Book Expo America, the publishing industry's annual get-together, was live from New York this past weekend. A convergence of the titans...
NEW YORK — Book Expo America, the publishing industry’s annual get-together, was live from New York this past weekend. A convergence of the titans of publishing, media and culture, it made for quite the fizzy event.
Some local luminaries got the star treatment. Seattle über-librarian Nancy Pearl picked up an award from the Women’s National Book Association for her support of books and reading. Jim Lynch, an Olympia resident and former reporter for The Oregonian, saw a banner roughly three times his height hanging in the main hall for his new novel, “The Highest Tide” (Bloomsbury), which features a giant squid as a main character.
Bloomsbury is the same publisher that took a chance on the 800-page “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” by Susanna Clarke, the best-selling novel about two 19th-century magicians who conspire to save England. Clarke picked up an award at the convention from independent booksellers as their favorite work of fiction. At a Bloomsbury party, Clarke rattled off the languages the book has been translated into, and confided that the German version clocks in at 1,000 pages. A gracious, petite Englishwoman with a dry wit, Clarke received perhaps more suggestions than she really needed about what she should do with her in-progress sequel, not to mention when she should finish it — the first book took 10 years to write.
No one could exactly pinpoint the one big book for the fall, though two are hot prospects for the summer — July’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” and Bob Woodward’s coming book on his relationship with former deputy FBI director Mark Felt, who recently owned up to being Deep Throat.
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Rick Simonson of Elliott Bay Books tagged Salman Rushdie’s fall novel, “Shalimar the Clown,” (Random House) as a likely attention-grabber. Chuck Robinson, owner of Village Books in Bellingham, maintained that the lack of one big book for the fall is a good thing, reasoning that it will promote more browsing and hopefully purchasing of more diverse books, rather than big blockbusters.
Other likely top-sellers include a new novel by Gabriel García Márquez, “Memories of My Melancholy Whores” (Knopf) and “Ordinary Heroes,” (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), a new mystery by Scott Turow.
Book Expo, co-sponsored by the American Booksellers Association (independent booksellers) and the Association of American Publishers, has come a long way since the first BEA meeting in 1902, when Mark Twain was the featured speaker.
In the 1960s, attendance stood at about 3,000; this year an estimated 32,000 publishers, authors agents, journalists — and even some booksellers, including reps from Elliott Bay Book Store and the University Book Store — attended.
To grab galleys of upcoming “hot” books, this year’s attendees fought their way down the packed aisles, eyeing displays and free giveaways (you could get your photograph taken with Barbie or Ben Franklin, depending on your mood).
Academic presses like the University of Washington Press stood cheek-by-jowl with major publishers. Gigi Lamm of the UW Press loaned her booth stool to film and Broadway star John Lithgow, whose publisher lacked a place to perch as Lithgow signed his line of children’s books that explain and promote the arts.
The exhibition floor at the Javits Convention Center at times looked and sounded like one giant New York cocktail party, complete with shrieks of recognition and roving eyes seeking someone higher on the publishing food chain (one blogger proclaimed BEA in NYC as “the week of false intimacy”).
Publishers were buoyed about a New York Times article pronouncing that books are actually in better shape than most media, posting modest revenue gains (largely due to religious-based publishing), while films and music, for instance, are in decline.
Bemused was perhaps the best word to describe reaction to the confounding Oprah pick of the William Faulkner trilogy of “As I Lay Dying,” “The Sound and the Fury” and “Light in August.” The daily show newspaper put out by Publisher’s Weekly carried the wry headline “Oprah: America’s English Professor.”
But representatives from Vintage, Knopf’s paperback line, were smiling — when Oprah picked “Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy last summer, the classic sold 900,000 copies. Vintage has just shipped 500,000 copies of a three-volume boxed Faulkner set.
Several panels of experts addressed how to market books to the 18- to 34-year-old crowd — anything to do with this topic was SRO. Booksellers catering to children and young adults are looking forward to “Eldest” by Christopher Paolini, the sequel to “Eragon,” the best-selling fantasy the home-schooled Montana novelist who began “Eragon” when he was 15 and finished before he turned 20.
Finally, there’s a coming book-movie juggernaut — the fall release of the movie based on C.S. Lewis’ “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”
Anything by Lewis, a favorite philosopher of Christianity, will be hot, not just in books but in product spinoffs (a stuffed Aslan?). In fact, selling lots of copies of Lewis’ books is nothing new — “Chronicles of Narnia” already has sold 15.5 million copies since HarperCollins acquired the rights to the series in 1994, according to Publishers’ Weekly.
Mary Ann Gwinn: 206-464-2357 or firstname.lastname@example.org