Some swag, yo. I’m actually pretty stoked about every single one of these.
Hard to believe it – but a whole year has gone by since last year’s trip to the Javits Center for BookExpo America. And this year, as Memorial Day Weekend began to recede, felt rather like it snuck up on me. I had not been as intensive about planning – although a few last-minute scribbles of a schedule did, in fact, help out this year – and I went in a little more relaxed because I knew what I was getting into.
I skipped the Book Blogger Conference this year – for slightly less charitable reasons than others; namely that I didn’t see anything remotely of interest on the schedule. Last year’s conference was mostly a snooze and when you combined those expectations with an immensely busy week at work… well, I picked up my badge on Wednesday morning, grabbed a bagel, and was gone.
Thursday dawned with the Neil Patrick Harris signing – a delightful moment, even amongst the tons of awesome authors and publishing people I’d see over the ensuing days. The man, exhausted no doubt from Hedwig and having just done the author breakfast, was happily chatting with everyone in the line for as long as he could. And the excerpt he was signing was hilarious. I bring all of this up because it set the tone for the conference, for me: lines, exhaustion, and a nonetheless cheerful sense of being happy to be there.
The day zipped by, it seems, with the typical first-day manic rush to grab galleys and slip into the biggest signing lines. There seemed to be more celebrities with books out this year than in years past – or should I say, the balance seemed to tilt more towards books authored by big celebrities than celebrity books by big authors.
Indeed, the only book that I went in with a sense of “must must must get” was the new David Mitchell – a book about which I already feel a similar sense of intrigue to Night Film‘s big bow last year. But perhaps because there weren’t as many blockbusters on the tables this year, there were a lot more books that seemed really awesome that I might’ve otherwise missed – it’s just that they were out in limited numbers. The new Tana French, the new Lauren Beukes, Lauren Oliver’s adult debut – they were all represented, but in quantities that felt far more limited than they did last year. I had to scramble to find a copy of Emily St. John Mandel’s highly-touted Station Eleven (which is probably my second-most-anticipated book of the weekend) and of John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van (which I’ve already read and whoa believe the hype). I don’t remember galleys being so thin on the ground last year.
Friday passed as it does – a little more slowly, a little more relaxed. My sister, intrepid singer-songwriter that she is, went undercover as me for the afternoon (had to get back to work – the Forum waits for no man) and managed to nearly get captured by some pirate Scientologists or something. But she also got me the David Mitchell book and turned his signing it into an immortalized inside joke where he notes on the page that it’s she who got me the book – so that’s a good balance to the day.
It’s Saturday, of course, that everyone’s curious about. Vulture, NYMag’s culture blog, called BookCon “chaotic but promising” and while I can’t disagree with the general sentiment… I was one of the people grumbling on Twitter. Because it was a nightmare. I didn’t even descend into the bowels of the Javits Center for any of the panels – but I saw glimpses of some of those lines and if they were even half as simply-batshit-crazy as the line I crossed several times for Grumpy Cat (…..a cat, people. You are lining up FOR HOURS to see a cat.) then I truly feel sorry for those who had to wait in them. But it wasn’t just the big lines, either – even the autographing tables quickly became gridlocked by parents who stood with their children smack in the middle of what was (on any other day) a well-regulated pathway between the lines and the booths. There was pushing, there was muttered grumbling… and I had to slide over into the BEA side of the convention center (a ghost town by comparison) to catch my breath a few times. Indeed, I would’ve left way earlier had it not been for Simon & Schuster’s head-scratcher of a gimmick with copies of the new Stephen King: they gave out tickets at 10:30 to come back and get a copy at 2:30. Not terrible as gimmicks go, but considering the fact that people were starting to look pretty weary by about noon on Saturday, it definitely felt a little unnecessary to drag it out that long.
But also, I’m currently 150 pages into the new Stephen King that everybody else won’t get until it hits shelves tomorrow. So. I’ll take it.
And most importantly, the thing to take away from BookCon… is that people still love reading. It was heartening to see kids clamoring for books and authors – even if some of the offerings might be a little more regressive towards a flattened mean as opposed to being bold and outlandish storytelling of olde. But maybe the kids who were there on Saturday clamoring for John Green or Veronica Roth will grow up to clamor for David Mitchell or Marisha Pessl. I know I did (hell, I even met my childhood literary bogeyman, Mr. R. L. Stine himself – so I was in touch with that clamoring literary child even as I inhabited the body of the clamoring literary twentysomething).
But please, organizers, I beg you: don’t make BookCon and BEA evenly spread over 2 days each. Just make the one day better first.