Walking the vast hangars of Book Expo America 2007, I pause to consider what we can learn from this amazing display of publishing ingenuity. It’s really hard to explain just how big, how packed, how sweaty and how busy this three-day book industry convention is. Apparently a lot of people are in the publishing biz.
It’s heartening that, while the general sensibility here is highly capitalistic (or, shall we say, “entrepreneurial”), corporate publishing does not dominate either the exhibit floors or the panel discussions. Big dinosaurs like Random House, Simon and Schuster and Penguin have impressive spreads, but they are vastly outnumbered by the medium-size regional specialty publishers — small firms that produce anime, or crossword puzzle books, or Swedenborgian religious tracts, or teen serials, or health titles, or environmental pamphlets. Clearly, indie publishing is NOT dead. (It’s just sad, in my opinion, that so few of these businesses are producing literary fiction and poetry).
Still, it’s a scrappy and smart gang of publishers working this floor. Not a whole lot of rich people, but definitely a whole lot of hard-working people. An impressive display.
The Litblog Coop party Thursday night was a blast. I met Carolyn Kellogg, Mark Sarvas, Dan Wickett, Marydell, C. Max Magee, the LitMinds crew and Megan for the first time (dammit, who am I forgetting? I’ll remember later). I met the travel writer Darrin Duford, had a nice chat with Morgan Entrekin and long talks with Leora Skolkin-Smith and Katharine Weber. Here are some pictures from Carolyn’s site.
I’ll talk more about Bud Parr’s panel on blogging and book criticism and the National Book Critics Circle’s panel on the ethics of book reviewing later, but both were quite good. Some highlights:
• Anne Fernald reminding us that the Bloomsbury writers and critics constantly wrote positive book reviews for each other, and upheld lower standards of critical integrity than either print critics or bloggers today.
• Dwight Garner pointing out (correctly, I think) that distinctive critics of the past like Pauline Kael and James Agee would probably have been bloggers today.
• The impressive John Leonard telling us that he finds the idea that literary critics should not review friends offensive. “Who am I supposed to be friends with but writers?” I think he’s right.
• John Leonard pointing out that even the worst ethical abuses by literary critics don’t compare to the ethical abuses regularly inflicted upon Americans by our current government. Score that one for John too.
I shot my mouth off at both panels, like I tend to do, and in both cases I was very satisfied with the answers to my questions. There are a few more gatherings tomorrow — my next dispatch from BEA will hopefully come soon!