2017-06-29 / Arts & Entertainment News

Game of TOMES

Florida Weekly Correspondent

A TRIP TO BOOKEXPO IS THE BOOK LOVER’s equivalent of a child’s visit to a candy store. A super-sized candy store, that is. But attending it is more like trying to navigate a three-ring circus.

The annual trade show takes place at convention centers across the country. This year’s venue was the Jacob Javits Center in New York City. Over the course of two-plus days, hundreds of galleys were available for the taking. Dozens of authors signed their books. Authors, editors and a celebrity or two took the stage in panel discussions.

BookExpo requires significant stamina — I don’t think it would hurt to be an athlete — and even more planning. Given the number of events happening simultaneously, it’s impossible to do it all. But it’s a lot of fun to try.

BookExpo kicked off the day before the convention floor opened with a panel of editors pitching what they hope will be the big book of the year. It’s a unique opportunity to promote these releases to bookstore owners, librarians, book bloggers and the stray Florida Weekly correspondent.

Cheryl Strayed, right, introduces fellow author Hillary Clinton to the crowd. 
NANETTE CRIST / FLORIDA WEEKLY Cheryl Strayed, right, introduces fellow author Hillary Clinton to the crowd. NANETTE CRIST / FLORIDA WEEKLY The editor “buzz” session has a more-than-respectable track record. Titles like “The Art of Fielding” by Chad Harbach and “Room” by Emma Donoghue have been presented in past years. While all six of this year’s buzz books sounded like potential bestsellers, three were standouts.

“The World of Tomorrow” by Brendan Mathews uses the 1939 New York World’s Fair as the backdrop for a story whose characters include three Irish brothers (two of whom stole a small fortune from the IRA), a retired hitman conscripted into one last job and a female Jewish photographer whose visa is running out. Editor Ben George from Little Brown likened Mr. Mathews’ multi-layered storytelling ability to “that of a juggler who keeps adding balls without dropping any.”

Author Celeste Ng shows off “Little Fires Everywhere.” Author Celeste Ng shows off “Little Fires Everywhere.” Gabriel Tallent’s “My Absolute Darling” revolves around Turtle, a young girl being raised in an isolated home — complete with a gun range — by her charismatic, survivalist father. When Turtle starts rebelling against her father’s choices for her, things get ugly. Editor Sarah McGrath from Riverhead Books shared an unsolicited email she received from Stephen King about the book. It read, in part, “The word ‘masterpiece’ has been cheapened by too many blurbs, but ‘My Absolute Darling’ absolutely is one.”

“The Woman in the Window” by A.J. Finn features an alcoholic, agoraphobic woman who has difficulty persuading police she witnessed a crime from her window. Before you dismiss this debut novel as a retread of Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” you might be interested in knowing “The Woman in the Window” is being published in 37 countries. The film rights have also already been sold.

When the panel wrapped, complimentary proofs of the books were available. (All books available during BookExpo are included with your registration fee.) But if you’re envisioning an orderly line with galleys handed out to audience members, think again. Absolute chaos ensued as attendees rushed the tables laden with books. (Inexplicably, the tables were pushed up against a wall, so access was limited to one side.) It was more intense than the subway at rush hour, but I came away with all six titles.

And things were just getting started.

Let the games begin

With the editor buzz session under my belt, I was ready for the main event. Hundreds of people queued up for the 9 a.m. opening of the convention floor. Most scoured Publishers Weekly’s glossy magazine with information about the day’s biggest events. When the doors opened, attendees turned from patient readers into something resembling participants in the running of the bulls.

While BookExpo isn’t a competitive event, it sometimes feels like it. Attendees are anxious to get to their favorite publishing houses’ booths to scoop up galleys before allotments run out. Inevitably, the booths you’re most interested in are located at opposite ends of the floor. Comfortable shoes are a must, as are tote bags to carry your finds.

Once the initial rush is over, it’s a matter of studying your schedule and strategizing. The line for an author signing often starts well before a pen is placed in his or her hand. Depending upon your place in the queue — and how chatty the author is — it can take an hour to get your signed book. While you’re waiting, other signings and giveaways are happening. Each choice has an opportunity cost.

Thriller writer Michael Connelly greets a reader. Thriller writer Michael Connelly greets a reader. At 11 o’clock one morning, I had six signings and four galley giveaways on my agenda. My priority was Wendy Walker’s signing of “Emma at Night,” her follow-up to the heart-clenching “All Is Not Forgotten.” A close second was National Book Award finalist Joshua Reynolds signing his young adult book “Long Way Down.” And I was intrigued by the look of Eleanor Henderson’s “The Twelve Mile Straight,” a straight up grab-and-go.

I scored all three of these books, but missed several others I wanted. Among them was Karen Cleveland’s “Need to Know,” a thriller whose rights have already been acquired by Universal Pictures. Charlize Theron is set to star as a CIA analyst in the film adaptation.

BookExpo panel discussions typically conflict with the signings and giveaways, so attendees have to prioritize. I always go for the books over the talks — and so I missed hearing from celebrity authors such as Neil Patrick Harris, Denis Leary, Al Franken and Whitney Cummings.

But this year’s BookExpo featured an after-hours interview with Hillary Clinton. I registered the moment the email hit my inbox.

Heartfelt Hillary

The capacity crowd gasped audibly with pleasure when it was announced that the person slated to talk with Ms. Clinton was Cheryl Strayed, whose memoir, “Wild,” was both a bestseller and a hit movie starring Reese Witherspoon.

Once the audience settled down, it was time for Ms. Clinton’s entrance. The emotion in the room was palpable as she took the stage. If the audience expected a political diatribe, they left disappointed. A relaxed and personable Ms. Clinton wasn’t there to talk about the politics of the day. She was there to talk books — her books, that is.

Ms. Clinton has two releases coming out this fall. The first is a picture book version of her 1996 “It Takes a Village.” Its message of the value of community and working together seems timelier than ever.

A book about Ms. Clinton’s experience as the first woman nominated for president is also in the works. With a wry smile, Ms. Clinton said one theme of the book is resilience and learning how to get back up when you’ve been knocked down in the most public of fashions.

When Ms. Strayed asked Ms. Clinton how she mustered the strength to go on, she mentioned walks in the woods as one curative. The response prompted Ms. Strayed to suggest a name for the yet-untitled memoir — “Really Wild” — at which the audience roared its approval.

Reading list

By the end of BookExpo, I had acquired a respectable quantity of new reading material. Between the galleys shipped through an onsite service and those stuffed in my extra suitcase, nearly 100 upcoming releases made their way back to Punta Gorda.

When I’m in the mood for some literary fiction, Celeste Ng’s “Little Fires Everywhere” is on the top of my stack. Her sophomore book, after “Everything I Never Told You,” tells the story of two families on opposing sides of a battle over the adoption of Chinese-American baby.

The thriller front is covered by Michael Connelly’s “The Late Show.” His newest character is a female detective working the nightshift in Hollywood.

And when I’m in need of a laugh, I’ll pick up “I Hate Everyone but You” by Gaby Dunn and Allison Raskin. The young YouTube channel stars are best friends heading to college on separate coasts. If their book, written in the form of texts and emails, is half as exuberant as they were in person, it will be a delight.

As I always say: So many books, so little time. ¦

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