Books in Mount Vernon

Festival: A pitchman for literacy delights book lovers with a sweet brand of showmanship.

September 30, 2001|By Rona Kobell | Rona Kobell,SUN STAFF

Wally Amos' cookie recipe is simple: Blend chocolate chips, pecans, flour and eggs. Sprinkle in a pinch of Bill Cosby, a dollop of Martha Stewart and a dash of Bobby McFerrin, circa "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Bake and serve with inspirational quote.

Famous Amos may be known for his cookies, but those who met him at the sixth annual Baltimore Book Festival in Mount Vernon yesterday also saw an expert pitchman - for his new book, The Cookie Never Crumbles, for youth literacy and for his packaged chocolate-chip delights.

"The cookie's purpose in life is to promote healing," Amos said as he extolled the virtues of his Kitchen-Aid mixer in the festival's Food for Thought tent, equipped with a full kitchen.

He wondered aloud why people couldn't mix as effortlessly as his chips and pecans.

And when Hedy Gordon of Ellicott City confessed that her husband likes to hide his Famous Amos cookies, she opened the door to more philosophy.

"It's like love," Amos said. "The more you give away, the more you get. I mean, we never look to hoard the sunshine."

While Amos cooked, dozens of other authors and booksellers were busy in booths perched on the steep slopes of Mount Vernon Place, pitching everything from high school paperbacks with titles like Boys on the Brain and Other Junior High Love Stories to James Joyce classics and science-fiction thrillers.

Hundreds of readers, hungry for a break from worries about war and terrorism, were shopping for a little upbeat escapism.

"If we're truly going to move on, then you've got to do the things that you love," said Eric Jones, a 25-year-old Bolton Hill resident, who stopped by the fair before his shift as systems manager for Waldenbooks.

Amos clearly loves cookies. "Welcome to the world, little cookies," Amos said, as his first batch browned. To the delight of children in the audience - already thrilled to mingle with stuffed luminaries such as Clifford the Big Red Dog - Amos puffed on his kazoo.

"Who wants to lick the bowl? Oh, I like to lick the bowl. Who wants to lick the spoon? I like to lick the spoon. Yum, double yum. I love chocolate-chip cookies."

Amos' extemporaneous performance was appreciated. "People like that because it's real. He's got that bright smile. He's into it," said Jones. "I haven't read any of his books, but I will now," said Teena Maultsby, 48, who attended with her daughter Erin, a Morgan State University senior.

The Maultsbys expected a routine book reading. It was anything but, especially when Amos' 18-year-old daughter, Sarah, called his cell phone for directions from Los Angeles to San Clemente.

"Hi, Sarah. I'm in Baltimore. I just put the pecans in. You're going to San Clemente? Take the 110 to the 405 South ... hold on one second." He paused to dump in the chocolate chips.

"OK, take the 110 to the 405 then to 73, which is a toll road and once you get there ... yes, the 73 meets the 405. You called to ask ME for directions, right? ... OK, have a good time. Smooches."

Festival-goers wandered from stall to stall, sampling souvlaki, questioning authors and swaying to Cajun music played by local bands.

Booksellers said patrons were buying this year. George Grier said he'd sold six copies of his book, The Old Family Farm, in less than an hour.

Susie Coddington of Columbia spent $80 on books. And Pat Bates of Ellicott City said she was planning to get at least two new books.

Many left with signed copies of The Cookie Never Crumbles. The festival is the first stop in a 16-city book tour for Amos, who is the national spokesman for Literacy Volunteers of America. Amos worked with William Donald Schaefer during Schaefer's years as governor on literacy training, and said he thought Baltimore was an apt place to start his tour.

Perhaps no one enjoyed the festival more. Amos, who is a trim, tall 65, didn't even mind when one person shouted: "I hold you personally responsible for making me this fat!"

The sixth annual Baltimore Book Festival continues today from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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