Scenes from the Brooklyn Book Festival
There’s something about late September in New York. The air is clear, the heat of August dissipated like a summer blanket put away. In Little Italy, the San Genarro Festival stretches south from Houston Street like a line of living history; in the Bronx, the Yankees try to keep their playoff hopes alive.
And then there is the Brooklyn Book Festival, which on Sunday for the ninth time took over Columbus Park and Borough Hall -- a testament both to the city and to reading, which are inextricably connected in my mind.
I grew up in New York, and became a reader (and a writer) in the city, which is one of the many reasons I love the Brooklyn Book Festival; it’s like a piece of my imagination come to life. For one day, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., tens of thousands of readers, writers, booksellers and publishers gather in celebration of the written word.
This year’s participants included Roz Chast, Jeffery Renard Allen and Roxane Gay. Late in the afternoon, Jonathan Lethem talked with Jules Feiffer about the latter’s graphic novel “Kill My Mother.” One of my favorite moments came during a mid-morning presentation, when Ben Lerner declared: “I’m interested in the way fiction has become fact.”
As it turns out, I am interested in this also; it became a point of conversation in the panel I moderated: “About Africa,” which featured novelists Bridgett Davis, Susan Minot and Dinaw Mengestu. What is the line between fact and fiction, we considered, and what are the truths that only literature tells? One answer, Mengestu suggested, citing Albert Camus, is to create an act of revolt.
This, of course, is one of the things reading and writing offers, in a culture consumed with flash and speed. We come to books for an immersion, to see the world through someone else’s eyes. This builds empathy, of course, but even more it builds connection, reminding us of everything we share.
From One Story to the Brooklyn Poets, from Lerner to Mengestu, this is the message of the Brooklyn Book Festival. It is a day in New York like no other, a day to celebrate what unites us, rather than what tears us apart. A day, in other words, in which we read books through the filter of community, of our essential humanness.
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