March 23, 2018
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A season for books and scents

By Meg Adams, Special to the BDN

I love fall. Autumn has always been my favorite season; as the colors change, leaves fall to the sidewalk, and the air gets that autumn crispness to it, I get an extra spring in my step.

Some people are ambivalent about the season, while others revel in it. Watch closely and you can always pick out those whose favorite season is autumn — it’s not hard if you know what to look for. From the bus stop, I study passers-by carefully. A businesswoman in a well-tailored suit walks purposefully ahead, absorbed in her thoughts. Before crossing the street, though, she takes several steps to the right — for no particular reason, nothing on the sidewalk to avoid — for the sole purpose of planting the toe of one pump squarely on a particularly crunchy leaf. It crackles obligingly and, while she does not slow her pace as she regains her path, I see a small smile tugging at her lips.

A dozen people pass my bench before I see another: an older Hispanic man wearing a bright yellow hard hat. He, too, dodges invisible obstacles in his path, taking a circuitous route to the edge of the sidewalk to rustle through a small pile of fallen leaves. Crunch. The satisfying sound reaches even my ears.

I laugh. We are kindred spirits, these subtle leaf-stompers and I.

It’s hard for me to think of anything about fall that I don’t like: pumpkin ice cream, hot cider, scarves, wool sweaters, foliage, I love it all. And — perhaps inevitable after years of being a student — I find it hard to separate fall from books: new notebooks with page after blank page, dog-eared paperbacks read for the first or 21st time, libraries and new pens. Baltimore, apparently, made the same connection, because the first official weekend of fall is the Baltimore Book Festival.

The festival features hundreds of exhibitors and booksellers, nonstop readings, workshops and more. Right in Mount Vernon, the heart of Baltimore’s downtown arts district, the festival draws more than 60,000 people every year. Authors, both local and from across the nation, sign copies of their work and answer questions. Publishing houses sell samples while courting writers as well as customers. Newspapers and magazines, from The New York Times to local indie publications, sell subscriptions and hold raffles. A live music group entertains the fair-goers throughout the day.

Baltimore has always had a thriving literary scene. With several universities and colleges offering advanced writing degrees, teachers and students gravitate here. For those of us not affiliated with an academic writing program, there is still plenty to read, write and capture the imagination.

One of the city’s biggest literary legacies is that of Edgar Allan Poe. Though Richmond, Va., is considered his principal home, his family roots were firmly set here and he is buried in the Westminster Burying Ground. The legendary bar where Poe allegedly was last seen drinking before his mysterious death still stands not far from my apartment.

Poe-mania is the literary side of Baltimore pride, a dorkier, bookish version of being an Orioles fan. It’s certainly played up: a theater group performs “The Cask of Amontillado” with dramatic flair, while a historian regales others with local lore and accounts of Poe’s ghost.

I weave in and out of booths, stopping to paw through several tables of $2 and $5 books. I flip through several, picking them up and replacing them on the shelves before I notice the woman across from me doing the same. Sort of. Only instead of reading the jacket or the tables of contents, she is picking up each book, examining its cover, then opening it up and holding it close to her face for a moment before putting it back down. I realize that she is sniffing the pages.

I have to ask.

“I try to pick out books that smell right,” she tells me with a laugh. “I always read before bed, so half of the time I end up falling asleep on the pages. It’s more important than you’d think, especially with used books. This one? A smoker read that last. Not my thing. But this one? Freshly printed pages. They smell like it just came out of a copy machine.”

I resist the temptation to sniff the book I had planned on buying, certain that if I do someone will immediately jump out and inform me that I’m on “Candid Camera.”

I buy a pumpkin ice cream cone (I’d like to thank whoever imagined this crossing of two great things, pumpkin pie and ice cream — it’s like pie a la mode, condensed) and listen to a man read from his recently published memoir of growing up in Baltimore. Then I walk home, my feet making a zigzag path on the sidewalk as I step on every crunchy-looking leaf I pass.

The Bangor Book Festival opens at 7:30 p.m. Friday with a keynote talk by Douglas Preston at the Bangor Opera House. Workshops and lectures will be held 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 3, at Bangor Public Library on Harlow Street. All events are free.

Meg Adams, who grew up in Holden and graduated from John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor and Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., shares her experiences with readers each Friday. For more about her adventures, e-mail her at

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