Monday, September 18, 2006

Chronicle: Book Nerd Weekend, Part 1

Ah… a whole morning with nothing to do but blog (though I do still have some unpacking to do, and I promised the ALP to make up for the piles of books I've been bringing home lately by going through the bookshelves and pulling some for giveaway… always a mildly painful task).

A lot has happened in the last four days or so, so I'm giving ya a day-by-day, play-by-play rundown. Go get some popcorn during the commercial breaks, feel free to skip over the boring parts, and sit back for a Book Nerd weekend.

Thursday night: Emerging Leaders Night Out, Brooklyn Book Festival Style

We had over 115 RSVP's for Thursday night's ELNO, so Steve Colca, my (former bookseller/current W. W. Norton publicity maven) co-conspirator, and I were pretty psyched. We'd done a lot of prep sending invites and contacting publishers and other organizations to help make the event great. And man, those publishers and reps really came through! Huge thank-you's to Karen Rice from Random House, Steve and cohorts at Norton, Ben White at FSG, Sean Concannon at Parson Weems, Johnny Temple at Akashic, Jay Brida and Jeffrey Dinsmore at Contemporary Press, and Richard Nash at Soft Skull for sending/bringing some truly high-quality swag.

The ALP helped us carry boxes of books over to Union Hall, a beautiful Park Slope bar with soaring bookshelves, a great wine and beer list, and even a bocce court. Briggs Hatton from the Brooklyn Literary Council arrived with lots of postcards and bookmarks about the Brooklyn Book Festival (thanks so much)! As folks trickled in and the conversation grew to a roar, I found myself talking with old friends and new ones, and was having so much fun I forgot to take some pictures until just before I was leaving; but fortunately Blogger is totally opposed to letting me post ANY photos today, so maybe I'll get those few up later.

At one point the waitress spilled a glass of wine on my pants, and she was so apologetic she kept bringing me free glasses of wine all evening. Hence I found myself staggering home around 11:30, after good but not enough conversations with Johnny Temple (about the challenges and potential of the BBF, and whether his band's music would be appropriate for a bookstore), Tom from McNally Robinson AND literary magazine A Public Space, and Jay Brida of Contemporary Press (about how to promote our various ventures, and the Brooklyn cultural explosion and its complainers), Eric from Random House (a former bookstore employee with good thoughts about how to recruit booksellers for the next event), Tom from Norton (a supercool friend of Steve's who's sending me some exciting new books), Cecelia from Oscar Wilde Bookstore (about how we wouldn't want to work anywhere else but man, we need some better ways to pay the bills), Briggs from the Literary Council (about life in the Borough President's office), and my good girlfriends Stephanie (a freelance food writer) and Stacy (of the PEN organization), who got all giggly with me when it was that time of night. And there were certainly others that I met, even learned their names, and can't remember now – blame the free drinks and forgive me if I missed you.

My only disappointment about the ELNO, as I've mentioned, is that there just weren't enough booksellers there. The goal of this group is to bring people together from all side of the book industry, and I suspect booksellers are the side most in need of a network. I think next time we're just going to have to get more ambitious about contacting young people in bookstores in person; the email grapevine isn't as effective in retail as in publishing, but I think they are out there, and they will come. I'll probably be bugging sales reps and others about where to find them and how to make this worthwhile for them; please, please shoot me an email if you've got ideas.

Thanks for everyone who made it out on Thursday, and who helped to make it happen! And thanks to everyone who said "thank you" to us. Steve and I are so excited about the future of this group and this project, and we're happy it's gained some fans and is beginning to grow.


Friday: Traveling to NAIBA; The Festivities Begin

After that morning of recovery, I met my former coworker Joyce of Three Lives (whom I hope won't be offended if I describe her as my bookselling mom) at the Port Authority bus terminal for what we hoped would be a straight shot to the Valley Forge Convention Center in King of Prussia, PA. This is where it's nice to be writing about it afterward, because I can skip over the long, boring day and just tell you that it took two buses, two taxis, and about five hours to get there. New York City tends to send few booksellers to the NAIBA events, so I can hardly blame anyone for not having us car-less folks in mind, but we needed a drink by the time we got there.

Joyce and I found ourselves in a hotel bar called Chumley's (no relation to the Greenwich Village speakeasy), which I was told by an employee had just been renovated to the tune of $50K – by putting in about a dozen big-screen plasma TVs. Our exploration of the premises had also revealed that we were sharing the convention floor with a huge gun show (which brought weird shivers of nostalgia, as my dad used to spend a lot of time at those when I was a kid… but that's another story). We quickly surmised that the local tastes in King of Prussia were not necessarily those shared by us indie booksellers, but you know – it's good to see the rest of the world sometimes, right? And it made for lots of good jokes the rest of the weekend – Betty Bennett of Bennett Books reminded us that "the pen is mightier than the sword," and Joe Drabyk of Chester County Books & Music joked that Carla Cohen of Politics & Prose (who had talked about the struggles of running a café) was thinking of changing her store's name to "Bullets and Baristas."

Around 8:00 we gathered for what turned out to be the best meal of the weekend – Philly cheesesteaks, pulled pork sandwiches, and Tasty Cakes in the best Philadelphia style. We were treated to short evening talk by authors Lisa Tucker (who quoted Melville), and Lisa Scottoline (who told us about a book tour gig speaking to a group of literally nursing mothers), both of whom were utterly charming. After some more late night conversation with more old friends and new (okay, here's the name dropping list and shout out: Susan Weis of Breathe Books, Amanda Lydon of Good Yarns, John Mutter of Shelf Awareness, Harvey & Rob of Clinton Books, and Jeff of the American Independent Business Alliance), I finally crashed.

By the way, you all better correct me if I misremember names or details – I got set straight about one or two previous blog errors over the weekend, so I know you all are reading, and you should enlighten the rest of the readers by chiming in. =)

* * *

You know what – I'm going to cut short here, and get to Saturday and Sunday tomorrow and throughout the week. Last week was an insanely busy one, and I've promised myself that this one will be a quieter period to ponder, reflect, and spend some quality time at home. I'm going to spread out my reflections to keep myself from getting exhausted again, and to spare you all the exhaustion of reading too much at once.

If you were at the ELNO or the NAIBA trade show, I'd love to have you jump in with your own stories and impressions – it would be cool to hear about the parts I missed! And if you made it to the Brooklyn Book Festival, I'm dying to hear about that too, though the rumors I've been picking up say it was well attended ... any witnesses?