Printer’s Row: Eyewitness Report

LitKicks member shamatha was kind enough to offer this eyewitness report from Chicago’s Printer’s Row Book Fair:

So on Saturday I went to the Printer’s Row Bookfair, presented by the Chicago Tribune, Target, and Jewel, among others.

To start off, it was really hot. With Printers Row, the Old Town Art Fair, Blues Fest and the Red Sox in town to play the Cubs, it was a good weekend in Chicago to go out and mingle with sweaty people eating greasy food.

We woke up late-ish on Saturday morning. On the train we saw a couple Red Sox fans. One of them was wearing a David Ortiz jersey with ‘Papi’ on the back. That’s not as bad as having ‘Ortiz’, but still; does anybody else find it weird, bordering on unacceptable, for men over the age of 30 to wear a jersey with a player’s name on the back? It’s one thing for a 16-year-old to look up to somebody, but for a 40-something to wear an ‘Garciaparra’ jersey or something; I mean, in high school we gave our football jerseys to our girlfriends. I guess it’s the frequent homophobia of the many hardcore sports fans that makes it funny to me that so many wear a shirt advertising their favorite player wouldn’t be able to order their own jerseys from because their last names are on a 1,000+ potentially offensive words that are banned list, but that’s another, non-bookfair related story.

I was planning on arriving in time to arrive in time to see, on firecracker’s recommendation, Li-Young Lee read at 1 pm. We got there about 12:50 pm. However, Mr. Lee’s reading was at an offsite location, and I didn’t feel like arriving at the book fair just to leave and walk somewhere else. I did see several people wearing Li-Young Lee authentic game-worn Starter jerseys, however.

I was mostly there to browse the used books anyway. I was somewhat interested in seeing Paul Theroux read from his new novel at 4 pm, but by the time the hour had neared, I was wildly unenthusiastic about standing in a packed tent listening to a guy read from a book. I may have mentioned this already, but it was an exceptionally warm and humid day.

The fair is oriented around a stretch of Dearborn Street, starting just south of the Harold Washington Library and stretching two blocks to old Dearborn Station. (If I remember to take in the film tomorrow, there might be some mildly uninteresting photos of the event in a few days), This once was the mecca of Chicago’s meager publishing industry. Now it’s just some nice old buildings being converted into loft space as part of Chicago’s South Loop gentrification.

There were about 150 used and new booksellers there. The bigger ones had their own tents, the smaller would go foursies on a tent, each occupying a side. The big chains had big tents across the intersection from each other.

I was somewhat disappointed in the selection available. I overheard one seller telling a woman that he really only brought the stuff that didn’t sell online, and I imagine that was a common practice among the rest. So there was a lot of milling around tables, bumping into people and then swapping places. Considering the heat and the crowd, everyone was really polite.

Stephen King, mysteries and sci-fi dominated the tables along with old best-sellers. Lots of Penguin Classics. It was interesting browsing the small press tables to see what the universities and indies were producing, but I’m also not about to drop $20+ on an unknown author.

That’s about all there is to say about the event. There’s not much to talk about when you’re just walking about looking at used books. I saw Nick Hornby signing books. He looked British and seemed very happy to be meeting with his fans. With a little planning, there were some reading and/or panels that I might have been interested and seeing. But I’m not huge on watching people read or talk about books.

I’m not sure why writers are also required to perform. It’s not as if actors are required to write their own lines. And it bothers me that a book’s success can depend on the ability to self-promote as much or more than on the writing, which I guess is the point (self-promoting) of these whole events.

Anyways, that’s it.

12 Responses

  1. Writers and Performance
    Writers and Performance

    Sometimes, in order for your ship to come in, you need to help build the dock on the shore, wave a flag, or shine a light. It especially is important to self-advertise.

    Similarly, a writer’s work should speak for itself; however, it is sometimes necessary to have a good cover letter.

  2. I hear youyeah. . . this is
    I hear you

    yeah. . . this is why I didn’t go.

    I went last year and it was cool to pick up on the “energy” or “vibe” of the place, but I can only look at used books for ten minutes before I get bored.

    It would have been cool to see Hornby, but, ironically, it was way too hot on Saturday. I was at the Old Town Art Fair and it was freaking hot. I got there at 10:00 hoping to get in and out before noon (mission accomplished). When I left I dropped a couple, two, three pounds in water weight. I hate to say I told you so, but. . . last week, I told you so.

    The city was visibly rocking this weekend. In addition to what you mentioned there was blues fest, rib fest and some gathering of like 250 mayors.

    But your description of the Fair seemed like last year’s. Minus a one Chuck Palahniuk. Good times.

  3. Well, I knew it was going to
    Well, I knew it was going to be hot . . . it wasn’t miserable or anything. Miserable would have been being anywhere near Wrigleyville after the game let out.

    And I’m bigger on looking at used books than seeing authors read.

    I thought we might make it to Old Town on Sunday, but laundry interceded . . . and as for the festivals Rib and Blues, I would have liked to see Honeyboy Edwards, but otherwise I avoid the big crowds.

  4. … and a report from
    … and a report from Jymwrite

    Thanks, Shamatha. Reading your report was as good as being there (better maybe, even). My only gripe is, as a guy over 30, I wear sports jerseys because … well, because a guy’s gotta wear something and sports jerseys are usually pretty comfortable. What are you planning to wear when you hit the big 3-0? You can’t even find a good cardigan sweater these days.

    But that’s my only gripe … also, here’s a report of the same show sent in by Jymwrite — good reports from both of you!

