Steve Israel, owner of Theodore's Books in Oyster Bay, is...

Steve Israel, owner of Theodore's Books in Oyster Bay, is one of the organizers of the Gold Coast Book Fair. Credit: Newsday/J. Conrad Williams Jr.

When Steve Israel was a Long Island representative in Congress, his office contained a personal library of books by local authors. When he traveled on business, he made a point to find the name and address of a bookshop at his eventual destination; he once bought a book in Kabul, Afghanistan, he says. Now, as the owner of Theodore’s Books in Oyster Bay, Israel is spearheading the first-ever Gold Coast Book Fair, which runs June 28-29 at LIU Post in Brookville and June 30 in downtown Oyster Bay.

“The purpose of the book fair is to celebrate not just literature,” says Israel, “but literature on Long Island.”

LOCAL LITERARY LIONS

Erik Larson will discuss “The Demon of Unrest” at Long Island University on June 28. Credit: Nina Subin

The Gold Coast Book Fair will serve as part literary festival and part open-air festival. On opening night, Freeport-raised Erik Larson will speak and sign copies of his latest book, “The Demon of Unrest,” about the chaotic early days of the Civil War. On Saturday, more than a dozen authors — about a third of whom have local roots — will speak, including Elmont-raised novelist Alice McDermott, who'll talk with Sands Point-based writer Susan Isaacs about “Absolution,” in which McDermott explores American women’s lives during the Vietnam War. The fair culminates on Sunday in downtown Oyster Bay with live music, food and more author events at various businesses in the area.

In the wake of COVID, similar local gatherings have enjoyed sizable turnouts according to Meredith Maus, executive director of the Oyster Bay Main Street Association, one of the fair’s sponsors. (Another major sponsor is Bethpage Federal Credit Union.) A recent cycling event to raise money to fight cancer drew crowds in the low thousands, Maus estimates, as did a holiday market and stroll in December.

WHAT Gold Coast Book Fair

WHEN | WHERE June 28-29 at LIU Post in Brookville and June 30 in downtown Oyster Bay

INFO Some events require purchased tickets, others are free; for the full schedule and pricing info, go to goldcoastbookfair.com.

“We’re hoping for more,” Maus says of the book fair. “We feel strongly that not only are we going to pull in our local community but book lovers from all over.”

Alice McDermott, who grew up in Elmont, will discuss her...

Alice McDermott, who grew up in Elmont, will discuss her latest book, "Absolution," at LIU Post's Krasnoff Theater on June 29. Credit: Beowulf Sheehan/Beowulf Sheehan

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel, “The Great Gatsby,” set in a fictionalized North Shore, remains arguably the most famous book about Long Island. Still, the region has at least a handful of other major literary connections. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry wrote parts of “The Little Prince” while living in the village of Asharoken. Mario Puzo, who lived first in Merrick and then in Bay Shore, set 1969’s “The Godfather” partly in Long Beach. More recently, Nelson DeMille has used Long Island as a backdrop for several of his sudsy bestsellers, notably 1990’s “The Gold Coast.”

“We have been such a source of brilliant literature,” Israel says, “but we’ve been largely unknown for our literary heritage.”

THE BOOKSTORE EXPERIENCE

The Gold Coast Book Fair comes at a time of uncertainty for brick-and-mortar bookstores, something Israel readily acknowledges. The book industry has been buffeted by the arrival of the internet and the many changes it wrought, from e-books to audiobooks. Today, when authors can go viral on TikTok — selling thousands of books without the help of local stores or even a publisher — it’s clear that shops like Theodore’s are facing headwinds.

“We face them every day,” Israel says. “We’re competing against Amazon, we’re competing against e-readers.” What his store offers, he adds, is a level of human expertise and interaction that readers can’t get online. “We’re selling an experience, not just a product.”

For Larson, who first rose to fame with his 2003 book, “The Devil in the White City,” the Gold Coast Book Fair is a chance to return to his roots (he now lives in Manhattan, though he also has a home in Southampton) and meet some of his readers.

“I think these things are invaluable,” Larson says of the fair, “especially for putting writers in close touch with their audience. I think that’s a nice thing for both sides of the fence.” He adds: “It’s a lovely cultural diversion, and I give Steve Israel huge points for doing this.”

For Brooke Lea Foster, who grew up on the East End, the Gold Coast Book Fair will be the first such event she has attended as a featured author. It’s an I-have-arrived moment, according to the three-time novelist, whose latest is “All the Summers in Between,” about a friendship that straddles class lines in the Hamptons.

“I feel like it’s a big deal,” Foster says. “There’s such a rich history of Long Island-based literature, and to be a part of that is very exciting to me.”

Top Stories