Jack Reacher novels. Child's last three titles have all debuted at No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

There's even a nod to sports fans - as opposed to "sports entertainment" fans - when former all-pro linebacker Karl Mecklenburg introduces his new book, "Heart of a Student Athlete."

As I said, there's something for everybody at the DBF. Well, almost everybody. Maybe next year they'll finally see the light and offer a program for book lovers who also happen to be left-handed ventriloquists who ride unicycles.