Heaven and Hell's Kitchen
"Such an amazing place," the customer observed dreamily. "But I don't suppose I could ever get in."
Nice to know that the Book Expo America photos I posted online conveyed the energy and special-ness of the event--noted authors by the score, acclaimed presenters, book giveaways, direct access to publishers. But (except for the new Power Readers option on the last day) you must be in the book trade to get in.
"For a serious reader," I confided to the library patron, "BEA is pretty much like Heaven."
I should note that BEA's venue, the Javits Center, lies solidly within the confines of Hell's Kitchen (explanations for the district's name abound). Newer appellations for the area--"Clinton" or "Midtown West"--just sound namby-pamby, don't they?
My accommodations were also located in HK. Frankly, I reveled in the opportunity to begin each day descending 51 floors by elevator, thanking the doorman for his aid (God forbid I should have to open the door), scooting into the Starbucks next door, and embarking on a ten-minute stroll to Javits with my favorite sissy beverage.
But somehow, claiming that I daily traversed half of the breadth of Hell's Kitchen on foot--alone--still sounds a little tough. Grit credit would be as undeserved as my dumb luck in having lovely relatives with a spiffy Manhattan condo.
But good fortune doesn't count toward Heaven. And a few other aspects of BEA align with the earthly realm, as well:
You can take it with you. You have to; of all the amenities offered by the huge convention center, none include secure, free places to leave your handbag or briefcase while you stuff tote bags with advance copies and other swag. You'll juggle three or four carryalls and the iPad or smartphone you're using to snap photos. If your arms aren't stretched a couple of inches longer after a day at BEA, you're just not trying.
Controversy is encouraged (if it's literary). Former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky drew spontaneous applause several times during the Poetry Opens Doors panel discussion. His most memorable observation was provoked by earnest suggestions from librarians exhorting others to "push" poetry at every conceivable opportunity (e.g., displays at checkout stations in the manner of National Inquirer stacks at the grocery checkout). Pinsky objected, challenging the notion that poetry is "something to take care of as if it were sick."
Covetousness is (if not admired) part of the fun. Tote bags are serious business at BEA (check out one clever blogger's 2013 BEA Book Bag Awards--June 3). At some point, most attendees succumb to Bag Envy. The array of distinctive giveaways--massive red leatherette carriers, elegant black Hobbit bags adorned with a stylized dragon (I got one; it's a summer drawing prize), limited edition carryalls channeling LL Bean--is noteworthy. Even when you've acquired enviable bags yourself, your eye wanders to The One That Got Away.
Round Rock Public Library's Summer Readers' Bonanza begins Monday, June 17 (details available then), and you, too, might claim one of our divine BEA swag giveaways!