Today marks the open of Book Expo, also known as @BookExpoAmerica, the trade show at the center of the publishing world. Every year, industry types congregate in a selected city to browse a small town of displays. Like all towns, you see the haves with their carpeting and leather chairs and archway’d entrances; and the have-nots who make due with a banner, a table, and a few snacks.
The overriding goal of a publisher at Book Expo remains nebulous, impressionistic, perhaps inexplicable. The practical goal of the people attending the event, however, is rooted solidly in the material world: (1) free books; (2) free tote bags to carry those books.
Most days of the year, no one realizes the Winnipeg Review of Books exists. But at Book Expo, a pile of tote bags on the WRB table makes their booth a destination.
Successful hunter-gatherers go forth with spare time and shamelessness in more or less equal amounts. The book nerd—like any obsessive in his/her element—is helpless in such a setting.
Helpless psychologically and emotionally, that is. The physical self undergoes a Hulk-like transformation, if the Hulk had been pelted with a concentrated beam of public radio rather than gamma rays.
A person unable to get a bag of groceries to their Saab will suddenly track around a hall the size of a hollowed-out aircraft carrier dragging multiple totes. It is inspiring to see someone wearing a wrist support for their carpal tunnel lugging bags—note the plural—jagged with the corners of just-released hardcover books. But super-strength is only part of the miracle. Book Expo also forces thousands of introverts to engage with humanity. Okay, so it’s mostly other introverts. It’s not like you need your social A-game. And the coffee bar in the back offers an anti-anxiety latte, just in case.
Celebrities often attend Book Expo, too. Publishing types—though always complaining that no one reads anymore—love TV, movie, and sports figures as much as anyone else. Last year, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wandered the carpet in Chicago, and I personally once passed Rudy from Survivor. The cameras from C-SPAN try to make you famous by putting you and your press on the air for a sixty-second spiel.
Of course, there are authors. Some are also celebs, like Neil Patrick Harris this year, while others are celebrity authors, like Louise Erdrich and Amy Tan and John Grisham and Mo Willems this year. Whatever their level of fame, the authors meet fans and promote their work. Most authors enter the hall by sliding down a pole though Grisham maybe rates a sedan chair. The Expo also holds author breakfasts and seminars that are open to people with money or hostages.
To those working the tables and booths, to the eager bag-luggers and harried coffee-servers, to the authors and their publicists, we wish you a safe Book Expo, one free of lower back pain.