Archive for June, 2009

BEA (BookExpo): Days of the Living Dead

I didn’t attend BEA this year. In past years, I would never have missed it—not even a Total Knee Replacement (which I had 3 1/2 months ago (it’s coming along nicely, if slowly; thanks for asking) would have kept me away. But I couldn’t go this year. Why? Simple: The publishing industry is on life support and refuses to recognize it. The asteroid has struck, people–the darkening clouds will only get darker until no light comes through and the vegetation disappears–readers and writers will become more disaffected from books and the quality of writing and reading will decline. Some other “creature” will emerge–and as yet unrealized electronic reading device that will bear the same resemblance to the Kindle and Sony Reader of today that modern birds have to the archaeopteryx, their Jurassic ancestor.

Not that I didn’t have my antennae at BEA. Four colleague/friends were there and agreed to report to me on how it was and what they saw and heard. Two in the “biz”; two in other media rackets. They were there at different times, and only one went to everything (voyeuristically, if you ask me), including the Friday night party for Idelwild Books, (which you can check out at Galley Cat’s website.

They all checked in–and they all had the same thing to say. Walking through BEA was like a scene from “Night of the Living Dead”–zombies walking about with blank, frozen stares and ashen complexions. Very little enthusiasm was generated anywhere–no star authors or exciting upcoming titles; very little actual business going on, for how could there be when the number of trade book stores in the US now hovers around 2000?

And where was I? I was in Bernardsville, New Jersey at a lovely little bookstore called The Bookworm–now celebrating 25 years in business (and frankly wondering if there’ll be a 26th). Two women were running it efficiently and cheerfully. Two books I was interested in buying (even at full price!) had just come out in paperback–they had one (Joseph O’neil’s Netherland); the other (Cynthia Ozick’s Dictation) …well, they’d never heard of. The store was small and packed with books, all very neatly and lovingly arranged. In many of the featured books in the “New Fiction” and “New Non-Fiction” shelves, there were little yellow cards sticking up with brief hand-written summaries of the books–summaries that couldn’t have been more than 15 words each. It was nice touch and my wife wondered why bookstores don’t do that more often. (I didn’t have the heart to tell her or the proprietors that some little kid was changing as many of the cards around as he could while his mother and older sister looked for a YA title.)

Meanwhile, I will enjoy Netherworld. It was a NY Times Best Book for 2008–one of only 5 of fiction, and given that three of the five were short story collections and one a translation of a posthumously published book by Roberto Bolaño (2666)–it really should be a pretty fine piece of work. (Then again, maybe they’re just not writing ’em as well as they used to….)

And at BEA? My “operatives” tell me the question on everyone’s mind (sometimes given voice), was, “Is this going to be the last BEA?”

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