What do Snooki Polizzi, Ann Romney, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Grumpy Cat have in common?
All of them were pitching upcoming books at Book Expo America, the annual publishing industry convention held at New York's Jacob Javits Center May 28 through June 1.
Of course, Grumpy Cat, the Internet's favorite kitty, wasn't actually pitching Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book, although publisher Chronicle certainly was. Grumpy (her nom de web; she's really named Tardar Sauce) looked like she just wanted a nap. But hundreds of attendees stood in line for up to two hours just to take her photo — a longer line than many for book signings by notable authors.
BEA brings together publishers, authors, booksellers and librarians — about 20,000 of them this year — to sell, buy and celebrate books. The industry has been in turmoil in recent years, but the tone of BEA in 2013 seemed more hopeful.
The American Booksellers Association reported at its annual meeting at BEA that, for the fourth straight year, its membership numbers are up, and sales for independent book stores rose 8 percent in 2012. Also, the sales of e-books have leveled off at about 20 percent of industry totals, after several years of explosive growth that had booksellers fretting.
Attending BEA is work for me, but it also means meeting authors I admire — this year, Colum McCann, Jayne Anne Phillips and Jonathan Lethem, just to name a few — and listening to them talk about their work. And BEA is the place to find out what books will be hot in the fall publishing cycle.
Tampa resident and bestselling crime fiction writer Michael Connelly had a big presence at BEA — about two stories tall, in fact. In the atrium of the Javits Center hung an enormous banner advertising his next novel, The Gods of Guilt. I ran into Connelly on the convention floor, just before he appeared on a lively panel with David Baldacci, Marcia Clark, George Pelecanos and Scott Turow. He joked that his house needs a new roof, so he was thinking of asking his publisher if he could take the giant banner home with him.
New writers are often introduced at BEA, but this year there was a minitrend of well-known novelists publishing new books after long breaks. Amy Tan (The Joy Luck Club) talked about The Valley of Amazement, her first novel in eight years; Allan Gurganus (Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All) signed Local Souls, his first fiction in 10 years. But National Book Award winner (for Easy in the Islands) and Florida State University professor Bob Shacochis may hold the hiatus record: The Woman Who Lost Her Soul will be his first novel in 20 years.
Here's what some of the authors at BEA had to say about books, theirs and others:
Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin, on her book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism: "It may seem an odd profession to spend one's days and nights with dead presidents, but I wouldn't trade it for the world."
Maureen Corrigan, NPR book critic, on ethics in reviewing: "My biases are part of what makes me worthwhile as a critic."
Children's author Rick Riordan, on how people confuse him with his characters: "I had an interviewer call me and say, 'May I speak to Percy Jackson, please?' I said, 'I'm sorry, he's fictional at the moment. May I take a message?' "
Thriller writer David Baldacci, on his King and Maxwell series, source for a new TNT series that debuts at 10 p.m. Monday: "I write about strong, independent women because that's all I've ever known. I don't write about damsels in distress because I don't know any."
Amy Tan, on her writing process: "Do you know about organic composting? That's my process."
U.S. Rep. John Lewis, civil rights icon from Georgia, on March Book 1, the graphic novel he co-wrote: "I believe it is time for us to do a little more marching."
Helen Fielding, talking to an audience of several hundred about her third Bridget Jones novel, Mad About the Boy: "I never quite got over my first appearance for a book. There were two people there, one of whom I had gone out with at school. He took me out to lunch and told me he was gay. So this is much better already."
Rock-star fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, on why his talk was titled "Why Fiction Is Dangerous": "Fiction is dangerous, of course, because it lets you into other people's heads, because it gives you empathy, because it shows you the world doesn't have to be like the world you live in."
Colette Bancroft can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8435.