Turn a page, find a jewel

Despite rain, hundreds visit book festival, find treasures

October 01, 2006|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN REPORTER

Hundreds of people in Mount Vernon were shopping. They were eating. They were dancing - some of them in puddles.

But at the Baltimore Book Festival yesterday, Holger Staude was reading.

The used book that the Princeton sophomore had picked up was too good not to pause and flip through. "It's How to Do Just About Anything, and it's actually very interesting," Staude said.

He'd stopped at a chapter called "How to Ease Family Tension at Your Wedding," even though the German native visiting a friend in Baltimore had no immediate plans to marry. "It's completely random."

The weekend-long festival that began Friday night and continues from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. today is the perfect place to find such treasures.

"It's marvelous. It's such an eclectic collection of books and authors," said Andrea Anderson, a 62-year-old retired social worker from the Baltimore neighborhood of Madison Park, near Bolton Hill.

"I just love books," said Anderson, who has been in a book club for nearly 20 years.

Anderson said she had also been enticed to the festival by the appearance yesterday of actress and civil rights activist Ruby Dee, who was reading from a collection of writings and speeches by her husband, Ossie Davis.

"He treated words as if they tasted good - you know what I mean," Dee said in her sultry, full-bodied voice during the reading yesterday at the Walters Art Museum.

Today, author Sebastian Junger, who wrote The Perfect Storm: A True Story of Men Against the Sea; Baltimore County native Kevin Clash, the puppeteer for Elmo; and Chesapeake chef John Shields are scheduled to make appearances.

The festival, in its 11th year, draws about 50,000 book lovers to the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood, said Tracy Baskerville, communications director for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

But yesterday's morning showers kept some of the crowds away, except those in the preschool set.

Wearing their ladybug or frog boots or riding in canopied strollers, the children at the festival didn't appear to be at all bothered by the rain.

They gleefully danced in front of the puppet show of the Metropolitan Community Church of Baltimore. They painted pumpkins. They listened to children's authors and illustrators. They snacked on funnel cakes and french fries.

"It's just a little rain," said Alex Abdunnabi, 13, from Potomac. "We're having a great time."

He and his mother, Lisa Gilden, a lawyer, came to hear one of the children's book authors, Marla Frazee, whom Gilden has known since they were children.

Josh Finkelstein, who gave his age as 5 1/2 , splashed in a puddle near the Washington Monument.

He and his mother planned to enjoy a little bit of everything that the festival had to offer: book buying, crafts and touring some of the historic buildings that were open to the public, including climbing to the top of the Washington Monument.

"It's my favorite Baltimore thing to do all year," said Josh's mother, Carla Finkelstein, who is in charge of staff development at the Green School of Baltimore. "It's all about books. There are people from all walks of life."

Nearby, chef Nathalie Dupree was keeping her fans laughing as she discussed her new cookbook, Shrimp and Grits.

"There's really no need to take the vein out [of the shrimp] unless your mother-in-law is coming to dinner," Dupree advised.

She demurred a bit when asked about favorite restaurants in Charleston. "How much trouble do you want me to get into?" Dupree asked, before naming several spots she likes for such occasions as Sunday lunch.

"She's very entertaining," said Judith Hallfrisch, 64, a retired scientist from Northwest Baltimore. "I love cooking."

Hallfrisch said she likes the festival especially to "see the local authors and get their books."

Jennifer Fairman, a 34-year-old Johns Hopkins professor from Roland Park, her husband and a friend from work said they were enjoying looking through the stacks of books in the tents that lined the sidewalks from Centre Street to East Madison Street and from St. Paul to Cathedral Street.

They said they also were stopping in the open historic buildings in Mount Vernon, such as the Peabody Library.

"It's a good taste of Baltimore," Fairman said. "It's fun - for free."

laura.barnhardt@baltsun.com

Read about Elmo's alter ego, former Baltimore County resident Kevin Clash, in the Modern Life section of today's Sun.

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