Please don't send in the clowns
The Big Top reigns as a big draw. With Water for Elephants filling theater seats, more great circus-themed entertainment awaits: Erin Morgenstern's The Night Circus, due out in September. Of all the "forthcomings" promoted at Book Expo America 2011, it's generating the most buzz. Despite my aversion to clowns, I can't wait to read it.
Of course, the arena of tightropes and trapezes is celebrated for risky activities, but BEA can furnish its own glimpses of dicey ventures.
Authorship is certainly one. My last illusions of a secluded, create-on-your-own-terms lifestyle faded with the realization that even celebrated authors have to shift their personal lives around promotional commitments like BEA. They're asked to sign autographs and meet fans on cue, possibly during the very times when ideas are flowing and significant productivity could occur were they allowed to work at will.
This reflection led me astray at one point. Generally, my conversational gambit during an author signing is a version of "Lovely to see you. Thanks for coming!" Lacking in originality, it's at least totally sincere. I relied on that theme when face-to-face with David Baldacci, Susan Mallery, Alice Hoffman, Jan Brett, and other gracious writers.
Yet, upon meeting Erik Larson and awaiting my copy of In the Garden of Beasts, I somehow inquired what project he would be writing on if he weren't at BEA. Patiently looking up from his inscription, Mr. Larsen remarked that he would likely be at home, wishing that he had his next concept--which he doesn't yet. Hmmm, poor choice of topic. Small talk poses risks, and not just at BEA. During Margaret Atwood's often-hilarious reflections on her career, she reported this gem from an audience Q&A session. "Is your hair really like that, or do you have it done?" (Her answer: "If I had it done, do you honestly think I would ask for this?")
Finally, let's not forget the exciting but treacherous possibilities underlying so many conversations at BEA this year. E-books: Will they kill the print market, revitalize both reading and marketing, or do something else we can't yet predict? Can we hope to enjoy a fruitful coexistence of digital and analog publishing?
Maybe this is a sign: The evening before BEA, my daughter and I waited for an hour to view the wonderful Alexander McQueen Savage Beauty exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our group encountered a provocative frock coat entitled Jack the Ripper Stalks His Victims, "lined in white silk with encapsulated human hair". Further back in the line I heard a dismayed "and how are we supposed to see inside the jacket?!"
The tourist in me reflected that he was musing aloud, not addressing me; thus a response might not be appropriate. Too late, though--the librarian in me was already informing him that the online exhibit included a detail shot of that very feature. Not only was the commenter pleased and appreciative, I could hear the tip being passed down the line, punctuated now and then by "Cool!", "No way!", and "Thanks for the info!"
Old-fashioned word of mouth and websites complement each other nicely in the information world. Let's hope that print books and e-books can, as well.