I heard that the Book Expo at the Javits was down 14% from last year. And apparently, the one in LA was twice the size. But still, it was like navigating a small city. The energy on Friday was high. The excitement palpable. On the increasingly rare occasions I emerge from my rabbit hole, I am amazed at the multifarious worlds encountered every time one meets another of our species.
It’s always lovely to be among the nuts of us who are crazy about books, even as we gazed at a machine that will print and bind your tome, as you watch, in a blithe 15-20 minutes. (Remember when it used to take ten minutes to print a page?) As I starred into the dark crevices of the machine, my inner eye imagined five, ten, twenty years beyond when technology may make the Book Expo itself obsolete, (along with bookstores, publishers, books themselves…)
Amazon’s Kindle. What seems ludicrous to me is that Amazon has not done what the cell phone companies did…give away the devices so they can sell books. Apple gave away ITUNES to sell music. As it is, at the moment, I at any rate, am reticent to shell out $360-490 a pop (ebooks only make up 1-3% of the reading public), and THEN purchase books. No. Not yet. I have grown oh so weary of our culture of greed. (Authors like Sherman Alexie was there, lambasting the digital form as elitist, and swearing never to allow his books to go that route. I do see his point. We can rant. We an rave. But sadly, in the end, technology will win, and send our fury the way of the Indians.)
Speaking of greed, the Starbucks pavilion proved the most popular. Utilizing their famous, because we can philosophy, they succeeding in charging $7 for coffee with a twist and getting it. If only they could donate these huge profits to the non-elitist among us so we can go out and buy Kindles.
Many small publishers I had hoped to encounter were missing altogether this year. I thought some of the bigger ones were too like Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and Macmillan, (they own Farrar Straus & Giroux and St. Martin’s Press), until I found them holed up underground in the bowels of the Javits, far away from the main exhibition area. Random House took vastly reduced space on the exhibition floor as well, inhibiting serendipitous connections with the rest of us.
Still, all the best people were there. Kate and Mark of Red Hen Press brought they’re beautiful wares to light. I am so proud of them (like a little Red Hen Mama myself) having watched them hatch and grow over these many years from two to twenty five and more titles a year. Their hearts as makers are where all publishers hearts should be, with their writers, with the mystery of how writing all happens in the first place. They are my heros.