Still Smiling

Josie Leavitt - June 1, 2009

Nothing crash lands you back to rural Vermont faster than coming home from a great BEA in exciting New York City to your house with trees down and no power.  With little else to do but clear tree limbs I had lots of time to reflect on the show.

One thing that struck me about this BEA was it was more about networking and seeing friends than doing hard-core book business. I must admit, it’s hard to do business when you’re barely on the floor. I found much better places to hang out this year. Maybe it’s age, I like to think it’s wisdom, but I didn’t run around all crazy. The ABA lounge was great.  I found several children’s booksellers in there on Thursday and we had our own “state of the business” talk that was as informative as the educational sessions.

Friday, of course, was the Not-a-Dinner and (mostly) Silent Auction. Loads of fun. Changing the order around seemed to really work with the program first and then the food. The sponsor publishers and invited guests had the only open bar in the hotel until the dinner start and, boy oh boy, was it hard to tear folks away from that bar. Why must all of us in publishing be such clichés? The program was hosted by the very funny Shannon Hale, who set a great tone with her charm and good humor.  I was moved when Shannon let her emotions about introducing Katherine Paterson (clearly a hero) get to her. It was lovely and reminded me of the lasting power of words and how affecting a body of work can be. 

The auction seemed successful (even if you only count how much I spent) although I don’t have final numbers yet. The milling around and talking to booksellers, author and illustrator friends was fun. I had a task to approach women with red handbags to see if they had inadvertently taken an envelope off the auction table. Well, this dandy excuse allowed me to have a reason to speak to Sarah Dessen, Kate DiCamillo, and Judy Schachner as well as many other nice and accommodating women. I lost track of my task when I started chatting with Brian Selznick. (For the record, he didn’t have a red handbag.)

I really liked everything about this new format except two things: no bar before the program except for the publishers’ invited guests and no mashed potato bar.  The food was more substantial this year and I really appreciated the forewarning that the food would begin at 7:30, so I could plan my lunch accordingly. Oh, and the art was just astoundingly good. So many amazing pieces — it was a little overwhelming, but in a great way. Everywhere I looked there was another gorgeous piece. I left Friday night with more than I could carry back to my hotel, and a budget that was broken, but I was, and still am smiling.

Saturday was very busy, again, not on the show floor. Elizabeth had a signing at Candlewick for her book Dogs on the Bed. What should have gone from 9:45-10:45 am didn’t end until 11:30, because there were so many people. So I did what I do at her BEA signings: bounce around happily and take pictures of her chatting and signing. It never gets old.

A real show highlight, provided by Little, Brown. At 1 p.m. we were whisked away with 15 other booksellers to a swanky hotel on the edge of the meatpacking district where we got to have tea with Julie Andrews. Julie Andrews! She and her daughter Emma Walton were joined by illustrator Jim McMullan to speak about their poetry collection, Julie Andrews’ Collection of Poems, Songs and Lullabies. What an accomplished and fun trio. Nervous booksellers (I can’t speak for everyone but Elizabeth and I were nervous, and I was sitting properly, back straight, minding my P’s and Q’s) got a chance to get to know these three in a relaxed setting. My advice to all booksellers: order it by the carton for Christmas.  You won’t be able to keep it on the shelf.

Lastly, I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jerry Pinkney at dinner on Saturday. I love him. When he started off the conversation by asking why people Twitter, I knew we’d have a good time. And his new book, The Lion and the Mouse, is simply stunning, practically wordless with illustrations to just pore over.  I don’t want to jinx the book, but have plenty on hand in January.

Well rested (with no power, you go to bed early), I’m re,ady to face my regular workday. But I’m still beaming from a great show.

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