Fuse #8

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Book Expo: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Severe Back Pain

I was trying to figure out how exactly to write up my recent visit to Book Expo '07 (motto: Grow uncomfortably close to your fellow man in a humongous space). Should I recap all the pretty pretty books I brought home? I could but then you wouldn't hear about all the cool books I wanted but passed up because I already had access to them. So instead I'll talk today about what it's like to visit a Book Expo Convention... thing. This was my first one, y'know.

First off, what's the difference between Book Expo and an ALA Conference? Sounds like a riddle of the raven/writing desk variety, doesn't it? But that was the question that popped into my head as I neared the ludicrously out-of-the-way Jacob Javits Convention Center located in beautiful Lower West Manhattan. I've done ALA twice, which is enough to make me think myself an old hand. Plus I'd attended Comic Con at this same center not a month before. To my mind I was just going to waltz in there, locate books, and waltz out.

Flaw to My Plan #1: Waltzing in is not possible. You must dodge, before you even enter, numerous people handing out flyers and ads for products you do not want before you're 50 feet from the door. Some of these people are on Segways, which makes them look like some kind of advanced legless robot. Or deeply uncool. One of the two.

After you dodge the people screaming, "Free books on the Web!" you are inside the convention center. Now the last time I was there it was full of comic book geeks and people dressed up in costumes. That didn't change much on this round. I saw a Jack Sparrow and a Borat within the first two minutes I was inside. Another thing that hadn't changed? The temperature. Jacob Javits was acting like the lovely little greenhouse it was. I saw unfortunate Information Desk volunteers literally falling to sleep as gentle sunbeams lulled them into a sense of false complacency. Fortunately, I was prepared. In the past the Javits has apparently been cold, but not knowing this I packed light. Score thus far - Javits: 0, Fuse #8: 1.

I lost my hometown advantage in attempting to find the Registration Desk, however. To my mind, Javits somehow managed to grown an extra floor or two since I'd last visited. I spent most of the day running up and down stairs and escalators, never quite figuring out what belonged where. Still, once I had my handy dandy map and plastic nameholder thingy, I was good to go.

I've heard a fellow librarian say that they don't much care for Book Expo because the publishers are so clearly trying to woo booksellers rather than librarians. I never really had a sense of that. Bloomsbury, FSG, and Clarion were all super sweet to me, making it very difficult to limit my book intake. When you walk into a convention saying, "I will only take a couple of books" you are deluding yourself. Even if you have stacks and stacks and stacks of the puppies piled on your desk at home *cough* it's hard to say no to the nice editor carrying the shiny middle reader about time travel.

I'd like to offer an apology to Clarion, by the way. You see, at one point in my travels I happened to stumble upon the Little, Brown & Co. booth as they filled their table with cookies (shown here:).

Well, I'm not made of stone. I doggone ate those delicious cookies I did. Oh, Little Brown. Why do you increase my calorie intake so?

After eating a delicious cookie, however, I was thirsty. And this being New York (America's answer to Europe) and not Portland, Oregon, there was not a drinking fountain to be seen. So what did I do? I asked Clarion if I could have one of their water bottles. The water bottles clearly meant, I later realized, for the poor starving/thirst-ridden editors unable to leave the boiling hot convention center all day. I felt bad. However, the water was very good and no one in the booth even blinked when I asked. Still. Bad form on my part.

Thing I Am Most Proud Of: I found the Roaring Brook Press booth early on and managed to get some delightful First Second ARCs, making up for my failure in Seattle earlier this year.

In my travels I discovered a lower level where even more booths were located. The convention organizers had cleverly sequestered all book signings to this floor, and it was there that I was able to find Kids Can Press, Scholastic, and Kane/Miller. My sole regret was that I couldn't find hide nor hair of Simply Read Books. They're one of my favorite independent publishers, cranking out gorgeous little creations each and every year. They weren't on my map though so I can only assume they didn't come out. Alas.

The book signings looked like fun. In this kind of situation you get a free book and have its author sign it for you. At the end of the hall is just a line of authors. Some do better than others, of course. I felt badly for the new teen author whose publisher kept working the lines trying to get her some new fans with a, "Do you like fantasy? Do you like fantasy?" While there, I ran into Monica Edinger and Joan Kindig and we waited for Jon Scieszka and Lane Smith to sign their new book Cowboy & Octopus. Then it turns out that Joan was the woman I replaced on the Newbery last year. We had a nice "woah" moment there.

