Book Browsing under the Sun

Article excerpt

MOST summer days, Copley Square in Boston's Back Bay attracts three groups of people: office workers eating brown-bag lunches by the fountain, teenage boys skateboarding on the sidewalk, and sun-lovers relaxing on the grass.

For two days in June, this urban oasis also draws another crowd: book-buyers attending the Boston Book Fair. Part literary marketplace, part open-air festival, the free event offers a lively combination of books, music, and literary performances.

Here in the weekend sunshine, this year's 40,000 fairgoers, including 1,000 students bused in from 12 public schools, could wander through more than 100 booksellers' and publishers' booths, set up under yellow-and-white canopies. They could also listen to a 17-piece jazz band, hear to children perform readings, and attend panel discussions on poetry and mysteries.

"It's a marvelous idea, especially for children," says Juan Plascencia of Grolier Poetry Book Shop in Cambridge, Mass. "They see other people browsing, as opposed to merely going to the library, which sometimes seems rather sterile. You see people interested in books in a different environment."

Across the country, from San Francisco to Nashville and from Chicago to Miami, book fairs like this one are bringing booksellers, publishers, and readers together in innovative ways. Not all are outdoor events. But whatever the setting, organizers hope they will spark interest in reading, perhaps drawing people who never visit bookstores or libraries.

Some fairs also serve a charitable purpose. Boston's, for instance, benefits Reading Is Fundamental Inc., the nation's largest literacy program for children. Sponsors and participants donated an estimated $22,000 in cash and books to the program.

Explaining the success of this year's fair, director Michael Quinlin says, "The public response was great. …