Skip to main content


September 23, 2016

The 11th Annual Brooklyn Book Festival


This past weekend, thousands of booklovers, writers and publishing professionals trekked to downtown Brooklyn to paint the town read at the Brooklyn Book Festival. For the 11th year, dozens of vendors were selling discounted books and related gear at tents around Borough Hall and Cadman plazas, while hundreds of authors spread out nearby to give free talks and readings from their latest works. With an entire day reserved for children's books, there was something for everyone, and the festival as a whole did not disappoint.

Although this was only my second year attending the Brooklyn Book Festival, I felt like a seasoned guest, as I have been studying the schedule of events and list of vendors for some time now. Last year, I found myself totally overwhelmed, and I wanted to be sure that that didn't happen again. I also made sure to attend both days as I wanted to get the full experience.

As anyone who has attended an outdoor festival knows, weather is a huge component in your enjoyment of the day. In this regard, Saturday was just perfect --- warm yet breezy --- and the designated area was perfectly shady. While I dodged face-painted children and their parents, I had the pleasure of browsing through some great picture books and middle-grade graphic novels. The children's area was comfortably small, so it was easy to take my time while still attending various panels, including one celebrating legendary author Roald Dahl. You can read more about that event on the blog next week!

Admittedly, the weather on Sunday was not as pleasant, but that didn't deter me or the thousands of other attendees who flocked to the festival in droves. Sadly, I missed the first panel I was interested in attending, which featured esteemd author Margaret Atwood in discussion with Calvin Reid of PW Comics about her foray into graphic novels, but there were plenty of other panels to round out the day.

I managed to slip into a panel featuring Imbolo Mbue --- a Bookreporter favorite whose novel BEHOLD THE DREAMERS has received rave reviews --- shortly before it ended and had just enough time to watch as a rapt audience listened to Imbolo and her panelmates Magdaléna Platzová (THE ATTEMPT), Sayed Kashua (Native: Dispatches from an Israeli-Palestinian Life), and Caleb Crain discuss geopolitics. Topics such as this can quickly become controversial, but I was pleased to see that the audience was respectful and thoughtful in their questions and responses.

Following Imbolo's panel, I took some time to eat and browse the tents. One of my favorite things about the Brooklyn Book Festival is the inclusion of small publishers and literacy groups, as these do not get much exposure at other similar events. Even better, every vendor I spoke to was friendly, informed and happy to discuss their books --- I heard so many book recommendations flying around that my phone was constantly in-hand so I could write them down.

After my tour of the tents I was delighted to head over to the "American Angst and Anxiety" panel featuring Tracy O’Neill (THE HOPEFUL), Emma Straub (MODERN LOVERS) and Helen Ellis (AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE). I just adore Emma Straub, but since I have seen her speak a few times before, I was really interested in Helen Ellis, whom I know very little about --- other than the fact that I loved her short story collection. Helen confessed that, despite her literary success, she has no desire to be considered a writer. Instead, she said, she preserved her own ennui into her characters, trapping them in “gilded cages” in which they could act out with mischief and fun.

It wouldn't be a booklover's day without a little YA, so I soon headed off to the book festival's "Modern Love" panel, which featured New York Times bestselling Gossip Girl author Cecily von Ziegesar (DARK HORSES), Kate Scelsa (FANS OF THE IMPOSSIBLE LIFE) and Robin Talley (AS I DESCENDED), moderated by Sarvenaz Tash (THE GEEK'S GUIDE TO UNREQUITED LOVE). I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm more than a little terrified of horses, but Cecily's DARK HORSES earned such a stellar review on Teenreads that I just had to see her. As these authors discussed social media and how consuming it can be, especially for teens, I was struck by how well they understood their audiences. So many adult writers are quick to shoot down social media as something cheap and meaningless, but these ladies truly understood the value --- and cost --- of social media and how it relates to teens' lives.

For my last panel of the day, I selected "Magic and Mayhem in New York" for one very specific reason: Daniel José Older, author of SHADOWSHAPER. Older was joined by bestselling author Libba Bray (LAIR OF DREAMS), Marina Budhos (WATCHED) and Sarah Porter (VASSA IN THE NIGHT). Although I only read Older's SHADOWSHAPER recently, I have followed him on Twitter for ages and just adore his personality and willingness to discuss tough issues with a voice that reaches teens and adults alike. As the three spoke about New York City and its ability to inspire, I was touched by their devotion to their readers and the city itself. Libba Bray has always been a favorite of mine, so it was wonderful to hear her discuss places I have visited myself.

As a side note, the night before the Brooklyn Book Festival, explosives were detonated in Manhattan, so I was worried that the festival would suffer in terms of attendance. As a result, I felt it necessary to attend a panel on this magical city and all of the ways in which it can inspire stories, characters and dreams. I am delighted to report that the authors I mentioned above handled their panel with expert care, especially given the recent discovery.

All in all, it was a fabulous time, made all the better by the vendors and volunteers who helped to make the experience as seamless as possible. As always, I am looking forward to next year!