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Authors, Readers Interact at Festival

Gaithersburg event draw thousands of book lovers.

Readers from all over the country came out to meet famous authors and discover new books at the third annual Gaithersburg Book Festival, held last Saturday on the grounds of the Gaithersburg City Hall.

More than 100 authors gave presentations, led workshops and signed copies of their newest books.

Sarah Pekkanen, the author of the novel "These Girls," is from Bethesda and has presented her books at the festival all three years.

"It's my favorite book festival, which I can say because it's my hometown book festival," Pekkanen said.

Many authors enjoyed the event because it gave them a chance to interact with their readers.

"I always like talking about my book because when you work on something for five or six years, it's a pleasure to talk to people about it," said Adam Hochschild, the author of a nonfiction text about World War I, "To End All Wars."

Jen Lancaster, the author of the memoir "Jeneration X," agreed.

"When you're an author, you're by yourself 99 percent of the time," Lancaster said. "It's really gratifying to see people connect with your work."

Lancaster and Pekkanen presented their books with Eleanor Brown, the author of "The Weird Sisters."

Eileen Shea, a Gaithersburg resident, enjoyed their presentation and said it was like "sitting around with your friends," laughing and talking about a good read.

Shea added that former secret service agent Clint Hill's presentation about his memoir, "Mrs. Kennedy and Me," was "riveting."

"I didn't want either of them to end," Shea said. "Both of them were truly what I expected."

In addition to the presentations, the festival hosted children's activities, vendors, poetry readings and short concerts.

Erin Willett, a semi-finalist on the vocal competition show "The Voice," performed at the festival. Originally from Gaithersburg, Willett was enthusiastic about singing at an event in her hometown.

"It was really great to just be back here and see all the familiar faces who support you through this journey," Willet said.

The idea for a book festival was introduced by city council member Jud Ashman, who was inspired by the National Book Fair in Washington D.C.

"I have been a reader all my life, and when [first lady] Laura Bush started the National Book Festival, it immediately became my favorite event," Ashman said.

When Ashman suggested a similar event for Gaithersburg, the city council jumped on the idea. It established a committee and after 14 months of preparation, the first Gaithersburg Book Festival was held in 2010.

Gaithersburg Mayor Sidney Katz was proud of the event's success and Ashman's accomplishment.

"I think it's fabulous. It's truly a dream," Katz said, adding, "A dream needs a dreamer, and that dreamer was Jud Ashman."

Katz, who created in the Mayor's Book Club to encourage reading in elementary schools, believes that the book festival emphasizes the "value of promoting reading" in Gaithersburg.

"It certainly shows you how much people enjoy reading, but also seeing the people who wrote the words and getting a background beyond the words that were written," Katz said.

Ashman said Gaithersburg is the ideal location for a book festival.

"This is one of the most literate areas in the country," Ashman said. "People love books."

Shea, who has attended the event since the first festival, said that the festival is not just an event focused on authors and their presentations.

"It involves so many people in the community—the committee, the Mayor's Book Club, the short story contest, the activities, the workshops—anything that has to do with the written word is here," Shea said.

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