In Collingswood, a 'bravo' for books

Alyssa Capucilli reads from her book "Biscuit" to listeners Victoria Jimenez (left), 7, of Cherry Hill, Jen McCann of Collingswood and her daughter Ashlyn, 41/2.
Alyssa Capucilli reads from her book "Biscuit" to listeners Victoria Jimenez (left), 7, of Cherry Hill, Jen McCann of Collingswood and her daughter Ashlyn, 41/2. (APRIL SAUL / Staff)

Writers met their readers and sold their stories at the borough's 10th annual Book Festival.

Posted: October 08, 2012

For six hours Saturday, South Jersey's Collingswood borough became a book lover's paradise, as its 10th annual Book Festival drew thousands who came to stroll through six cordoned-off blocks of Haddon Avenue in an open-air celebration of everything literary.

National best-selling authors such as former New York Times reporter Amy Waldman shared space at tables with local favorites like Bernie Parent, Stanley Cup-winning goalie for the Flyers; children's author Dan Gutman; and dozens of lesser-known writers who also came to sell their books and tell their stories.

Children were entertained along a two-block stretch of street usually known as Irvin Avenue but renamed Loompaland Alley (from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory) for the day.

Waldman read from her book The Submission and told her audience that she wrote the book because "I wanted to see what these characters would do." Parent signed autographs and talked about Flyers hockey and the current NHL lockout.

Many of the visitors were from Collingswood, like Geoff DiMasi, who brought daughters Lila and Enzo to get books signed by Gutman, who lives in nearby Haddonfield. This was the third or fourth year he and his children had attended, he said.

"It's great to see that the book is being celebrated," DiMasi said. "It makes reading fun" for his daughters and "is a chance to meet neighbors and new people," he added. His children, he said, "love it - they were rushing out of the house to get here."

Maple Shade sixth grader Taylor Martelack was also in line to meet Gutman. "I've read a lot of his books," she said. Taylor and several friends are part of a mother-daughter book club. "Every time she goes to the library, she comes back with another [Gutman] book," said her mother, Jacqui.

Some visitors came from farther away, such as festival first-timer Alyssa Robbins and her husband, Michael Schwartz, who traveled from Tredyffrin Township, in Pennsylvania's Chester County.

"I'm thrilled to see so many people who still care about reading," she said.

Along with the featured authors were more than 250 exhibitors who paid $25 - the price is kept low to make sure all can afford it - to hawk their books and book-related wares.

Harry Camisa of Yardville, Mercer County, was there, along with coauthor Jim Franklin, selling their self-published book Inside Out, an account of Camisa's 50 years as a corrections officer and educator at the New Jersey State Prison in Trenton.

Camisa said he was twice held hostage during his years there, and witnessed 13 executions. "It's quite a story," he said.

The book festival is the brainchild of Collingswood resident Jean Brennan, a retired teacher who got the idea from a similar event she saw in New York 15 years ago. It has grown from an event held mostly inside the Collingswood Library.

The festival is entirely run by unpaid volunteers and no authors are paid for appearing, "though we hope they all sell lots of books," Brennan said. "They're wonderful people."

Michele Zeldner, a volunteer at this year's festival and all of the previous nine, said: "We're always thrilled to get books into people's hands. It's exciting what this has grown into; it just gets better and better."


Contact Dan Hardy

at 601-313-8134 or dhardy@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @DanInq.

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