25 May 2006

BEA Blog: Day 3


Still under the influence of the Folger reading and reception, I wake up on Saturday morning and write a draft of a poem (No, I will NOT be putting it up here, so DON'T ASK!:). Over breakfast, the topic of Black Books and Street Lit comes up again. Thumbing through the Simon & Schuster African American catalog, I'm struck by how, well, awful, some of the covers for their 'street lit' books are. "It's like when you're first starting out and get one of your friends to design your cover," graphic designer Eunice Corbin says. We wonder if the lack of style or even attempt at quality depiction of figures on some of the covers is some kind of 'sign of authenticity' for these books. Since many of these authors did indeed start out self-published with covers by friends, it is perhaps a way to show that S&S is 'down wit dat' by reproducing crappy graphics. If this is the case, it also smells like a bit of a trick: Think you're helping a brotha or sista out by buying their 'I did this myself and selling it out of the back of my car' book when in fact it comes from one of the world's major publishers.

As much as I enjoyed being with Teri on Friday, following someone around and listening to their pitch, when it's not also your pitch, can get a bit tiring. I'm looking forward to being by myself for most of the day, and have a plan: Start at one end of the main convention floor and work my way aisle by aisle to the other end. What ever I miss I can make up and do 'mop up' on Sunday.

But first: the new America's Test Kitchen's cookbook. Its 10 am, the autographing doesn't start until 10:30 am, and already the line is like a bookaholic anaconda. The signing doesn't even start for another 45 minutes and there are more than 100 people in this line alone. Some of the others are long, some not, depending on the 'name' of the author. The America's Test Kitchen people hand out info about their other publications while we wait. These signed books are free, but there are glass containers at the ends of some of the numbered aisles where a suggested donation of $1 per book can be given. Soon, it's time to start, and the line begins to move. I've been told that Kimball does the quick sign and go thing, and the line does flow fairly smoothly. But he does engage in some chat with those who have been waiting. I ask for the book to be signed to The Other Half, and he asks if that's me. "No, but we both watch every week." He's handed a book, nods, signs, says thanks, and off I go.

By now most of the lines have calmed down (note to self: show up after the announced start time to avoid the crowd), and I stop by for books from a couple other authors, and head down to the main floor. Start at one end, up one aisle and down the other across and cover the entire floor.

There are things you can tell by both booth size and booth placement. On one end of the floor is the 'premium small press' area, where there are actual booths. At the other, where Teri and I saw Poetry, Gival Press, and others, are the, I suppose 'non-premium' small presses. They get a small table and one or two chairs, not really a booth. The majors are in the middle sections of the floor, with multiple booths, large displays, banners, etc. And better carpet. Yes, if you pay more, you can have something more plush to stand on than the standard hard on the feet indoor/outdoor carpet lesser mortals have. You can truly tell just by walking into a section who has spent some cash to be here and who's not.

Another pointer for future convention attendees. On day one I said it's all about the shoes. When you're browsing and picking up items, it's all about the bag. If you're going to really stock up, canvas is better than paper (although I'm told that one publishers shopping bags are excellent and hold up very well). You want something that's going to last and be able to handle everything you pile into it. Some bags become the 'hot gets' of the convention. This year it's Captain Underpants, a series for young readers popular with kids that some parents have challenged in a number of libraries, and a bag for an upcoming Nelson Mandela photo book, with very striking images of the man himself on both sides. There are apparently enough Mandela bags to go around, but the Underpants have to be rationed (yeah, that's a phrase I couldn't resist), and only a few bags are put out each day, increasing the frenzy to get one. I get a mix of different types, canvas and shopping/paper, the paper bags acting almost as collectors items: City Lights books? University of Minnesota Press? How can I resist?

The bag issue becomes important at mid-day, as I have to take a break, and go to the convention center's food court. Yeah I know I said, "Bring a sandwich" but, well, you know...I make it with my multiple bags into the food court, order, get something and am about to try to find someplace to sit to rearrange what I've got when the strap on one of the paper bags breaks. Fortunately, out of the blue, a woman comes to my rescue, offering not only to take the food try while I regather myself, but even to take it to a table for me as I struggle. Its a small moment of kindness from one book-loving stranger to another, but I'm genuinely touched and I thank her profusely for her help.

And it's not like I'm indiscriminate in what I'm gathering. True there are a number of things that interest me personally, but coming from a 'bookish' family, I see things that would be good for my sisters, nieces and nephews, friends...It's like Christmas shopping early, and in fact someone I know does indeed hang on to items picked up at BookExpo until the holidays. I try not to pick up too many catalogues, and have learned from past conventions that without mailing tubes, posters get crushed very easily, so those are out. Fortunately, I call my friends, who were arriving later in the day, and they are on site. I can take my morning's haul to their car, and come back unburdened.

