Sunday, June 17, 2012

A Busy Week of Book and Political Conventions

The Bookstore Cat apologizes for the lack of posts recently. I was on the road last week and busy, busy, busy.

There are two conferences I go to every year: the Book Expo, the biggest trade show of Book Publishers in the United States, and Netroots Nation, a gathering of several thousand liberal bloggers and political activists.

In years past, the conferences were scheduled a few weeks apart. This year, they were scheduled the same week. The Cat was not pleased.

The Book Expo in New York City ran Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, but I was only able to attend Tuesday before hopping aboard Amtrak's Acela to Netroots in Providence, Rhode Island. I partly made up for it by going to one of the warm-up events, the Book Bloggers Conference on Monday.

While killing time before the 8:00am registration, I perused the blogs of as many conference participants as I could. I also witnessed the incredible feat of blogger friend-of-a-friend Sara writing this blog post for her site Cutest Landing, despite having just arrived on an overnight bus from Washington DC.

The conference was pretty good. There was some star power in the speakers, starting with Jennifer "don't call me a chick-lit author" Weiner in the morning (her new book The Next Best Thing comes out July 3rd), and ending with The Bloggess herself Jenny Lawson. A copy of Lawson's hilarious memoir Let's Pretend This Never Happened was included as part of the swag for conference attendees, and she signed our copies afterwards. Lawson is the rare author who autographs her books standing up, as if she's signing a football or a Star Wars X-Wing model.

In between, there were table-hopping hobnobs with authors. I drew Kitty Kelly, best known for her gossipy and controversial unauthorized biographies of such people as Oprah Winfrey, Frank Sinatra and the British Royal Family. Her new project is not so controversial: Capturing Camelot: Stanley Tretick's Iconic Images of the Kennedys. Tretick was the Associated Press photographer who took many of the most iconic photos of John F. Kennedy's presidency, and Kelly, as manager of his estate, gained access to a trove of material in an old trunk (which he had once playfully told her contained nude photos). Many of the photos have never been seen before. The book doesn't come out until November, but is available for pre-order now.

I also shared the table with Anthony Swofford, whose Gulf War memoir Jarhead was a hit in 2003 and was made into a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal. His new memoir, Hotels, Hospitals, and Jails, proves that life back home can be as stressful in its own way as life in a war zone. Swofford's book details the harrowing psycholgical downspin his life took after the success of Jarhead, with divorce, self-destructive behavior and thoughts of suicide, as well as with the long-held animosity he held toward his father. At our table, however, strove to portray himself as the better, calmer man he has become by the end of the book, and shared mostly humorous anecdotes about the three RV road trips with his terminally ill father that give his story its narrative structure. One would not have guessed from his table presentation how deeply infused with anger these road trips were. On a side note, Swofford told us that the best book on the Iraq War he had read was The Yellow Birds, by Kevin Powers. The book doesn't come out until September (though you can pre-order it), so I was very pleased to snag an advance reader's copy at the Book Expo.

Overall, the Bloggers' Conference was a good experience. I learned, in no particular order, that publishers take book bloggers very seriously as part of their publicity campaigns and strive to work with them, that there are multiple ways of getting access to advance reader's copies, and that you are unlikely to become rich through book blogging (the potential trickle of revenue was referred to as 'ramen profitability,' because that's about all you'll be able to buy.) I also learned that real men evidently don't book blog, as women outnumbered men around 25-1. And a met a lot of terrific book bloggers, many of whom I'll be pointing you to in the months ahead.

The Book Expo itself was its usual whirlwind of activity, meeting authors, publishers, Captain Underpants, Barack Obama impersonators and, of course, scooping up advance reader's copies. I'm usually there for three days, but was limited to just one day this year. In other years, I've come home with multiple duffle bags of free books, but this year, partly because I had to travel and partly because I didn't want my wife to kill me ("where are we going to put all these!?"), I exercised extreme self-control and only came away with a small suitcase full. My top grabs: an ARC of the new Barbara Kingsolver novel Flight Behavior, coming out in November but available for pre-order, and of the forthcoming Henning Mankell thriller The Shadow Girls, due out in October. My favorite author encounter was with cartoonist Stephen Pastis, of Pearls Before Swine fame. He looks just like he draws himself in the cartoon, albeit more handsome and less seedy. Best of all, when autographing, he asks which character from the strip you would like drawn (I chose Pig.)

My Book Expo experience ended Tuesday afternoon, when I hopped the Amtrak Acela to Providence, Rhode Island, where I joined the 3000 progressive political activists and bloggers attending Netroots Nation. It was not the end of my book experience, however. There were plenty of authors at Netroots Nation. I was most pleased to get autographed copies of new books from some of my favorite political comedians: Baratunde Thurston (How to Be Black, Lizz Winstead (Lizz Free or Die), and Lee Camp (Moment Of Clarity.)

It was an exhausting week, followed by an exhausting return to the bookstore in the very busy week leading up to Father's Day. But I'm back, and your faithful Cat will be bringing you more news and reviews very soon.

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