BookCon 2014: When they were last seen

Read about BookExpo America (BEA)’s sessions Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday (here and here).

BookCon, the Saturday following BEA, was a whole different animal, and not one I’m likely to visit at the conference petting zoo ever again. However, I did get to see David Mitchell in conversation with David Ebershoff, and Cary Elwes talking about his forthcoming book, As You Wish. (“The title meeting was about two minutes. I said, ‘What do you want to call it?’ and they said, ‘Really?'”)

“For a voyage to begin, another voyage must end…”

boneclocksDavid Mitchell displayed exactly the type of dry British humor and sharp intelligence one would expect from reading his books and articles. He described his forthcoming novel The Bone Clocks as a first-person tale focused on six stages in the life of Holly Sykes, from the 1960s through the 2040s; he followed this description with the admonishment, “No whispering ‘He’s rewritten Twilight’ in the back there.”

As for the inspiration for the book, “Novels have a number of seeds, they don’t really just grow from one.” The Bone Clocks may be a midlife crisis book about facing mortality; “You look in the mirror, and ‘Dad, how did you get there?!'”

Reviews have used the phrase “Mitchell-esque”; what would David Mitchell say they mean by that? “Naive, childlike, a compunction to pack in as much of the world as you can; like a loom, character strands weaving together.” His editor David Ebershoff (himself an author), added that Mitchell was “willing to move through time.”

Characters from one of Mitchell’s novels often show up in his other novels; characters from Black Swan Green and Cloud Atlas make appearances in The Bone Clocks, a treat for loyal Mitchell readers.

Some brave Book Riot-ers recounted their adventure/ordeal getting copies of they galley of The Bone Clocks and getting them signed by the author in the exhibit hall after his talk.

Q&A

How do you handle a big cast of characters? In a word, “messily.” In more words, “A little bit like the NSA, I keep files…I know when they were last seen…” Mitchell said he thinks of himself as a writer of novellas, “Novellas full of doors and passageways.” He builds his larger novels out of these novellas, “like a kid with Lego.”

You’re not optimistic about the future – why? Mitchell first answered this question with a question – “Have you seen the news lately?” – but added, “Essentially, it’s oil.” He’s also worried about climate change, dictators, etc. “Though we’re devoting some resources to finding a way around [our dependence on] oil, we’re devoting far more time to convincing ourselves it’s all okay.” His outlook isn’t entirely pessimistic, though: “There’s hope. We’re clever and bright as well as short-sighted and destructive.”

What did you think of the Cloud Atlas movie? Mitchell said he was very happy with the movie. “It’s an unfilmable book. Bearing in mind that caveat, they did a wonderful job…they took it apart and put it back together. Film is a compromise.” (As a side note, he mentioned that entertainment lawyers were “badass scary people.”)

Character inconsistency between books? [Facepalm.] Luisa Rey was mentioned here: is she fictional or real? Mitchell’s novels are a “multiverse” with a fault running down the middle. The novel, Mitchell said, “thrives on inexactitude.” He doesn’t read his novels once they’re published, other than reading from them on book tours; “The only way to stay sane is to plunge into the next book.”

Have you ever considered a serialized format (like Dickens)? “Not really.” The dominant serial format, he said, is the HBO box set, which does it very well. Serialization “changes what books are.” Mitchell believes “you can only serve one form…I hereby choose the novel.” As for the pace of his writing and publishing? “I write one [novel] every World Cup.”

 

asyouwish

Cary Elwes followed David Mitchell in the same room, and I suspect that some people attended Mitchell’s talk just to be sure of a seat in the room when Elwes appeared; while Mitchell merited applause, Elwes walked in to screaming fans. He told several stories that are included in his book; three are recounted in this Vulture piece.

Elwes described himself as a fan of William Goldman’s book, which he read when he was 13. “If you haven’t read the book, read the book, the book is amazing,” he urged. He called The Princess Bride “the most quotable movie/book ever,” which is tough to argue with. “It’s not even our movie anymore, it belongs to all of you,” he said to the audience. “You guys know the lines better than I do.”

Speaking of Andre the Giant (Fezzik in the movie), Elwes said he was “the sweetest guy ever,” truly a “gentle giant.” “He’d give you the shirt off his back – it’d be enough for four people.” When it was cold out during filming – during the first kiss scene, for example – Andre placed his hand on top of Robin Wright’s head and warmed her up enough to stop her teeth from chattering.

For the fencing scene, Elwes and Mandy Patinkin had two months of training on set, though the trainers wouldn’t guarantee “proficiency” by the time they were due to begin shooting. Elwes had studied fencing briefly in acting school, but a teacher had told him not to bother; Patinkin had had two months of training prior to the movie. At the time of the scene, Elwes also had a broken toe (see Vulture article). Neither actor, incidentally, is left-handed.

During the Q&A following the official interview, someone asked about the fake introductions in Goldman’s book (he references a son called Billy and a wife called Helen; in real life he has two daughters). Elwes called Goldman “an inventive writer” and said that while some parts are invented, some – like Mandy Patinkin slapping Andre the Giant – are true. Florin and Guilder, however, are not real countries, and S. Morgenstern is simply a pen name of Goldman’s.

