Last week, I had the good fortune to attend Book Expo America. It was my first time! I’ve been to ALA conferences more than once, so I fancied myself quite the conference expert. Oh boy was I wrong. BEA was an entirely different beast, in good ways and not so good ones.
I’m a bookish person with a bookish job. When presented with a buffet of choices at a conference, I like to attend the bookish panels. I have to forcibly wedge less-literary sessions into my schedule, lest I walk around like a dazed book fan rather than, oh, you know, engaging in meaningful professional development. I try very hard to attend a conference as a library employee first and a raging book fan second.
So now, I’m at BEA, and it’s ALL BOOKS ALL THE TIME. Walking into the Javitz center and seeing a grotesquely huge fabric sign hanging from the vaulted ceiling advertising the cover of Scott Westerfeld’s new YA book was a trip and a half. This is a gathering of my people, and we are all here to talk books. Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes.
But before I arrived at BEA proper, I attended SLJ’s Day of Dialog. While gigantic conferences can be fun, the Day of Dialog is really more my jam. You show up, join a hundred or so other librarians in a normal-sized lecture hall with nice seats, and sit quietly while genius after genius takes the stage to entertain and edify. There are breaks with food. There is a free coffee station. At the Day of Dialog, there were even little vendor tables set up for ARCs, and, at the end of the day, free signed books to go around.
After that lovely little experience, BEA was exciting but completely overwhelming, even for the ALA-vet that I am. Publisher booths were swarmed with people, and most did not provide books or ARCS for browsing or taking. If you want an ARC, it seemed, you needed to get into a designated autographing line, maybe even get a ticket. As an introvert who has enough signed books to last a lifetime, this removed a lot of the fun of the exhibition floor. I missed the nice book displays at ALA, where you can browse and chat casually.
There were, however, enough attractive sessions to keep me busy. I attended an adult author buzz session and a middle grade author buzz session and came away with some new Fall titles to keep on my radar. (The big MG title that I saw EVERYWHERE? Kat Yeh’s adorably covered The Truth About Twinkie Pie). I caught a session where my friend Heather talked fantasy world-building Michael Grant, Scott Westerfeld, Kiera Cass, and Brandon Mull, and another on realism (or not) with E. Lockhart, Gayle Forman, Meg Wolitzer, and Jandy Nelson.
I also toured the Recorded Books studio which was freaking awesome. I got to meet the guy who says “Recorded Books Presents…” and who also narrated all of Lillian Jackson Braun’s The Cat Who books. Guys, I probably listened to a dozen of those as a kid. Maybe all of them. He started talking and it was like, a bizarro time-warp out-of-body experience. Also, Miss Rosa from Orange is the New Black was wandering about the studio as well. No big deal, guys.
So, BEA, good. New York, good. I braved the transit system on my own, stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Brooklyn, dined with former bowling league-mates, and ate a lot of protein bars.
And then came BookCon.
My oh, my, BookCon. I thought BEA proper was huge and crowded enough. Little did I know… I wanted to attend the We Need Diverse Books panel but made the mistake of showing up a mere 3 minutes late. The doors were shut. A bouncer was fending off a few truly livid conference-goers. If this was the scene for a first-thing-in-the-morning diversity program, then what in the world was I getting myself into?
This year, I have become a quietly devoted fan of Lev Grossman’s work. His panel with Deb Harkness was the only panel I really wanted to attend. I showed up a half hour prior to the panel, thinking I could get a seat and wait quietly.
Oh no. No, no, no. The line snaked all the way into the food court. I waited for over thirty minutes, the line not moving, and when I finally got in I was the second to last person seated. Everyone behind me, who had been waiting nearly as long, was denied.
You would think that the mass of John Green fans waiting for the TFioS event a full 2 and a half hours prior to that event would have tipped me off, but no, I was shocked. I’m accustomed to attending professional conferences, where you might not always get a seat but you can probably get into your session at 11:00 and then flit off to your session and 12:00. Also, find a seat for lunch that is not on the floor. Also, find an outlet for your poor dead iPhone. None of this was the case. I went straight from the Grossman/Harkness event into yet another long line for an erotic romance panel that started an hour later.
I’d heard around the Internets that the BEA folks wanted to beef up their Saturday BookCon events, to provide a Comic-Con-type thing for Book Nerds. Well, the Book Nerds showed up. They swarmed, they hoarded galleys, they waited in hour long lines for the women’s bathroom. It was really thrilling to see such a passionate bunch – nay, mob – of readers, assembled to celebrate the continued existence of books, novels, novelists, and reader-culture. And so many of them young! Readers of the future! In this industry, where dour proclamations of the Death of [Libraries, Books, Printed Word, Reading] are so commonplace, BookCon was just a damn heartening thing to behold.
Sure, I didn’t want to actually MINGLE among the masses of rabid young fans, but I’m glad they were there.
The Final Scorecard
SLJ Day of Dialog: Great
BookCon: Complete Nerd Madness
So that was my BEA. I’m glad I had the chance to go. I might not get to go again. I will probably post again soon about, oh, the things I *learned* at BEA. That is really my conference jam, guys. I love the panels and the speakers, the Big Ideas, the chit-chat with fellow librarians in between sessions. I take compulsive notes. I leave feeling refueled and excited to be a part of this industry. It seems a waste to let these great ideas fizzle away, so look forward to a more conceptual BEA post later in the month.
Oh, okay, okay. You want to see the goods. You’ve made it this far, I suppose you deserve it. Here are my top five galleys, the ones I really can’t wait to sink my teeth into.
Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer
Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
The Truth About Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld
The Unfinished Life of Addison Stone by Adele Griffin