Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 16, 2024

“Don’t get stuck in the Hopkins bubble!” This is a phrase Hopkins students have heard over and over, one that is drilled into many heads during orientation. “That’s not going to happen to me,” most proclaim to themselves internally. Fast forward three weeks and sometimes new students don’t travel farther than the Starbucks on St. Paul Street.

That thing just hasn’t come along yet — the thing that can spark intellectual intrigue and draw book-lovers out of the library for more than an hour during late night: The Baltimore Book Festival at the Inner Harbor. The annual festival spanned the weekend of Sept 23- 25 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. each day.

Many students have been to festivals before, sure — festivals for theatre, festivals for food, festivals celebrating all kinds of things — but never books.

That being said, the title leaves much to be desired. What would a book festival be like? Would there be book-themed rides? People parading around in book costumes? Bobbing for novels? A page maze? It’s difficult to guess.

The truth is simpler than it seems, which is that there are books. Lots of books. Some of the programming partners of this year’s book festival included the CityLit Project, the Johns Hopkins University Press, Red Emma’s Bookstore Coffeehouse and the Ivy Bookshop.

Meandering along the  countless booths  that lined up on the edge of the Harbor, viewers expect the stacks of literature to come to an end, but they never seemed to. The books cover every subject you could imagine. There were books on and by presidential candidates (past and present), books entitled with racial slurs and books on topics like the Flint Michigan water crisis alongside children’s books.

On one level, this annual book festival can feel overwhelming, with over 100 exhibitors and booksellers, readings on multiple stages and various workshops. Out of only a small fraction of the literature in the world, there was more in this one place than one could hope to read in a lifetime of reading. This feeling could leave a bibliophile somewhat downtrodden, wandering through the endless stacks of pages.

But of course, that has never been the goal. No one individual can hope to read everything. It is most useful, then, to stop looking at the forests and instead focus on the trees.

The wonderful thing about a book festival is the multitudes it contains. Not only can one experience the perspective of a playwright from the 1600s, one can also experience the perspective of someone growing up in destitute communities in the 21st century.

Along with diverse literature, the festival also incorporates live elements, featuring music and cooking diplays as well as live poetry readings.

Due to our fast-paced lives nowadays, it can be difficult to slow down and read a book every once in a while. Wandering around the festival, however, a spectator can see hope for the future.

Given the way our current era can seem characterized by instability and fear both at home and abroad, there is something heartwarming about seeing all the young families at the festival.  Even if they were there only at their parents’ insistence, kids could experience the value and beauty of a tangible novel despite the vast amount of technology available to them.

We all fall victim to the notion that there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to devote time to picking up a new piece of prose or poetry. Here at Hopkins, this is only exacerbated by the high volume and intensity of the reading we have due for our classes.

Despite this, the Baltimore Book Festival inspires viewers to peek at the books instead of pushing them aside in the favor of textbooks. Obviously, this won’t be realistic all the time, but reading a few chapters of something different and refreshing each week will, perhaps counter-intuitively, reduce students stress levels overall.

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