On To The Crystal Palace

BookExpo America, a gigantic annual convention for publishing professionals, is coming to New York City at the end of this week. It’s all going down at the Jacob Javits Center, a cavernous glass building on Manhattan’s west side that was architecturally inspired by London’s legendary Crystal Palace. The Crystal Palace burned down in 1936, but it once stood as such a symbol of modernity that it was mocked by Fyodor Dostoevsky in his Notes From Underground (despite the fact that Dostoevsky never saw the building).

And if it seems like I’m stretching for a literary reference here, maybe that’s just because I’ve been to the Book Expo before and I know how completely insignificant a devotee of fiction and poetry can feel at this convention, which is most definitely not called the Literary Expo. It’s called the Book Expo, and most of the attention goes to books that sell: cookbooks, celebrity tell-alls, sudoku puzzles, how-to manuals, self-help guides, movie tie-ins, gimmicky pop-culture fads, airport bestsellers. It’s a rough but informative confrontation with reality for anybody who thinks the book publishing business revolves around its most original literary voices.

That’s not to say alternative fiction and poetry won’t be represented (it just won’t be emphasized). At past Book Expo gatherings, I’ve chatted with the likes of Chuck Palahniuk, met numerous small-press masterminds, and collected far more loot, yo-yo’s, frisbees, pens, buttons and galley copies than I really needed. I’m not going to wait on line for anybody’s autograph this year, but I do hope to attend some great panel discussions, go to some trendy parties (yeah, I usually hate book parties, but that doesn’t mean I won’t show up) and meet a lot of interesting and smart people.

Speaking of parties, the Litblog Coop is hosting a casual hangout at the historic Kettle of Fish in Greenwich Village, on Thursday night from 8 to 11. Whether you’re attending Book Expo or not, please come down on Thursday night and say hi if you can.

2007 has been a controversial and somewhat crazy year so far for the book biz. Bonfires are being lit, innovative publishers are closing up shop, newspaper book critics are being fired, bloggers are getting more and more uppity by the minute. And every once in a while this dysfunctional industry even manages to turn out a fresh and important new work. The 2007 gathering may turn out to be the most lively Book Expo of all time. And people in glass buildings shouldn’t throw stones, so I’m going to try to keep my expectations in check, enjoy myself and hopefully learn a few things I didn’t know.

3 Responses

  1. Find out for me, if you
    Find out for me, if you can… There’s so much going on. So many writers, books, zines, reviewers, self-published works… I went to a yahoo writers group; their archive had some excellent writing. Will anyone ever see it?

    My question is – I turn on tv, nothing worth watching. Pretty sure if I check NY theater, nothing I’d plunk down a bundle of cash for. Have to search hard to find something good in Shaftsbury Avenue.

    My question is – all this great writing…and no theater, no tv. Where the hell does it all go? Can’t watch 24 hours of Rachel Ray (well, my sister does, but I couldn’t). Don’t wanna see the Dukes of Hazzard movie. Why doesn’t all this great writing ever translate into viewable entertainment?

    I watched Mission Impossible III, and it was okay. But too much like Sonic Hedgehog on steroids. Is this what we’ve come to?

  2. For TV, I’d say The Sopranos
    For TV, I’d say The Sopranos is good writing. Futurama is good writing (don’t let the cartoon robot fool you).

    For movies, I think Big Fish and Stranger Than Fiction, and Shawn of the Dead were well-written.

  3. My local community theater
    My local community theater director tells me they do eight (successful) plays a year; but are lucky to break even on their ONE drama. I think the percentages are the same for NY and London; as well as BookExpo, Hollywood, and tv. Four hundred year ago, one could boat across the Thames and watch Shakespeare performing Shakespeare. We goin downhill here. How come? Are we gettin stupid-er, and why? Is like the collapse of Rome viewed from the increasingly morbid performances at the Coliseum. Y’all don’t believe me, but is real.

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