In my travels I also ran into Paul Acampora, Richie Partington, Karen Breen, and John Mason. I saw Jerry Pinkney staring vacantly into space. I had Adam Rex sign his True Meaning of Smekday and got the second copy Christopher Paul Curtis has ever signed of his new book Elijah of Buxton. I met lots of other people too but my memory is freaky. While having lunch in a little oasis Candlewick set up (next to Carolyn Mackler) someone used the phrase "ALA aphasia". It's the sensation you receive (usually at ALA Conferences) when you meet someone that you know you've met before but you can't quite place where. I suffer from a lot of ALA aphasia. I'm not proud of it. It just happens.

By the way, Candlewick has just started putting their catalogs on CD-ROM. I think this may well be an idea that strays into brilliance. Who else is tired of the thick piles of paper catalogs gumming up your workplace? I know I am. Plus a CD-ROM could have interviews, behind the scenes stuff, and a host of cool extras.

At one point we ran into author Maryrose Wood who had a door prize from that Young Adult Literature Prom a month or so ago. You may remember it from John Green's quickie recap. Well here's the prize she got:

Yes. She really was carrying Knuffle Bunny, Too in there. But we did arrange it a little for this shot.

My secret plan is to find a way to adapt my body into the perfect Book Expo shape. Evolution begins with me. This secret plan requires that my shoulders grow enough muscles to easily carry several bags worth of ARCs without serious consequences to my central nervous system. However, knowing my luck I think I'm more likely to grow hips as wide as bookcases and just carry my wares that way. About this time Monica and I were weighed down with bags upon bags. Here you may see the aforementioned Mr. Jon Scieszka shocked at the amount of them.

Shocked, I say!

So by that time we decided to take off. Sadly, all the tickets for The Knight Bus were already sold out and it would not take me home. We did get to see it parked and ready, though.

I'd blame the blurriness of the shot on how fast it was moving, but you probably wouldn't believe me. With reason. Instead, we eventually found a cab to take us back into Columbialand and I changed right quick so as to turn around and go back to the same area for the Kidlit Drink Night. I took the train almost all the way there but because I was wearing painful shoes I thought that maybe I could hop a quick cab the rest of the way. During rush hour. On a Friday.

Fun Fact: Don't ever do that. Ever. Ever ever ever.

I made it eventually and zee party? She was hopping. Thanks to the good people at Kane/Miller I remembered to wear a blue dress and all kinds of folks were milling about. I saw Matt Phelan & wife, Michael Buckley & wife, Greg Fishbone & no wife (though one might well have been floating about), various Longstockings, Margo Rabb, Tim Bush, a nice microbiologist and a bunch o' bloggers. I finally got to meet our own Sheila, Liz B, and perhaps even Adrienne. I'm leaving people out, so please forgive me. The room, she was a little eensy weensy bit packed. I should have rented out the back area, but someone already had it. Lackaday.

To my delight, Cheryl Klein was there with her Harry and the Potters fan finger in tow.

And how cool was it that the creator of The Leaky Cauldron was by her side?

After that it was off to The Copacabana. A place of airbrushed pink fronds, thick carpets, and female waiters (not men) wearing Cat in the Hat hats. Bloomsbury was kind enough to place right smack dab between Shannon Hale and Katie Grant for the duration which was all kinds of awesome. They made for great seatmates. And I'd tell you about their new books, but then I'd have to kill you. During the course of their conversation I learned that Grand Rapids, Michigan is a difficult place to find a restaurant in if you're from out of town. Also, Ms. Hale knows many of the verses from I've Got a Gal in Kalamazoo, and Ms. Grant's family history is fascinating (it involves two skulls and a single body in a tomb).

The real highlight of the evening were the winners of the E.B. White Read Aloud Award. The winner in the picture book category was James Howe and Marie-Louise Gay for the remarkable Houndsley and Catina. I only recently discovered this book on my own when a young girl asked for it on the Reference Desk. It's a gem of a book. One that somehow got completely passed over on many of the 2006 Best Book Lists. I may have to break my ban on reviewing previous years on this blog just to give this title the attention it so sorely deserves.

Howe, for his part, was a delight. He mentioned that he felt "uncharacteristically nervous" that evening. And he quoted Catina who, in the midst of her desire to write a book, says without hesitation that, "My book will win prizes!" And so it has. Most touchingly, Howe mentioned that his partner Art "is my Houndsley". Once you've read the book you'll appreciate that statement. When Gay went up to speak someone at my table mentioned that they'd been admiring her outfit long before they knew who she was. Gay turned out to be a wonderful speaker as well. She spoke of how, when reading the manuscript, it went a long time without mentioning that Catina was a cat and Houndsley was a dog. Her speech was a lovely encapsulation of what it's like for the illustrator when a manuscript arrives on their doorstep.

