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.