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Thursday, June 21, 2012

So Many Books, So Little Time

As I walked into the large convention center yesterday morning, I was numb struck by the number of people pulling large rolling suitcases. They couldn't be just coming in from the airport. It was the fourth day of the book conference.  It took me a little while, but I realized the participants were all walking in with empty suitcases so they could fill them with books to take home.

I was in my nirvana - Book Expo America (BEA) at the Javits Center in New York City. Just 5 hours later, I, too, was lugging huge bags of books. I shipped home 26 pounds of books!  And not just any books. Mostly free advance readers copies of soon to be published books by Michael Chabon, J.R. Moehringer, Scott Hutchins and many more. Generous publishers gave me travel guides, collections of essays and more fiction than I can read in a year. I was a happy girl. Now I just have to find the time to read them all

Book Expo America 2012 was an overwhelming sensory experience.  I was surrounded by the smell of new paper and ink, the sound of thousands of people talking about books, and the feel of the crisp pages in my hand. The convention floor was familiar - many of the same big publishers as the two library conventions I have attended.  Booksellers are just as large an audience as librarians, but there were probably more of the smaller publishing companies. I think it was definitely a larger event than ALA, on the exhibitors floor anyway. And it was all about selling books.  And I once again went crazy picking up books. I tried to be choosy - more selective than the last ALA I went to - but I somehow ended up with those 26 pounds of books.

It all started with author breakfast where I got three free advance copies of books - Michael Chabon's highly anticipated Telegraph Avenue, the first novel from J.R. Moehringer (whose memoir I loved) -Sutton - and Jimmy Fallon's hilarious Thank You Notes. I heard all three of those authors speak along with Zadie Smith, who just published what has been called her best novel yet, NW (September release) and Kirstie Alley, who has written a hilarious-sounding book, release in November, called The Art of Men.

Zadie Smith gave the best homage to booksellers when she stressed their importance in this highly digital society. She said hand selling a novel is the deepest connection a person can make.  Smith praised bookstore workers who are able to say, If you liked this book, youll love this one…” In the months ahead, I hope to make that same connection with you, my blog readers, as I read this stack of advance copies of soon-to-be-great novels and make my own connection with you. Let me hear from you.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Truth is Stranger (& Sadder) Than Fiction

Last night I just finished a sad, but enjoyable, novel called The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman.  The book is the complete history of a fictional English language newspaper published in Rome. The story of the paper is told through the voices of its journalists --  a sad, neurotic lot of people drawn to a dying profession. Each person has a distinctive voice and an engaging story to tell.  The book ends as you might expect in these last days of print newspapers. I am a former newspaper reporter and have taught college journalism. I care about the future of print journalism and I went to bed very sad last night over the demise of a fictional newspaper.

This morning I woke up to read in the New York Times about the layoffs at my beloved Times Picayune in New Orleans.  Just a few weeks ago, the Newhouse-owned paper announced that it would move to a three days a week publication.  It also announced a similar plan for its papers in Birmingham, Mobile, and Huntsville – all papers I have read throughout my life. Newhouse, now, said they are focusing on “enhancing the digital product.” Sickening.

About half of the newsroom of the Times Picayune was laid off yesterday, including some very well known and award-winning columnists and reporters. The New York Times reported that by midday yesterday the newsroom was “almost as empty as the bottle of booze that someone had brought in.” It sounds just like the ending of The Imperfectionists. Sometimes the truth is sadder than fiction.