Going to Book Expo America (BEA) without a plan is like going to a Jimmy Choo sample sale. You might get a pair of $400 shoes for 20 bucks, or you might get a stiletto to the throat when you’re taken down by a Carrie Bradshaw look-alike. I discovered this the hard way.
It was early morning and BEA had reconvened for day two of its annual trade show. I was chatting with the good folks at Globe Pequot Press about e-books. What I didn’t notice is someone lying in wait for me one booth over.
I grabbed a business card and a few samples and stowed them in my bag, which was already getting heavy. A book nerd like me finds it difficult to rein in the urge to take more than she can carry. There was a long day ahead and hundreds of booths to visit. In fact my shoulder already ached, so I switched my bag to the other side. Right on cue:
“Books get heavy!” said a man wearing a spiffy suit and tie. “Too bad we’re not in the feather business.” He threw back his head in a hearty chortle.
I wasn’t sure what to make of this comment, so I nodded, already heading to the next aisle where Bloomsbury had their booth.
“I have just the thing for you!” he said.
This was starting to feel like a bad infomercial. Made even worse by the fact that it was in person and it wasn’t two a.m. Suddenly I felt two little cool patches at the base of my neck.
“What is that?” I asked, still not as alarmed as I probably should have been. BEA is overwhelming and this just felt like part of it.
He showed me a small device that looked like an iPod. “Now I just turn it on.” He clicked a few times and the little patches began to pulse. “It’s a mini massage!” If this guy’s existence were a punctuation, he would be an exclamation mark.
The pulses were getting stronger and my right shoulder began to twitch involuntarily. It was not an enjoyable sensation. It was weird and it was starting to hurt.
“Oh, I forgot to ask,” the guy said, shaking his head and smiling as an afterthought. “You don’t have a pacemaker, do you?”
I wished I could have channeled Bruce Lee to give this guy a swift roundhouse kick to the head. “Turn this thing off.”
He made a feeble attempt by jabbing at the device. “It’s only $200! Doesn’t that sound like a bargain?”
“Get these things off.”
“Okay. For you $150.”
“Two for $150! Share with a friend.”
Here was where I shouted a few expletives and ripped the little patches off my shoulders.
Apparently I fell into the carefully laid trap of the “massage” guy because I didn’t have a plan. I thought I’d just wander around the booths, stopping to talk to people I knew and generally taking in all the excitement. And there was a lot of excitement. BEA is always held in the Javits Center which is four city blocks long on the west side of Manhattan. There are hundreds of booths, each one vying for your attention. Subtlety is not an asset here.
But, like getting the great deal on those Jimmy Choos, sometimes not having a plan worked in my favor. I was walking past a long line of people when I overheard someone ask if this was for the Colm Toibin signing. Colm Toibin? Here? I hopped on to the end of the line. We snaked through the aisles. Before long the woman in front of me waxed poetic about a book as people tend to do at book shows.
“Have you read All the Light We Cannot See? It’s one of my favorite books of all time,” Lorraine said.
“You are the second person to say that in as many days.” (Read Jennifer Lyn King’s review here.)
“Oh, and this one.” She held up an advance reader copy of Painted Horses. She went on to describe the story and the beautiful prose. Lorraine was also kind enough to give me her exhibit hall map and clue me into her BEA strategy, which was three pages long.
When I got to meet Colm Toibin I told him how much I enjoyed his book, Brooklyn, and that I was looking forward to the movie coming out this fall. Granted, it wasn’t as exciting as when I scratched David Sedaris’s back, but at least I didn’t make a complete fool of myself (which I usually do).
Here is an entertaining clip from Colm Toibin’s speech at BEA. He says that if you’re a writer, the best thing someone can do for you is to tell you half a story. Half a story can live in your imagination. You can turn it over in your mind, expanding it and molding it. Half a story allows you to ask, “What if?” What he says at the end about the promises writers make to readers in the space between the words is wonderful.
Without further ado, a photo round up from the day:
Have you ever been to BEA, or a book conference? What did you most / least enjoy?
Have a great weekend, everyone!