Noting the popularity of an annual literary festival in Charlottesville, some area residents affiliated with the affair are hoping they can attract book lovers to a similar event in Northern Virginia.

Today through Saturday, Fall for the Book will feature 40 readings or discussions at George Mason University and elsewhere in Fairfax City. Most of the activities are free.

Scheduled appearances include broadcaster Diane Rehm, authors Elizabeth Berg, Alan Cheuse and Deborah Tannen, and Roger Wilkins, a history and American-culture professor at George Mason and former journalist who shared the Pulitzer Prize for The Washington Post's Watergate coverage.

Because it is new, Fall for the Book will be eclectic, without an overall theme. It is sponsored by George Mason and the City of Fairfax, and will offer book appraisals, poetry readings and discussions ranging from romance novels to sports writing.

The idea for the event began last fall with Randolph Church, 64, a lawyer in Fairfax County who this summer finished six years on the board of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. The foundation produces the five-year-old Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville, which last March featured 203 programs, 211 authors and 13,000 attendees.

"Compared to the event in Charlottesville, [the Fairfax festival is] nowhere near its size," he said. "But it's as big as Charlottesville when it started. It is ambitious, but if it's successful, you'll see a bigger event as time goes on, and it will be in more venues" throughout the county.

A second Fall for the Book already has been planned for Sept. 21-24, 2000.

Rebecca Hoyt, the festival's director, said that next year the author lineup might not be so local. "We weren't necessarily trying to focus on local writers," said Hoyt, who just finished her master's of fine arts degree in creative writing at George Mason. "In our first year, we rely on getting participants [through] people who knew people."

For example, Hoyt's adviser at George Mason and also a presenter at the festival, author Stephen Goodwin, is a friend of Rehm, a nationally syndicated talk-show host based at WAMU-FM. Rehm, 63, of Bethesda, is on tour with her first book, a memoir called "Finding My Voice."

"Anything I can do to promote books and . . . the idea of expansion of awareness through books seems to me a worthy cause," Rehm said.

One word of caution to budding novelists: Organizers are not encouraging residents to hawk their dusty manuscripts or ask for specific advice. Only one event this year focuses on sorting through writers' stories and poems--Saturday at 10 a.m.--and it's for high-schoolers.

"I have a lot of graduate students signed up" to critique the work, Hoyt said.

A book donation program also is part of the festival. Borders Books and Music stores will act as drop-off points for people who want to contribute new books to benefit the Literacy Council of Northern Virginia, which is asking for specific texts.

More information and a full schedule of events for Fall for the Book is available at www.fallforthebook.org, or by calling 703-279-3326 or 703-993-1180.

HIGHLIGHTS OF FALL FOR THE BOOK:

1. A festival luncheon featuring a discussion between broadcaster and author Diane Rehm and Pulitzer Prize-winning former journalist Roger Wilkins. There is a $20 fee; call 703-993-8844 or 703-993-2853. Tomorrow at 1 p.m., Johnson Center Front Multi-Purpose Room at George Mason University.

2. Authors Deborah Tannen, Richard Bausch, Alan Cheuse and Eric Pankey will participate in a reception ($20) before a free reading by Tannen followed by a discussion. Tomorrow at 7 p.m. (reception) at Johnson Center Plaza at George Mason, and 8 p.m. (reading) at Harris Theater at George Mason.

3. Author Bill Shore, founder and director of Share Our Strength, a fund-raising organization, talks about his writing and the program Writers Harvest, an annual benefit reading to combat poverty. Saturday at 11 a.m., Colonial Courthouse in Fairfax.

4. Expert Willis Van Devanter appraises first-editions and other books for a $5 fee for each text. Saturday at noon, Fairfax City Regional Library.

5. James Glassman, a former Washington Post financial columnist, will discuss his new book, "Dow 36,000: The New Strategy for Profiting From the Coming Rise in the Stock Market." Saturday at 3 p.m., Colonial Courthouse.

6. Elizabeth Berg, author of "Talk Before Sleep" and "Until the Real Thing Comes Along," will have a reading and book signing. Saturday at 6 p.m. (reading) 7 p.m. (reception), at Crossroads Restaurant in Johnson Center at George Mason.