Name dropping is only tacky when other people do it
Along with "New York City", several vacation experiences (last week) are three-word expressions: "Book Expo America", "James Earl Jones", "advance reading copies", "The Daily Show", "The Colbert Report", "discounted theater tickets", "live author appearances", and, last but not least, "Take a number" (AKA "Line forms here").
Though publishers and booksellers value BEA's marketing opportunities, librarians like me flock to the debut author interviews, publisher "buzz" panels, and appearances by literary notables. We collect impressions about forthcoming books (and what they'll represent to our readers); we also gather coveted galleys/advance copies of books not yet available to the public.
Some giveaways are scheduled, others offered at unannounced intervals, all limited to supplies on hand; thus, the thrill of the hunt adds to the joy of acquisition. The #1 item on my galley wish list, Mark Helprin's In Sunlight and In Shadow, cost me several passes by the publisher's booth and an opening-hour arrival to acquire--and it's decidedly worth the effort.
With scores of other fans, I cheerfully queued up for autographed volumes (and ever-so-brief chats) with Dan Rather, Robert Goolrick, Sabrina Soto, Buddy Guy, Tim Gunn, Amor Towles, Janet Groth, Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket), and numerous others graciously braving the rigors of rapid-fire introductions and cramped autographing areas to sign copies and greet their readers. An hour in the Lemony Snicket line garnered me a bit of conversation, not to mention a signed souvenir briefcase full of clever items promoting Who Could That Be At This Hour?
Little did I expect a second encounter the very next day. En route to a galley quest, I found an amiable crowd surrounding Handler as he drew the winning card for a monstrously large and glamorous Lemony Snicket gift basket. When no winner stepped forward and a fan offered her cell phone, the congratulatory call to the recipient evolved into performance art: Handler channeled Lemony Snicket, intoning a hilariously snarky alert implying that the prize was a dreadful mess destined to arrive at the winner's home no matter what preventive lengths she or anyone else might sensibly attempt. Inviting all present to "Booooo!" their disappointment (and we did), Handler closed with fervent advice: "This is absolutely vital. Listen carefully. Whatever happens, don't...." And he clicked "End". Applause! Seldom have drawing losers appeared happier with their lot.
Frequently, a lengthy wait (like virtue) is its own reward in terms of networking. In Tim Gunn's queue, another Project Runway fan and I enthused about previous seasons and the talents of designer Mondo. But despite the common denominator of Gunn fan-dom, we'd traveled to BEA on different missions. New acquaintance and award-winning paper engineer Mary Beth Cryan primarily expected to meet with clients. If you check her website, you'll find Mary Beth's amazing cards (for MoMA), party goods, books, designs, and 3D paper sculptures as delightful as I found her personality.
Companions in other queues yielded BEA gossip: which author wasn't projecting interest in her fans; the one celebrity who didn't look more attractive in person than on the screen; people who (tsk, tsk) scooped up more than one free item per display. And, regarding the much publicized Author Breakfast hosted by Stephen Colbert, someone noted--and I agree--that novelist Barbara Kingsolver (featured along with Jo Nesbo and Junot Diaz), generated as much audience laughter as Colbert did.
Of course, waiting time often translated into sharing, trading, and chatting about the contents of our heavily laden tote bags. Of all the treasures that I packed up and am awaiting from UPS delivery, I'm most anxious to read titles featured in last Monday's debut author panel: Beatriz Williams' Overseas; Karen Engelmann's The Stockholm Octavo; librarian Eleanor Kuhns' A Simple Murder; Max Gladstone's Three Parts Dead; Ariel S. Winter's The 20-Year Death. The opportunity to sample first novels from passionate writers whom I've heard in person is a rare privilege.
Once my parcels from BEA arrive, some of the books will go to library customers, fellow librarians, and book club members who are most likely to appreciate them and promote them to others.
As for the nifty non-book swag-- the aforementioned Lemony Snicket briefcase and selected other unique BEA goodies will be featured door prizes at Friday's Happy Hour with the Librarians. We hope to see you there. And we promise--no queue!