Trade Show Thoughts

Josie Leavitt - October 20, 2011

I know I promised this for Monday, but it’s been a crazy week with David Sedaris and Tomie dePaola (wonderful events!), so I finally have time to finish my recap of the New England Independent Bookselling Association’s fall conference last week in Providence.
Let me begin with the author breakfast last Thursday. I’ll be the first to say that if it weren’t for ShelfTalker and needing to blog about it, my preference would have been to sleep in. But this year my early arrival to the breakfast was rewarded by meeting Kadir Nelson, who was one of the speakers, and it’s no secret how much I love his book, Heart and Soul (click here for the post) So, I was thrilled to ride up the escalator with him. I don’t usually lose my cool, but I found myself just short of babbling, but I reigned it in and managed to be coherent during the relatively short trip up three flights to the Rotunda where breakfast was held.
The breakfasts are always fun despite their early hour. This year there was a very tasty breakfast buffet outside of the room, which made everything go more smoothly. I love hearing authors speak about their books to a room full of booksellers. Kadir gave us the story of Heart and Soul. There were many reasons why he did this book. Partly it was to tell the stories of African Americans in this country, honestly and completely. I was shocked when he said the Rotunda at the Capitol is full of paintings depicting the founding and history of America, but there are no people of color in the art because of the “blemish of slavery.” Kadir’s book has gathered all his family stories and more to create a rich album of history. The book is even designed to look like a family album. Slavery is just part of the history. Kadir wrote this book for his family, but also for himself because he’s always wanted to tell the whole African American story. While I might complain about the early hour, Kadir had flown in late the night before from Los Angeles. I stopped complaining about being tired when I heard that.
Dava Sobel was the next speaker and she was lively and very funny. She was there to promote her new book, A More Perfect Heaven. At once I was struck by how petite she is, head barely over the microphone, she commanded the room like someone much larger. Her passion for Copernicus and her scientific mind were a delight, even at the early hour. She was fascinated by Copernicus’s history and Georg Joachim Rheticus, a young man who wished to study with him. The two men were very different, and Dava was intrigued by their relationship and thought it would make a wonderful play. But writing factual history is what she was comfortable, not fiction, let alone a play. She tried in 1973 to write a play and “it was awful.” I loved it when she said, “Creating fiction is frowned upon in my line of work.” But she couldn’t shake the play idea, even after all these years. The book is a hybrid, part play, part factual study of the two men. She wrote the true story first, then wrote the play, it was as if she’d given herself permission to write the play once the fact was done. The book is two parts, the factual narrative interspersed with the dramatic writing. She jokingly said, you could pick the part you wanted to read and skip the rest.
The third speaker was Frances Moore Lappé, whose new book, Ecomind: Changing the Way We Think To Create the World We Want, is passionate and very thought-provoking. I’ll be honest, at first blush I thought this is not my kind of book, but by the time Frances was done speaking, I was practically pounding my fist on the table shouting,”Right on!” I love it when someone feels so deeply about something that their enthusiasm and knowledge just brings you along with them. Her idea of thinking about the world not by a scarcity of eco-systems but one of plenty is, quite frankly, breathtaking in its simplicity. There is more than enough for everyone, and we have to reframe how we’ve been thinking about things to avoid the “overwhelm” that is inevitable with the scarcity discussion.
Tom Perrotta was the final speaker and he was there to support his book, The Leftovers. Tom explained that his religious upbringing as a Catholic and his more secular life these days worked to inform the book, a dystopian novel about post-apocalyptic America that follows one family. Tom wondered if a rapture would be enough for him to start believing again. So, he set the novel three years after the Rapture, during the seven years of Tribulation that were to follow while waiting for the Second Coming. He wanted to see what religion would look like, what culture would become while waiting out the Tribulation. I should say that during his talk, the room seemed to get colder and colder. I’m sure it was a coincidence, but it was fairly amusing. Tom spoke about the book in a way that made it seem like a great religious novel hiding in a family novel.
The rest of the trade show had a great educational opportunities for all manner of booksellers. People seemed to really enjoy the breadth of the choices. And as someone who goes to the regional trade show, Book Expo and Winter Institute, I was thrilled to see that there were a lot of new choices in the educational sessions. Several things I overheard that could be improved: the air conditioning was arctic for the entire show, no matter where you were. There was a dearth of food to be found as there was no concession open at the convention center. The day of the show there was a little breakfast nook, which was a lovely idea and there was no line, because no one seemed to know it was there. But the coffee was good and there was no line.
Perhaps my favorite part of the show was the sneak peak on Thursday night. For two hours the show floor (actually a ballroom – more on how small NEIBA is getting later) was open for a preview cocktail party. It was delightful to see all the reps relaxed and chatting comfortably. Nothing made me happier than being able to buy some reps a cocktail while they returned the favor to me. It was lovely and very collegial.  There were authors aplenty signing their books, so I got to say hi to old friends and meet some folks whose books I loved. To combine the party with the signing and the preview made for a really fun two hours. When that was over folks went all over for dinners or other parties.
The preview made my limited time on the floor Friday much more focused, as I had grabbed catalogs from several vendors before the evening was done. Friday’s show floor seemed very small to me. I missed the show last year, so this was the first time I’d seen it in a ballroom and not in the convention center. It made me a little sad that it had gotten so small, but I understand the economy has made it hard for vendors of all sizes to take a table at the regionals. The show floor, while small, was busy in the morning with booksellers bustling about making orders and looking at books or sidelines.
I say this every time I write about any trade show, for me it’s not about the books necessarily, it’s about the people, so to me it’s a great show if I get to see my friends in bookselling. And if you measure the show by the number of friends I saw and had fun with, then this year’s show was a grand success.

2 thoughts on “Trade Show Thoughts

  1. Carol B. Chittenden

    Thanks for the thorough report. Combined with Judith’s piece, one has a complete picture of the show. Every year it’s a little different, but seeing the strong, smart, passionate booksellers again always refuels one for the grueling holiday season ahead.


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