Publishing's biggest annual conference, Book Expo America, has come to a close. According to most accounts, there was a new optimism in the much-beleaguered industry. Maybe it's because e-books are finally looking like a value-add, not a terrifying pirate ship. Maybe it's because Jimmy Fallon made some good jokes. It's kind of hard to tell from 3,000 miles away, so we're relying on the accounts of the event to get a sense of things. Here are some of the highlights:
Patti Smith interviewed Neil Young about his memoir, “Waging Heavy Peace,” but she didn't just stick to books. “Books, albums,” she said, “they’re the same. People create things.” Ben Greenman writes the conversation up for the New Yorker. Young described the way their two books were similar: “I’m a highway and landscapes. You’re a city and painted bricks and lots of people. I’m travelling and you are, too, but I’m on the road and you’re travelling down streets.”
Industry rag Publishers Weekly has all its coverage in one place. It polled booksellers about fiction to look forward to, including new books from some big names: “Telegraph Avenue” by Michael Chabon, “This is How You Lose Her” by Junot Diaz, “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver, and “Casada” by James Salter, who turns 87 on Saturday. They've also got their eyes on “Back to Blood,” a novel by Tom Wolfe set in Miami, and the first book for adults by “Harry Potter” creator J.K. Rowling, a mystery titled “The Casual Vacancy.” A buzzed-about debut is “Under the Shadow of the Banyan,” a novel of hardship under the Khmer Rouge based on the real-life experiences of Cambodian-born Vaddey Ratner.
Children can look forward to another “Wimpy Kid” book from Jeff Kinney in November. Hungry people can get the first book from popular food blogger Deb Perelman, whose cookbook carries the same title as her blog, “The Smitten Kitchen.”
One book promo went wrong: Two boats rowed into the Hudson River to promote a forthcoming book about historical reenactments; both capsized, plunging the conventioneers into 60-degree water. Everyone got out OK; chances are, they'll stick to the convention floor at Javits next year.
What's Javits like? “Inside, the Javits Center is like an airport with no scheduled departures and much more carpeting,” Emily Gould writes at The Awl. “It is hot and cold, somehow, at the same time, and it smells like the sad turkey wraps you'll see hungry souls clutching as they crouch in the corners of the main convention floor eating hurriedly between meetings. There is not quite enough oxygen. It's actually a lot less like being in an airport, actually, than it is like being on a plane. But like being on a plane that, if you have been in or around the book industry in some professional capacity, is filled with everyone you have ever met in a professional capacity. So it's sort of like a high school reunion. On a plane. Ugh… it's like a giant trade show, okay? That's what it's like.”
BEA tried a new day when it opened up the convention to members of the public; tickets were $45. It seems like a good idea, but it's an awkward fit: the business model has always been that publishers sell to bookstores, then bookstores sell to readers. Letting in consumer ticket buyers, who were dubbed “power readers,” was something of a mixed success.
Los Angeles author Antoine Wilson's book “Panorama City” was selected for the coveted editors buzz book panel, in which just a handful of upcoming books are selected and touted to booksellers at the start of the conference. Here he is signing at the booth of his publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
As the floor is buzzing, BEA also puts on panel discussions. Ann and Jeff VanderMeer have edited a massive anthology called “The Weird,” coming soon, and they appeared on a panel about science fiction and the mainstream with Walter Mosley and John Scalzi. Jeff got meta and did a write-up of the write-ups of the panel. The most intellectually lively panel in recent years has been 7x20x21, a rapid-fire set of presentations organized by Ami Greko of Kobo and Ryan Chapman of FSG; for those of us who couldn't make it, here's the video.
The creepiest note from the conference is news that a former murder suspect was cruising the floor looking for a publisher for his book — about a murder very much like the one in which he'd been a suspect. If that rings a bell, no, he's not a former pro athlete. The hopeful author is 47-year-old Dimitry Sheinman, who became a suspect in the 2004 death of Juilliard student Sarah Fox after he came to police with information about the killing that had not been made public. Sheinman, who now lives in South Africa and goes by the name Victor, says he has learned the name of the killer in a psychic vision. His book is titled, “Is He Friendly?”
– Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Jimmy Fallon at Book Expo 2012. Credit: D. Dipasupil/Getty Images