Another question had to do with the fire swamp set. The flame spurts really were “preceded by a popping sound”: “No big deal, just don’t step on it.” (Goldman, who missed Fire Swamp Set 101, got upset when Robin Wright’s dress caught fire, even though “she’s supposed to catch fire!”)

The Princess Bride, Elwes said, was “one of the most joyous experiences of my life,” and it has clearly provided a lot of joy to others as well ever since its release in 1987.

Advertisements

BEA 2014 Part Four: Buzzy and Boozy

BEA14FriBookExpo America, Day Three (continued)

Read about the first two sessions of Day Three here.

The Librarians Book Buzz Part II continued in much the same vein as Part I. I’ll use the same format, highlighting just a few titles I found interesting from each publisher:

  • From Random House: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel; Horrorstor by Grady Hendrix (think IKEA meets haunted house)
  • From Penguin: One Plus One by Jojo Moyes (author of Me Before You); The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters; The Secret Place by Tana French; Five Days Left by Julie Lawson Timmer; and If I Knew You Were Going to Be This Beautiful I Never Would Have Let You Go by Judy Chicurel
  • From W.W. Norton: An Italian Wife by Ann Hood; The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr (author of The Shallows); The Birth of the Pill by Jonathan Eig; Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty; The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson; and the graphic novel Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
  • From S&S: Juliet’s Nurse by Lois Leveen; As You Wish by Cary Elwes (about whom more later); We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas; The Innovators by Walter Isaacson
  • From Workman: The High Divide by Lin Enger, and several big beautiful nonfiction books, from dinosaurs to whiskey to molecules and the ocean.
  • From New York Review Books (not to be confused with the New York Review of Books): The Burning of the World by Bela Zombory-Moldovan; Conversations with Beethoven by Sanford Friedman; and Blackballed: The Black Vote and U.S. Democracy by Daryl Pinckney

I can definitely recommend One Plus One and The Secret Place, having already read the galleys, and I’m looking forward to several of these others. The to-read list grows! (That’s the only thing it does. Never gets any shorter, only grows.)

Librarian Shout ‘n’ Share

Moderated by Barbara Genco of Library Journal, this panel was both buzzy and boozy (one suggested hashtag was #vodkaatBEA). The panelists:

  • Douglas Lord, LSTA Coordinator, Division of Library Development, CT State Library, longtime Library Journal book reviewer and Books for Dudes Columnist
  • Alene Moroni, Manager, Selection and Order, King County Library System (WA) and a 2013 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker”
  • Charlene Rue, Deputy Director of Collection Management, BookOps: The shared technical services organization of New York Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library
  • Etta Thornton-Verma, Library Journal Reviews Editor (NY)
  • Jamie Watson, Collection Development Coordinator, Baltimore County Public Library (MD) and a 2008 Library Journal “Mover and Shaker”

My notes from this session are a bit haphazard due to the pace of the panel and people jumping in with suggestions and comments, so I may not have ascribed all the suggestions correctly. I’m just going to list books that I first heard about at the Shout ‘n’ Share, omitting any that I’d already heard about during BEA (from the Editors’ Book Buzz, Librarians’ Book Buzz, giant posters hanging in the exhibit hall, etc.).

Shout ‘n’ Share finds: Fiction

Shout ‘n’ Share finds: Nonfiction

And that was the end of BEA for me. Stay tuned for a (very belated, by now) recap of BookCon.

BEA 2014 Part Three: Publishers, Public Libraries, and the Public

BEA14FriBookExpo America, Day Three

Rebecca Miller, Editorial Director of Library Journal and School Library Journal, moderated a panel discussing “The Untapped Retail Channel: Public Libraries.” Miller wrote an excellent editorial piece before BEA, “Market Powerhouse: A Library Sale is Just the Beginning,” in which she argued, “It’s hard to ignore just how fundamentally important libraries have become to the potential success of a book—that is, if you pay attention to a few simple facts and are willing to question persistent myths.”

The panel included – it must be said – six white guys: George Coe, CEO of Baker & Taylor; Brian Downing, CEO of Library Ideas; Jeff Jankowski, VP and co-owner of Midwest Tape; Steve Potash, CEO of Overdrive; Rich Freese, CEO of Recorded Books; and Matt Tempelis, business manager of 3M. These companies have all already recognized libraries’ ability to reach readers, although libraries remain a “silent market” to publishers. The way Jankowski sees it, “there’s a library in every town in North America,” and the purpose of his company is to get rid of artificial market constraints and give libraries tools to make their jobs easier.

Potash said, “Retail is about creating more readers.” With Overdrive, he aims to provide the best content and most availability for the best value. Freese, whose company provides audiobooks to libraries, said “all books are not the same”; he suggested different models for different books (for example, simultaneous use for debut and backlist titles, 1 copy/1 user for bestsellers). “Librarians want to promote books & authors,” so enable them to do that.

