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Scenes from the Brooklyn Book Festival

September 13, 2010 |  9:26 am


The Brooklyn Book Festival took place Sunday at and around Borough Hall, both indoors and outdoors, despite an intermittently rainy day. Chances are the courtroom would have been packed for the "Finding the Funny" panel at 3 p.m. even if it had been blissfully sunny, though, because it was led by John Hodgman, known for his turns on "The Daily Show" and as the PC guy in those Apple ads. He's also the author of "Areas of My Expertise" and "More Information than You Require."

The panel -- which included author and literary publicist Sloane Crosley ("How Did You Get This Number") and comedians Kristen Schaal and Rich Blomquist, authors of "The Sexy Book of Sexy Sex" -- was let into the borough's courtroom before the audience. As the seats filled, Hodgman rearranged furniture up front, moving two tables aside, shifting seats and adjusting microphones, joking with the audience all along. There were short readings and questions; the panel teetered on the edge of chaos, in a good way. "I focus-group all my writing in front of a couple hundred people in Brooklyn," Hodgman deadpanned in response to an audience question. "In a room just like this."


That room, the courtroom of Brooklyn Borough Hall, was designed in 1903. Several panels were presented there, including, above, one with Mona Simpson, Russell Banks and Jabari Asim and moderated by the L.A. Times' David L. Ulin, second from left. Below is the courtroom ceiling.


Brooklyn Borough Hall -- which opened in 1848 as City Hall for Brooklyn, which was then separate from New York City -- is a New York City landmark and on the New York state and national registers of historic places. 


The festival's main stage, as usual, was set up in front of the building. Its grand steps provide perfect stadium seating. Above is the crowd for Rosanne Cash, who talked about her new memoir, "Composed."


The stairs were mostly empty by late afternoon, when the rain settled in. The festival's crowds, which had been shoulder-to-shoulder during the dry midday, cleared out early.


The day had begun with a drizzle. Booksellers such as Greenlight Bookstore, above, set up with plastic sheeting to try to keep their books dry.


Small Beer Press met the morning with a smile. From left are Michael de Luca, author Karen Lord ("Redemption in Indigo") and publisher Gavin Grant. Grant, who is an occasional contributor to the L.A. Times book section, drove books down from Massachusetts, just for the festival.


Festival organizer Johnny Temple said that small presses find the Brooklyn Book Festival is a great way to reach enthusiastic readers. Above, Melville House publishers Dennis Loy Johnson and Valerie Merians stand with a popular festival item, the book bag. "I would prefer not to" is a quote from Herman Melville's novella "Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street."


Not surprisingly, Brooklyn books were in abundance.


The Target Children's area was cozy, with brightly colored carpet and readings.


A scene from the festival during the afternoon, after the crowd had thinned. Brooklyn Borough Hall is in the background.


The Paris Review crew told me that at first, the rain didn't dissuade people, saying that there seemed to be a collective joy in overcoming the elements. 


Staffers took the rain in stride. The information booths were busy -- in addition to T-shirts, they had tickets to the popular events in Brooklyn Borough Hall and at St. Francis College. All events were free, but there was no entry without a ticket.


The table at Coffee House Press shows the dilemma -- how do you share your books with people when they risk getting soaked?


C-Span2's Book TV passed out all of its free bags before the rain set in, but staffers stuck around, even as it got wet and chilly.


Those at less expensive booths, without tent coverings, packed up and left early.


Paper goods just don't do well in the rain.


As the booths packed up and the final events moved inside, a few readers were undaunted by the rain.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo credits: Carolyn Kellogg