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Brooklyn’s 17th annual “Book Fest”: connecting authors and readers

Authors E. Lockhart, Jessica Goodman and Tashie Bhuiyan speaking at a panel for the 17th annual Book Festival in Brooklyn. The festival lasted eight days and included nearly 200 authors. JENNA ZAZA/THE STATESMAN

Despite New York City facing severe rainstorms due to Hurricane Ian, crowds of people trekked out to downtown Brooklyn to attend the 17th annual Book Festival on Oct. 2. 

“We had a line wrap around Borough Hall,” Anna Hotard, an admin at Book Festival, said. “People just really love books and they love our authors.” 

Brooklyn’s Book Festival, New York City’s largest literary festival, is an eight-day free event filled with exciting programs and plenty of opportunities to meet literary authors from around the world across all five boroughs. This year’s production was hosted by the Brooklyn Book Festival Literary Council and Brooklyn’s Borough President, Antonio Reynoso.

“Books are a great way to connect with people who love the same things as I do and it’s a good source of community,” Jennifer Martin, an undergraduate student majoring in creative writing, said. “You really find people that connect with you.” 

On the day of the festival, there were nearly 200 authors in discussion and readings covering all various genres. Festival day usually features a literary marketplace with 250 independent and major publishers, but due to the wind, the marketplace was canceled this year. The literary celebration aims to connect diverse readers with each other but also to the authors, creating a sense of community for many people. 

A book display of novels as a part of BookTok. Social media has expanded the reach of otherwise unknown authors. JENNA ZAZA/THE STATESMAN

Samantha Dockser, 28, explained why she came to Book Festival this year. “I love learning about new worlds and about different cultures and bonding with other people who love books. It brings people together,” she said.

One featured panel, “What’s Up with #BookTok?”, featured three authors: E. Lockhart, known best for her Young Adult thriller “We Were Liars,” Tashie Bhuiyan, an up and coming novelist and Jessica Goodman, New York Times Bestselling author of “They’ll Never Catch Us” and “They Wish They Were Us.” The authors spoke about how apps like TikTok have become a platform for readers to connect with each other, share their thoughts and ratings, recommend books to each other and become a sort of free-range book club online.

#BookTok is a hashtag on Tiktok where users create content on recommending books, reviewing them, making memes out of them and more. Videos with the hashtag have been viewed over 80 billion times. Many readers can cause a book to go viral on TikTok by filming a short video of their raw and emotive reactions to the book. The discussion also ventured into how authors are using the platform to dive into the subculture of their genres and connect casually with users and readers on the platform.

While fan reactions to her book brought Lockhart TikTok fame without her own influence, she believes that the platform is a more playful situation than Instagram and that it is a new outlet that authors can offer content on.

Bhuiyan expressed how her TikTok presence helped connect her with her readers and appreciated having a direct line to fan responses and comments. Bhuiyan often posts videos of her interests and meshes it into her author sphere; she created one video promoting her book, “A Show for Two,” to the sound of  Stray Kids “Circus,” one of her favorite K-pop boy groups.

By incorporating music by a certain artist, having hashtags that relate to a niche community and including captions, users across different TikTok communities find the videos and thus boost community engagement.

“Tik Tok has really exploded in a lot of ways but in terms of books, I think it helped improve access between readers and their next great read as well as authors,”  James Akinaka, 28, said. Akinaka works at the Penguin Young Readers branch of Penguin Random House. 

BookTok was not the only new literary trend represented at the event. Julia Frampton, 28, expressed the joyful and exciting emotion of seeing the inclusivity of plus-sized authors and readers at the festival where there is often a lack of this representation in society. This was her sixth time coming to the Book Festival.

Nick Webster, 52, and his wife traveled all the way from Sacramento, Calif. to attend this year’s Book Fest. The couple were excited to hear the authors speak in the several seminars taking place.  

“Books, by extension, connect us in a way that we would never be able to connect with from different parts of the world,” Reynoso said. “I’m happy that we have the Brooklyn Book Fest so that everyone can enjoy the greatness of books.”

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About the Contributor
Jenna Zaza, Arts & Culture Editor
Jenna Zaza is The Statesman's Arts and Culture Editor. She is a second-year journalism major with a minor in Korean studies and on the fast-track MBA program. When she is not writing, she is probably reading a book with a cup of coffee in hand.
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