Tempelis agreed that the library market grows the publishing business. There is no “erosion,” i.e. a copy of a book borrowed from a library does not equal a lost sale; rather, people discover books and authors in libraries and go on to purchase them. “We have been listening to libraries and librarians and patrons,” Tempelis said, and their goal is to create a system that is  “intuitive, integrated, synchronized.”

A few more salient points came up during the Q&A. By offering training on e-reading devices, librarians are helping with the physical to digital transition. Libraries loan devices, teach classes, market e-books, and even work with schools. The message to publishers? “Give libraries and readers a better experience. How can publishers let libraries help them reach readers? Stop treating them as adversaries….Libraries are reasonable people willing to pay reasonable money for a better experience.” If publishers make books available in as many formats and models as possible, they will reach more readers. Offer better terms, lower prices, and less friction-creating DRM.

All of this sounded good to the audience, which consisted of many more librarians than publishers, but hopefully the message is getting across.

Unshelved Presents Too Much Information

I missed the very beginning of this talk because I was finishing lunch (say what you will about the Javits, what other conference center has matzah ball soup and knishes on offer?), and when I came in there was a sort of role-play going on, with audience participants earning bottles of beer for imitating patrons in various situations. The presenters then launched into their talk, accompanied by a clear, funny, occasionally depressingly true slideshow. “Too Much Information” had a double meaning: it referred to the amount of information available in the world and the difficulty of sifting the good from the bad that this glut presents, and it also referred to a few brutally honest opinions/truths that have occurred to many librarians, but that we don’t often voice.

“The problem is that we are still informed by our culture.”

Library patrons today have unrealistic expectations of immediate results, but the quickest answer isn’t always best; speed devalues reference service. There’s a false belief that “every question has a fast, easy answer.” This belief stems in part from traditional reference books, such as dictionaries, thesauri, encyclopedias, atlases, and factbooks, but the Internet has exacerbated the problem exponentially. Still, librarians are trying to compete with search engines, which return millions of results in seconds (though, as Neil Gaiman has said, “Google can bring you back 100,000 answers. A librarian can bring you back the right one”). It’s a vicious cycle.

unshelved_bestquickanswer

Historically, librarians have been gatekeepers and curators. “Books looked valuable because they were valuable.” Books represent an author’s labor and a publisher’s belief; they have been “vetted” by publishers, reviewers, and librarians. Much online content, unlike books and other physical library materials (magazines, newspapers, movies, music), has not been vetted, yet “people trust it anyway,” considering all information equal. Librarians and other info-savvy folks know that isn’t the case.  (It may be true that “librarians are better at searching than you,” but it sounds bad.) Today, too, “book” no longer equals “quality” either, because “anyone can publish anything.”

The Internet also presents the problem of the filter bubble; people are naturally inclined to read sources that confirm their views rather than challenge them (e.g., not many liberals watch Fox News). When a search engine tailors its results specifically to you, you are rarely confronted with anything you disagree with. Libraries, on the other hand, support different cultural views, offering different viewpoints on the same subjects. (If you’re browsing the poli-sci section, you’ll come across books by liberals and conservatives; even if you only choose to read the ones that are likely to reinforce your own views, at least you’ll know the others exist.)

As people’s limited attention shifts away from books toward other media, some libraries’ message becomes “Come for the Internet, stay for the books.” We put computers in libraries to attract patrons at a time when home computers weren’t necessarily commonplace. After all, books used to be much more expensive, leading to the library as a place for “shared community resources.” Maybe, the Unshelved guys suggest, that mission is defined too broadly, so that in the end we are spread too thin, and not doing anything well.

“In the old days people needed libraries more than libraries needed patrons,” but now it’s the opposite, leading to a “whatever it takes to keep the building open” mentality. But we must remember that we can’t please all of the people all of the time, and we need to “have some dignity” and “reassert our classic identity” (keywords: authority, community, quality, books). We need to “set a high bar for acceptable behavior.” When librarians went from being stern to being approachable, it was a slippery slope from “approachable” to disrespected. We need to reestablish the value of librarians. Stop trying to compete with search engines: provide context for information, be human, have an opinion (politely), and slow down – remember that the best answers are not the quickest answers. Read nonfiction, and “stop buying crappy books” – the noise-to-signal ratio is getting worse. Make people wait longer; ride out the trends (like 50 Shades of Grey). Set a high bar for readalikes. Buy good books. “In the age of too much information, we really need libraries to be libraries.” Trust/know that people need you; consider the library as the center of the community.

This was a great talk, punctuated by much laughter. I don’t agree with every point made here; I don’t believe librarians should go back to being stern and unapproachable, or that the library should be a place of silence and whispers (though it’s nice to set aside at least some quiet space). However, I do believe in the value of a thorough answer over a quick one. It isn’t always easy to convince patrons at the reference desk to wait a minute for more complete information; as illustrated by the Unshelved strip below, sometimes people walk away mid-answer, which is rude as well as self-defeating. Nevertheless, we should try to take the time at every reference interaction to understand the question and answer as completely as possible.

unshelved_twelve

This is quite long enough, so I’ll get to the Librarians Book Buzz Part II and the Librarian Shout ‘n’ Share in the next post.