Friday, June 8, 2012

New York Postcards #3 - Well, this is awkward...

Book Expo America kicked off on Monday morning with feisty remarks by Richard Russo - Russo reminding us all about the 600 pound gorilla in the room.

That'd be the predatory Amazon, the oh so evil entity that everyone uses because, um, they're cheaper and for many, that is the only consideration. I'll rant more when I speak of Russo - that's Postcard #2, but Postcard #2 got swallowed in the electrical malfunctions of the Javitz Center.

New York, I love you, but my Apple products do not.

Anyway. After the Russo call to arms, there was a panel of editors telling us about the biggest Buzz Books of BEA. And I'm sitting there next to a cohort in the hall where the editors are about to buzz, and my cohort looks up at the huge screen there on the right, and emblazoned on the screen is 2012 Editor's Buzz. And then it says the name of the respected bookseller who will be moderating the panel.

That's when my cohort shakes his head. That guy? I hate that guy, he says.

I'm a little taken aback because while I don't know the Moderator well, our paths have crossed and our exchanges have always been courteous and professional - unlike some of my compadres. Booksellers? We can be a nasty bunch.

Why? I ask.

Why do I hate that guy? my cohort says. He's a jerk.

Really? I say.

Oh yeah. I've met him at a couple of author dinners, and he's just flat-out rude.

That guy? I say.

Yeah, that guy. He might not be rude to everyone, but to me? He can't remember my name. Ever. My cohort crosses and then recrosses his legs, agitated. The second time we met, I got the impression he felt I wasn't important enough to acknowledge.

I'm just shaking my head. Again, that description fits some people I can think of - buy me a few drinks and I'll spill, sister - but it doesn't fit my perception of That Guy.

My cohort wonders if he should even stay for the panel. Why would they have picked That Guy for such a high-profile gig?

And so right now? My cohort is good and worked up. He's preaching the Gospel and picking up speed.

Jerk, he says.

We both try to change the topic - try to talk about the week ahead, the many fabulous booksellers and authors and industry people who have gathered here in, yes, yes, the Center of the Universe. I never visited New York because I worried that I would like it too much, and do I. Do I ever.

But in the midst of this chatter words keep erupting from my cohort - jerk, fool, egotist - my cohort's become a bookseller with Tourette's.

But then, then! The editors take the stage. A heady bunch - Millicent Bennett, the very funny Millicent Bennett, to talk about the very serious Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan; or The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce, shepherded along by the amazing Kendra Harpster; Eli Horowitz, from San Francisco's own McSweeney's, will trumpet A Million Heavens by John Brandon. Have you read Brandon's Citrus County? Why not? Then there's Lauren Wein to tell us about Panorama City by Antoine Wilson. And when she's done talking, we all want this book in our hands. The People of Forever are Not Afraid by Shani Boianjiu?  This has none other than Alexis Washam to sing its praises.  That's like Ella doing your songbook. Be happy. Be very happy. Finally, there's the terrific Trish Todd who will speak about In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner. I was lucky enough to have dinner (thanks for the invite, Cheri!) with Ms. Ratner, where we spoke long into a chilly Oakland night about her arduous journey from the Killing Fields to acclaimed debut author.

So there they all are, these amazing escorts of the Word. And following this great group onto the main stage? Of course it's That Guy, our moderator for the afternoon. And as That Guy takes his seat, my cohort says something that I don't quite catch.

What's that? I say.

Well, he says again, this is awkward.

What's awkward? I say.

That Guy? and my cohort points to our moderator as he sits down in front of the gathered bookies.

That Guy? he says. I've never seen That Guy in my life. I was totally mistaken. The name rang a bell, but the wrong bell.

That Guy? I say. You don't think That Guy's a jerk? I told you, this is awkward. I don't know who That Guy is.

So instead of continuing to hurl stones at That Guy, we instead listen to six impassioned editors tell us why their book should be championed - and it's refreshing after our momentary lapse of reason to be reminded why we're here. That it's the books that bring us together. And That Guy? Whomever That Guy is? We shoujldn't let That Guy get us down. Should instead focus on the words, fiction and non - should focus on those incredible scribes who keep us entertained and informed.

And then we'll have a drink.


  1. Another great post, Nick. But please come home. I am tired of being jealous of your NYC exploits. (and bring some pizza...)

  2. Oh, I'm coming home. The difference between intellectually anticipating how much you're going to miss your wife and kids - and the painful reality of what that 'missing' really feels like? The chasm is great. And dark. So I'm on a jet plane tomorrow. See you there!