Monday, June 02, 2008

BookExpo America

For those of us who love books, the annual BookExpo America (BEA) show is heaven on earth. Not only does every major—and many a minor—publisher exhibit at BEA, but most of the books they display are free for the taking.

Although BookExpo usually happens in cities east of Chicago, the show does occasionally come to the west coast. I marked my calendar immediately (six months ago) when I heard it was coming to the L.A. convention center, May 29-June 1. I then bought passes for both Tim and me.

We arrived, each carrying a large canvas bag, just as the doors opened at 9AM on Saturday. A small swing band and dancers greeted us as we walked in. Only momentarily distracted, we quickly proceeded up the escalator alongside hundreds of other book-lovers.

The biggest book show in North America, BEA is so enormous that it fills both buildings of L.A.’s gigantic convention center. Each hall was ablaze with larger-than-life ads and posters of titles to be released later this year. On the floor of most of the booths were artfully-arranged stacks of free galleys (i.e., preprint copies of books). Overwhelmed by possibility, we decided to start at the left end of the hall and walked up and down each row until we’d visited every exhibit in the place. My first acquisition: “Fences, Arbors, and Trellises: Plan, Design, Build,” a DIY book from Creative Homeowners. Tim grabbed “Mexican American Mojo: Popular Music, Dance, and Urban Culture in Los Angeles, 1935-1968.”

My eyes were so focused downward, in search of new books, that I almost ran into a dazed-looking woman who had never been to BEA before.

“Are all these books free?” she asked incredulously.

“Yes!” I exclaimed. “Now go get a bag and start filling it up!”

By lunchtime, Tim and I were so loaded down with bootie that we had to run out to the car to empty our bags.

Besides free books, BEA also features authors, book-signings, and “educational programs” (i.e., panel discussions on various topics). Former L.A. Times writer Rick Wartzman, whom I had met a couple years ago when he was doing research for his latest book, “Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of John Steinbeck’s ‘The Grapes of Wrath,’” was speaking about censorship at 11AM, so we tore ourselves away from the exhibit hall and headed upstairs. Several library friends and colleagues were already there.

Rick talked about his book, which is due to be released this fall, and ended with a quote by Gretchen Knief, the librarian I had helped him research. I was absolutely thrilled. As soon as the program ended, I shot out of my seat to speak to him.

I was just about to reintroduce myself, when Rick spoke first, saying he had recognized me in the audience. He then added that I was cited in his book! Tim and I immediately ran downstairs to snag a preview copy and look for my name!

As wonderful as it was to have Rick Wartzman remember me, it was even more exciting when I discovered that Leonard Nimoy, my favorite classic “Star Trek” character Mr. Spock, was signing his latest book at 1PM. Tim and I zipped over to booth #2110, fifteen minutes early. Nimoy was already hard at work signing and schmoozing with his fans. I rushed to get on line, but the queue of people snaked halfway through the hall. We decided to just snap a photo instead.

Exhausted, with not an ounce of adrenaline left in our bodies, we hobbled to the secret “librarians-only lounge,” organized by “Library Journal,” the oldest and most popular publication in the profession. There we noshed on pastries, chatted with colleagues and generally relaxed until it was time to enter the fray once again. Turns out my other favorite classic Trek hero, William Shatner, was signing his latest book at 3PM.

We dashed over to the St. Martin’s Press booth at 2:30PM. But the line was already twice as long as Nimoy’s had been, so we looked at a few more exhibits and then headed home. The back of our small Honda was overflowing with loot: historical novels; a guide to dating vampires; uncensored scripts of one of our fave TV shows, “Rescue Me;” a weeper about Dewey the library cat; Philip Roth’s latest book; and several travel guides to Los Angeles. Who says books are an endangered species?

No comments: