Spencertown festival speaks volumes to the allure of books

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SPENCERTOWN, NY — Every summer for the past 14 years, the Spencertown Academy Arts Center has been transformed into a mecca of new and gently used books.

Beginning in July, nearly 100 volunteers comb through stacks of thousands of donated books in preparation for the annual Festival of Books, a three-day, open-to-the-public event held over Labor Day weekend.

"We must have 15,000 books or more," the fair's co-chair, Jill Kalotay, said Saturday, while dozens of people browsed for books. "People just get hooked."

About 2,000 visitors descend on the fair each year, with the event raising more than $25,000 toward operating expenses for the Spencertown Academy, an arts center in a former schoolhouse.

The festival includes the sale of books, children's programming, as well as lectures and readings by local and nationally known authors.

Wayne Greene, maven of specialty books, is in charge of sorting the specialty pieces.

The general selection is housed on the top floor of the school, and all those books are sold at the same price: $5 on the first day, with their cost reduced each day until the end of the fair.

Greene's collection, though, has its own room and is organized to look like a bookshop, with the most aesthetically pleasing novels on display.

"We have a lot of brand-new books," Greene said of those that were donated by authors and publishers.

Greene, an attorney, spent 15 years working as an antiquarian book dealer. His specialty room was divided into sections that included the "kooky and quirky" and the "old and unusual."

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On Saturday, volunteers worked to restock the shelves every 15 minutes.

"I head straight to the rare and unusual books," said Lydia Davis, a writer from East Nassau, N.Y.

After only 20 minutes in the section, Davis already had collected a stack of eight books that she intended to buy. Her husband and son picked a few up, too.

"For $5, you can get some really interesting things," she said, adding that an entire room in her house is used to store books.

Greene and Kalotay said that when the books come in, volunteers use erasers and toothbrushes to buff out whatever imperfections they see.

Still, each year, they end up with a dumpster full of donated books that are in too poor of a shape to recover. After the sale, the academy donates all the unsold works, usually hundreds of boxes full, to the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition, Kalotay said.

Deb DiGrado, of Guilderland, N.Y., attends the annual event with her daughter, now 25.

Last year, they left with a dozen books, most of them art books for her daughter, who works at their local library.

"She loves the feel of books," DiGrado said. "I'm never going to get her out of here."

Haven Orecchio-Egresitz can be reached at horecchio@berkshireeagle.com, @HavenEagle on Twitter and 413-770-6977.


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