    Jymwrite writes:

    The Printers Row Book Fair is three blocks of small publishers and book stores selling their wares, largely represented were rare books, & used book stores. The smaller publishers were for the most part pushed off to tables on the sidewalks, while Borders and Barnes & Noble had large tracts of the available space. Most successful seemed to be the childrens stage that had well organized entertainment and events, the care taken for that presentation should have been taken for the rest of the fair.

    Chicago needs a real literary festival. As it was stated in an earlier post Printers Row Book Fair is nothing more than a used book sale. I went to see Nick Hornby but because the tent set up for the Q&A session was small it filled up quickly, & those standing outside couldn’t hear because the sound system wasn’t powerful enough. I also noticed that Kevin Guilfoyle author of Cast of Shadows which has a rather large, high profile publisher was shunted aside to a small tent with almost no notice or advertisment of it. I think what is really needed is people who run the event need to schdule talent and run events, and not left to mostly book stores that schedule things like a book signing, not an event.

  5. Although I didn’t go I
    Although I didn’t go I disagree with Jymwrite. I think the Fair is prettty good for meeting and hearing authors talk. Nick Hornby, Margaret Atwood, Phil Caputo, Studs Terkel, Umberto Eco, Sara Paretsky, Paul Theroux, Naomi Wolf and Todd Parr (to name a few) are some pretty big names. I don’t care if you’re in NY, LA or Chicago, that’s a damn impressive list.

    The way I look at it, you can always hunt down a used book store, especially in a big city like Chicago. But how often can you get dozens of high-end authors in one place and hear them speak?

    I agree with you about some of the independent book sellers being pushed over to the sides. But I gave a look at some of those guys last year, and, let’s face it, they really don’t have the selection or the kind of stuff that is going to bring people out to Printers Row to look at books. Hey, I’m all for Socialist/Commie booksellers proselytizing to the masses. . . wait a minute. . . maybe not. Anyway, I think you’re picking up what I’m laying down.

    And to brooklyn. . . hey man, time to ease the jerseys out of the rotation. Know what I mean?

  6. Sounds like an interesting
    Sounds like an interesting scene

    I totally hear you on the heat — glad you made it out anyway. Did you pick up anything new while you were there? Or see anything that you may pick up later?

    Sorry to hear you missed Li-Young Lee, I would be very interested to hear what you think of him — especially since I read that he kind of threw a hissy fit at a recent reading. And you know me, all about the hissy fit.

    I’m not sure how having ‘Big Papi’ on the back is better than having ‘Ortiz’. Ouch.

    One more question — if you noticed — what was the weirdest promotional item the authors/publishers were giving away? Levi recently picked up a nice selection of weird freebies at the Book Expo, including a tiny bottle of hot sauce and a mini-paint set with an Israeli sticker on the back. Because really, that’s what it’s all about.

  7. Um, dude, I don’t think I’ve
    Um, dude, I don’t think I’ve ever seen you wear a sports jersey with ‘Big Papi’ on the back — maybe you’re holding out on me. However, I have seen some of your other choice shirts and I’d have to say that a sports jersey would be the least of your concerns! Just sayin’…

  8. See, I guess I don’t have
    See, I guess I don’t have anything against jersey’s per se. And if you want to get your own name on the back of it, or maybe a funny word like ‘snorkel’, that’s cool, it’s just the putting the name of a guy who’s 5 or 10 or 15 years one’s junior on the back that seems a little odd to me. And it’s really only odd in the previously explained context of the frequent homophobia of sports fans vs. sports fans male worshiping.

  9. You know, if you had
    You know, if you had mentioned the potential for a poetic hissy fit, I would’ve made the walk.

    The only promotional items I really saw were the popsicles and dip’n dots being passed out by Jewel. Barnes and Nobles passed out a little baggie with a free Starbucks coffee sample and a coupon for a free cappucino. Some of the small presses and independent bookstores had bookmarks, and some comedians were quite insistently handing out tickets to a free comedy show, but that’s about it.

    Like jymwrite said, it’s really more of a big flea market for books than a PR and networking event. Even at the tents where the reading took place, all they had were the books of the people reading there. I was hoping for at least a sample jar of Paul Theroux brand honey.

  10. Of course, we could solve the
    Of course, we could solve the whole thing by wearing LitKicks T-shirts.

  11. Well, if wearing a t-shirt
    Well, if wearing a t-shirt with a guy’s name on it implies worship, then I agree. But I insist you are overlooking the practical aspect of shirt-wearing. My Mets t-shirt has Olerud’s name on it — not only do I not worship Olerud, but he’s been traded away years ago and I don’t even remember what position he played. I don’t even know why it has his name on it, instead of say Cliff Floyd who I also don’t worship but who I at least like. The overriding logic here is, again … a guy’s gotta wear a shirt, and one shirt is as good as another.

    Interesting aside — when I saw Phife Dawg from A Tribe Called Quest at the Bowery Poetry Club, he mentioned from the stage that he invented the wearing of sports jerseys by hiphop stars (which Jay-Z later turned into a major fashion statement). I don’t know if this is true or not. But I know Phife Dawg is over 30, and so is Jay-Z … I rest my case.

  12. Old Town Art FairI was
    Old Town Art Fair

    I was outside at the Old Town Art Fair all day and found it a welcome change from being stuffed inside offices, apartments, and bars. If my friends had lived closer or I had known about it beforehand I would have been at the book fair. Though I must say, book shopping as an idea for a party/festival doesn’t sound like my cup of tea. Then what would I do on a normal stroll through town?

    While the art was mostly bland (with some notable exceptions) and there were a few too many drunken frat kids with their pink polo collars up, the fact that so many people and dogs showed up is great. To see a city pulsating so is an immeasurably exciting feeling, comparable only to watching all the tourists leave so you can resume your daily life.

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