Tuesday, June 2, 2015

BookCon 2015

The past week was a big one in the world of books, the kind of week that only comes around once a year. The annual Book Expo America event was held in New York City from Wednesday to Friday. Now, I've never been in a position to actually attend a BEA event since I work weekdays like most of the employed world, so I don't have anything to report about that other than what I heard and read about it, but thanks to the same people that organize ComicCon, there's an alternative event that happens over the weekend. What event is that? Why, it's BookCon! I know the title makes it sound like a knock-off version of ComicCon, and it is to some extent (minus the abundance of people that attend in costume), but this is something worth seeing.

On Saturday, I journeyed to Javits Center overlooking the beautiful Hudson River in Manhattan to take in the spectacle that is BookCon with a friend of mine. We started the day as I imagine cattle do when they enter a slaughter house or as families do when they decide to ride basically anything in Disney World; we queued up in a seemingly endless line of people waiting for their chance to enter the show. I've never seen so many people waiting to attend an event that revolves around books. We were all corralled into a seemingly endless basement. We had to choose between a line that would lead to one of the more highly anticipated panels with celebrity personalities B.J. Novak and Mindy Kaling, Nick Offerman, or Aziz Ansari or the wait in the still longer line that would release us onto the showroom floor sooner than that. We chose the line that let out earlier. Standing and waiting was not something we were going to do well, despite the fact that we stood and waited in a number of lines that day.

When ten o'clock rolled around, we joined an seemingly endless throng of people all being directed upstairs to showroom floor. After being driven along in that torrent for at least fifteen minutes we finally spilled into the show and began our trek through booth after booth. I wondered if this was what it felt like to enter the World's Fairs in the early 1900s. Everything was big and bold. People were everywhere. All around were exhibitors trying to hand out early proofs of upcoming books. Other exhibitors were selling featured work from their publisher. Not all the vendors were publishers. Some were simply people attempting to sell their own self-published books. In any case, we toured them all.

Within an hour, my friend and I found ourselves in line to get the autograph of Charlaine Harris as she gave away copies of her new book. Though I am not a reader of Charlaine Harris, I got in line anyway. Both the book and the autograph were free if you were only willing to wait for it, and how many opportunities like that do you get? We struck up a conversation with another BookCon goer, this one a blogger from New York who had attended a number of events like this one. The excitement was palpable. Our line wound past the showroom door of a panel that featured Annie Barrows, author of the Ivy and Bean series, though she was there to discuss her recent book for adults titled The Truth According to Us. Everywhere we went there were employees from different publishers trying to tempt us to enter their little stall and sample their wears. After getting our autograph and my friend getting a picture with the Ms. Harris, we toured a few more booths, inlcuding one for National Geographic where we were given books and bags and another for Bloomsbury books (a favorite publisher of mine) where we were given posters, and a couple of advance reader copies of books.

Penguin Random House, the same people that had arranged for Charlaine Harris earlier in the day, later featured the true highlight of my day, and possibly my reading year, the chance to meet Norton Juster and get a copy of The Phantom Tollbooth signed. If you are a regular reader of this blog (a.k.a. a figment of my imagination) then you know that I love The Phantom Tollbooth more than any other book. I have five copies of the book, in various editions and states of disrepair, on my shelves at home.  Whenever a child asks me what my favorite book is, I know the answer without hesitating. Meeting Norton Juster was like winning Publishers Clearing House, I never really believed it would happen to me. Yet, there I was, a little while later, getting my picture taken with him. The whole experience seemed unreal to me.

After that, we caught the middle of a presentation by Mac Barnett and Jory John, authors of the recent bestseller The Terrible Two, on how to prank effectively. They were truly funny as a pair. They played well off of one another, much as the characters in their book did. Sadly, we had leave while they were still presenting in order to catch another panel titled Faraway Lands.