I go through the section of publishers from Spain, Argentina, Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries for a collegue with an interest in Latin American issues. I've also been tasked to look for books and authors that might make good choices for programs at the library, and think I find one in Tom Sancton and his memoir of growing up in 1950's New Orleans, Songs for My Fathers. Also here, signing at the Small Press Distributors booth is poet, activist, and Washington Wizards baskeball player Etan Thomas, who I've been pushing to have invited to the library for almost a year. I talk to and exchange cards with his publicist. So, I'm working, I convince myself, I'm working. And I head down the aisle where most of the comic book publishers are.

Its there that I pick up the Find of the Weekend: Charles Saunders' Imaro.


Originally published in the 1970's, Saunders was one of the pioneer African American SF writers, after Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler. After he moved to Canada, however, his books became increasingly hard to find and fell out of print. Originally marketed as a 'black Tarzan' when in fact it is a refutation of that character and those books, Imaro is the first in a trilogy of heroic fantasy books about an African warrior. Blood, guts, fighting, action, adventure, it's a stereotypical 'boys book' if there ever was one. And all Black, based on genuine African cultures, legends, and myths. I'm thrilled beyond belief by this reissue, and pick up TWO copies, which I don't let out of my presence for the rest of the day.

Connecting with friends blows the 'start at one end' plan, as they want to start at the opposite end from where I began, and we have a 'newbie' with us, who is dazzled and stops quite a bit. But its okay, I made it about halfway through, and going to the other side will leave only a 'middle section' I haven't covered.

As the afternoon wears on, some publishers start to offer things to entice tired Expo goers. Publisher TokyoPop (not with the rest of the comic/manga publishers, I notice, and sporting nice plush carpet) is offering free champange, which we sip while wandering into an area for a publisher with a number of Christian-oriented titles. I feel a bit self conscious about drinking there, but am reminded that 'they drank wine in the Bible' and continue sipping. Another publisher offers wine and cheese, a third Twinkies, still another amazing mac & cheese from Philadelphia. Famous Amos signs and gives away cookies.

Harcourt, which had been showing previews of the new version of Robert Penn Warren's All The Kings Men (Sean Penn's not bad, but I miss Broderick Crawford) has turned that off and their reps are watching the Preakness (I don't stay and miss Barbaro's accident)

Checking the time, I see its time to head up for Edward P Jones' autographing his new book of stories, Aunt Hagar's Children. I'd expected this to be a Christopher Kimball-like mess, but by not being in the area right at his start time, I've missed the mess, and have a short wait. I go up and greet him, shake his hand, remind him that he's been to the Pratt Library twice (once after his smash The Known World came out, and again later, within days of his winning the Pulitzer. He smiles and I think he rembers me (I'd done the introduction for him both times) but he does remember the library. He still seems a little reticent, but better than what I remember of his first reading, where he was a nervous wreck beforehand, which I put down to shyness. Later, someone that knows him well tells me that he's not as shy as I might think, and judging from how very dryly funny he can be during Q &A sessions, I can believe it.

I wander the autographing area a bit more, and notice a short line for another, different kind of star, former New Jersey Governor (and "Gay American") Jim McGreevey, here to push his new autobiography. I get in line...and wait...and wait...and wait. As the person at the head of the line leaves, she comments, "He's chatty," and apparently is asking everyone questions about where they're from, what they do, why they came, and so on. And he's not even signing the book, but a few page excerpt and book jacket mock-up. Seeing my friends in the area in front of the autographing aisles, as well as that there is an older gay male couple in front of me, meaning, I imagine a major debriefing by the Gov, I decide I can give McGreevey the slip, and leave. I do see him later, as he's leaving the building. Up close he looks heavily made up, and I assume he's done a session in the CSPAN Book Bus.

Either that or somebody went a little too heavy on the pancake this morning.

I'd run into writer and (former) publisher Kwame Alexander on four separate occasions as we traveled back and forth across the convention floor. He invites us to a party he's having at DC's new but already legendary BusBoys and Poets that night. We agree, but by the end of the day, and stopping in College Park for something to eat, all of us are completely dead by the time we get to Hyattsville. I hope Kwame understands.

The three of us sort through our finds, sharing, exchanging, doing the 'ooh, where'd you find THAT!' thing over items we've missed. I end the day on the fold-a-way bed, flipping through Watchmen, and reading the introduction and authors note in Imaro. All three books to be reissued! Saunders is writing a new Fourth title to complete the series, then another book mixing African and Celtic myths and traditions! Feeling giddy like a kid again, I fall asleep tired and happy, surrounded by books.

1 comment:

audiologo said...

I'm so glad I scrolled down from the great "A Black man and two Latinos walk into a Chinese carryout...." post which had me missing my former, more cross-cultural digs. I didn't realize there was a 3rd BEA post. Amazing...I felt like I was there except my feet don't ache and I have confeence bag envy! I agree with the folks seconding your attempts to get Jones, he was great when I saw him, truly dr-r-y-y sense of humor, and great with the creative writing students during a colloquium. Your last line made me smile: now I want to catch up on my graphic novel reading.

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