You may recall that the winner of the chapter book read aloud portion went to Watt Key for Alabama Moon. A person gets a certain mental image of a writer when they read them. I'd seen Mr. Key as a 55 or so man of little hair and ample stomach. Instead this young man with a soft Alabama accent took to the stage and spoke of his initial wonder on coming to New York. He mentioned that he had no idea that his book would be published for children, how much he really want to sign something anything when he first came to the city, and his desire for shiny gold stickers to put on his book. He charmed the entire room from the minute he stepped on that stage. If you happen to get the chance, I highly urge you to bring Watt Key to your school or library. The man knows how to give a speech.

Marcus Zusak was one of the later speakers. It took us a while to figure out, but every table had about ten copies of The Book Thief on them. And every copy was signed with a different dedication (per table, I mean). So... ow. Poor, Mr. Zusak. I'm sure his hand must be throbbing by now. He mentioned at one point that, "Writing is like climbing a mountain and there's sanity at the top." That was nice. And he was followed up by the Fancy Nancy ladies who had a running Powerpoint of little girl fans dressed to the nines behind them.

So that was that then. On Saturday I did some more hearty partying, but that will wait for another day. I can't imagine what the poor publishers and authors must be feeling right now. At least I didn't have to get up early all week-end. Foof.

No Video Sunday today, m'loves. And a special hug and kiss to Anne Schwartz who asked whether I wrote posts this long every day. Bless your heart, m'darling. I only wish I could do so.

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At 3:32 AM , Blogger Lisa Yee said...

I'm exhausted just reading about all the fun. Thanks for posting!

At 6:55 AM , Blogger Trailer Pixie said...

Hey Betsy,

Sorry I missed you on Friday.

Simply Read, which is also one of my favs, were there. But upstairs, as a part of the PGW group. Hard to find.. but then again, with all the bodies, it was easy to miss them.

BEA in NYC is like a commercial for anti-anxiety medicine, since it is so crowded it makes even the most even-keeled folks feel claustrophobic. The show draws more here than anywhere else, because all the junior publishing folk are in attendance who would normally not be flown in for the show. The same goes for authors (and self published authors desperately looking for a publisher--any publisher).

I myself almost killed a woman I was walking behind when she pulled up short and I had to do the most amazing gymnastics to avoid running her over.


pixie stix

At 11:03 AM , Blogger fusenumber8 said...

Simply Read was there? Oh dog-GONE it. That chaps my hide, it does. I should've double checked with someone, but since they weren't on the map I just assumed they didn't want the expense of coming. All right, all right. When ALA comes around they will be my number one destination, no question. Sorry, First Second.

I know what you mean about near death/fatal injury experiences. I was walking with Monica at one point and somehow the woman towing a suitcase in front of us has to stop suddenly. Poor Monica's ankle hit it, but she turned out to be okay.

Now that I think of it, could that have been you? Near the signings? If so.... (enter Twilight Zone music here).

At 12:20 PM , Blogger MotherReader said...

Thank you thank you for giving the inside scoop on what it felt like to be there. I had wanted to go but couldn't and am both envious of your experience and appreciative of the opportunity to hear about it. I guess I'll have ALA, and that will have to do.

At 1:51 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have found here by following your review from Amazon about the book "Inkspell".

Thank you is about all I can say. I tried very hard to read the second book and I had to force myself to read halfway through the book. At that point I gave up trying to finish. I don't know that I'm brave enough or bored enough to try finishing the story or if I'll bother with the third installment. Inkheart I did enjoy but I wholeheartedly agree with your review about the author needing an editor.


At 2:29 PM , Blogger L. Diane Wolfe said...

Sounds like another overly successful Book Expo for you. I went last year but not this year I'm afraid. Actually, most people say the NY one is their least favorite - with most of the publishers & agents right there, it tends to get the most overcrowded.
If you ever figure out how to carry all those books without injury, let us know!
And I saw the Jack Sparrow character last year - his name is John and he has his owns books & videos. And of course, does Jack Sparrow impersonations!

At 7:47 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...


Sorry I missed seeing you -- I was there Saturday only, but long enough to realize the only must-have BEA shoes are sneakers. Who knew that foot blisters are a side effect of those loaded bags of books? But it was all for a good cause, -- so many terrific books and people. Crowded true, but chockful of energy. Did you get a smiley face cookie too?

At 11:59 AM , Blogger Maryrose Wood said...

hee hee! the knuffle-condom photo makes me very, very happy! Thanks - it was lovely to run into you at BEA.


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