Faraway Lands featured authors Aisha Saeed (Written in the Stars), Sabaa Tahir (An Ember in the Ashes), Renee Ahdieh (The Wrath and the Dawn), Marie Lu (The Young Elites), as they all discussed their bestselling books and what fans they were of each others' work among other things. They were all disarmingly funny people, though Marie Lu stood out among the crowd for her soft-spoken humorous insights. One memorable line that Ms. Lu offered up was about the responsibility of creating a realistic world for her characters to live in and the sometimes difficult decision to do something unpleasant to one of her characters. She said that as an author, she was God in her characters' world, and, "It's hard to be God." The whole audience cracked up at this, myself included. Renee Ahdiah amusingly added that she often emails her author friends that what she had written was "so mean" as though she was remorseful after writing a particularly cruel scene, all while secretly taking great, evil joy in making her characters suffer. Another amusing anecdote came when the authors were asked what their mothers thought of their books since in each of their books, parental figures are at least partially to blame for the problems that their protagonists face. Sabaa Tahir commented that her mother had been secretly suspicious that she was the model on whom the Commandant was based, and that now that she was a mother, whenever she had to correct her child in her mother's presence, her mother would chime in by calling her the Commandant.  Aisha Saeed had to insist to her mother that she wasn't writing about her by saying, "You didn't force me into an arranged marriage. That's kind of an important difference." Aside from the laughs and the insights, I was just startled by how young they all seemed. Seeing them on the stage, I kept thinking, 'My goodness! They're all my age or younger, and they all have bestselling books to their credit already! What have I been doing while they've been writing bestsellers?'

When we returned to the showroom floor after the presentation, we toured the remaining booths that we'd missed earlier. My friend was very excited to meet Michelle Visage, a celebrity that I knew next to nothing about, though to be honest, I didn't know who more than half of the featured attendees were. I guess that I don't keep up with pop culture and non-children's authors as well as other people do. While he got in line at 2:15 in order to be one of the first to meet her and immediately began gushing with a fellow Visage fan, I went off on my own around the showroom floor and caught half of another panel featuring my favorite author, Norton Juster. I was getting way more than my fair share of good fortune. I signed up for a few contests, read some of the books that were featured on the tables in different publishers' booths, and generally enjoyed what was going on around me before returning to the Chronicle Books pavilion where Michelle Visage would be signing posters.

While waiting to take a picture of my friend with Visage, I noticed that Mac Barnett and Jory John had entered the pavilion as well. Jory John has had a number of books published by Chronicle Books including All My Friends are Dead, K is for Knifeball: An Alphabet of Terrible Advice, and I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York, so I assume that he was there to catch up with a couple of old friends who were running the pavilion. I broke off from my friend again and introduced myself to Mac Barnett. I didn't get a chance to say anything to Jory John since he was in the middle of some reminisce with his friends, and I didn't want to interrupt, but Mac Barnett, who writes some of the funniest picture books I've read in the past couple of years as well as The Terrible Two, was extremely kind and welcoming. I think I may have gushed about what a fan I was, but he didn't seem to mind. Though I didn't ask for a picture or an autograph, I got everything I wanted from just shaking his hand and thanking him for all that he's done. He asked my name and where I was from and thanked me politely for all my compliments. Generally, he was just a good guy. Soon after, my friend got his autograph and picture with Michelle Visage (who was very kind as well), and we decided to go downstairs for one last panel before we called it a day.

On our way, we ran into none other than Marie Lu, who we'd seen earlier in the day at her author panel. I introduced us and we talked briefly. She was extremely friendly and humble just as she'd been in her panel. She spoke with us briefly and offered some words of encouragement to my friend in his writing endeavors before we parted cordially.

Then we headed onto our panel featuring Patrick Ness (The Rest of Us Just Live Here), Lauren Oliver (Before I Fall), Ellen Hopkins (Burned), and Jason Reynolds (The Boy in the Black Suit). Though of the authors I'd only read Ellen Hopkins work before, I'd seen Lauren Oliver's books in stores and even paged through a couple. I didn't know who Patrick Ness was, though everyone else in the room seemed to and they were really excited about it. Jason Reynolds, on the other hand, seemed to be the panelist that the other panelists were most excited about, and after listening to him describe his book, I understood why. After sitting through so much before that, you'd think that we'd have grown tired of the repetitive hubbub and would be anxious to conclude our day, but it was just the opposite. Patrick Ness was disarmingly funny as was Lauren Oliver, while Jason Reynolds was relaxed and exceedingly cool about the whole thing. Ellen Hopkins, star author that she is, was amazing to listen to. She was so honest about her craft and her inspiration. She was older than the other panelists, and she mentioned that a couple times as a preface to her answers, but she brought a different dynamic to the panel than the others could provide. Once again, I felt a little starstruck by the whole thing. Near the end of the panel, a little boy came running through the panel room being chased by some very embarrassed teenagers that he'd gotten away from, and though it interrupted the session briefly, the authors came to rescue, suggesting that they not chase him and allow him to come to them. Not surprisingly, their suggestion worked.

After the panel, though there was more to see if we stayed, my friend and I quietly departed BookCon, thoroughly satisfied with the experience. Though a year from now it will be held in Chicago, I'm tempted to make the pilgrimage again, and perhaps arrive a few days earlier in order to see what Book Expo America is like. If this was any indication, the trip would be well worth it.

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