30 May 2006

BEA Blog: Day 4

When they begin playing John Philip Souza marches on tubas, you know it's time to go....

Last day of BookExpo and I have the mixed emotions. Very happy, tired (I won't realize how sore from tote-ing books I'll be until well after I'm back home), glad I came -- but also glad to be leaving. There's only so much of this one can take! I repeat the same joke to three people I talk to today: BookExpo is like crack for booklovers.

Spend the morning with Teri and her husband Hayes at breakfast in Silver Spring. Both poet-hyphenates (poet-arts administrator, poet-teacher), they are filled with energy and ideas, and I'm struck by how 'young' they are. Either that or I'm just getting old. I try to insist, particularly to Teri, on the need to slow down, that one can't do EVERYthing, that choices have to be made (you can either watch all those TIVOed episodes of "24" or you can write, but maybe you can't do both), but am not sure I get through. I give them a writing assignment for their upcoming trip to Paris: spend a day walking through the city without a plan, just observing, and come up with notes to write a series of poems "Morning in Paris," "Noon in Paris," etc. Yes they will be 'doing something' but it's also a round-about way to get them to slow down and observe, to just enjoy 'being' for a while. It is obvious thaty they enjoy being with each other, and its very touching to see them unconsciously do little things for each other. Ah, married life...

The three of us also notice how we are in a room in the restaurant where there are no white people. Everyone in our area is black/brown. The restaruant is full, and perhaps 70% black, so perhaps its just a coincidence. But, this being the USA, one never knows...

Back at BookExpo. It is a fantastic but humbling experience to be a writer here. Fantastic to see so many books and publishers and other authors. (A photo of Zane in the African American Pavillion)
But also humbling: how can your one little book possibly break through when surrounded by all this? It reinforces how much work it takes to even try to make it in the writing world, let alone an 'overnight sensation'. I'm struck by how a few of the smaller presses and self publishers are relying on outlandish costumes or gimicks (viz the tubas) to draw people to their booths. Much of the time, it doesn't work, and only makes them look desperate and a little sad. The 'big boys' don't need to do that (although one has a Johnny Depp look-alike in their booth to push a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' tie-in).

Someone in the booth next to Small Press Distributors hears my name and comes over. "You're a poet, aren't you? You've been published, right? I've read your work!" I'm dazed and happy, but also a little unsure. This has happened to me before, in Chicago in 2002, at the Fire and Ink Conference, where someone said, "Oh I have all your books," and proceeded to pull out the collected work of Reginald Shepherd. I suspect this is the case here as well, but I'm gracious and thank the guy. Have to remember to tell the 'Other Reginald' that I met one of his fans....

(Non-chronological aside: This is not the last time I'm mistaken for someone else in Washington DC. Memorial Day Weekend I'm standing in the Lambda Rising bookstore awaiting the start of a reading for Spirited, when an older black woman comes up to me and asks, "Are you E Lynn Harris?" *Sigh*)

Some authors are signing in booths on this final day, and publicists and others with their presses are in the asiles like Carny barkers, drawing people in. "Author signing copies right now!" they say to passers by. Some people however don't need this: the longest line of the day is in the morning for Alice McDermott, in the FSG area. I make it there in time to see her and get a book. I mention being from Baltimore and she whispers to me, "How do you think O'Malley's going to do?" (our Mayor is in the Democratic primary for Governor of Maryland). I say, "I keep worrying they're going to pull out some dirty tricks on him." McDermott nods sadly, and moves on to the next fan.

The last day of the convention can often be a good day for 'hunting and gathering'. Vendors are giving away books they don't want to box up and ship back to their home offices. Some are selling things ("Make me an offer" one says), others not (inspite of our hovering and salivating, coffee table book publisher Taschen ain't givin' up nothin'). There's what can only be described as a frenzy in front of Merriam Webster. You know you're among SERIOUS book and word lovers when you see folk scrambling for dictionaries! It's One Per Customer here, and the MW people are bringing out the title you want. I decide to step aside to allow an over excited teenaged girl to go ahead of me so she can get a thesaurus before she explodes.

I run into Kwame Alexander again, and apologize for missing his party. He understands and says he was exhausted as well, but since people had already been invited he as host couldn't not show up.

Someone points out to me that being from the library makes me a bit of a VIP. Marketing people and publishers spring into action when I mention 'Big city public library', and go looking for books and catalogues, some even offer to mail titles to me once they get back to their offices. Gee, the prospect of sales of 50-100 copies of a title in one order tends to get folks moving, doen't it?

More food (carrot cake with almonds today), a few more signings. The convention hall closes at 4 pm today, but at 2, the sound of adhesive tape being torn off rolls starts to be heard around the floor. Folks are starting to pack up. Wandering among the boxes, I review the weekend. I have few regrets. I only missed one author signing I wanted to make -- David Maraniss and his new Roberto Clemente bio. Otherwise, I'm well satisfied. So what if I missed presentations by Amazon and Google (who have a small fleet of cars to shuttle conventioneers back and forth to their hotels). I've been impressed by how much work gets done at this expo. An editor at Temple University Press described his day as "Breakfast with an author, lunch with two authors, dinner with an author tonight...." Every day I've seen huddles of people sitting at tables making deals and talking about books and the book business. I've surprised myself at how much work I've done in talking to publishers and authors. Its been a really grand four days, and I can't wait to go to BookExpo 2007 in New York City. First order of business next year will be to locate the shipping area, so I can start sending books back to myself from day one.

The weekend ends with what I can only describe as a perfect dinner at Udupi Palace in Takoma Park, a vegetarian South Indian restaurant. Everything is fresh, light, extraordinary, and our waiter looks like he just stepped out of a Bollywood musical. Good food, good friends, good conversation, and books: Heaven must be like this.

...And what do I do when I return from BookExpo? Why, order a book, of course!:) One final title, highly recommended during the convention: So Many Books: Reading and Publishing in an Age of Abundance, by Mexican author Gabriel Zaid (translated by Natasha Wimmer), from the small Philadelphia publisher Paul Dry Books. A short, beautifully written essay on books, reading, and writing, it elegantly states the case for the continued relevance of books as other technologies advance, as well as how reading creates connections between people. Its the perfect end to a perfect series of days.

"The freedom and happiness experienced in reading are addictive, and the strength of the tradition lies in that experience, which ultimately turns all innovations to its own ends. Reading liberates the reader and transports him from his book to a reading of himself and all of life. It leads him to participate in conversations, and in some cases to arrange them, as so many active readers do: parents, teachers, friends, writers, translators, critics, publishers, booksellers, librarians, promotors.

The uniqueness of each reader, reflected in the particular nature of his personal library (his intellectual genome), flourishes in diversity. And the conversation continues, between the excesses of graphomania and the excesses of commerce, between the sprawl of chaos and the concentration of the market."


Lisa Moore said...

so *this* is what you do with your *spare* time, eh? i am loving your commentary on BEA, and your time in Hyattsville in general. who knew you were in constant observation mode? oh--and thanks for the RedBone Press plug. after all the production angst, the final book cover looks much better--and the content ain't bad, either. :-)

ReggieH said...

Well, I guess you caught me! I'm sometimes in Observation mode anyway (and at other times can be blind as a bat), so it wasn't too hard to pick up some highlights.
And you're right, BloodBeats is very good. I started reading on the way home Sunday and kept going and going and...