Wed Jun 6 2007
Friday's independent-press blowout at Dumbo's powerHouse Arena may have stood out as one of the year's more vibrant publishing parties (real hoo-has, those), but it didn't quite qualify as a hipster haven—I heard a number of people ask about the rotating roster of DJs: Wait, are they the MisShapes? And so it goes: Book Expo America, which took place at the Javits Center this weekend, featured plenty of experiences that fit comfortably in the category of "same-old." The Dianetics people still seem to line their aisle with an especially soft carpet. There are still plenty of people in costume: a man dressed up as "God" (fake beard, robe) and an OUT OF WORK sign hanging around his neck; at least two guys imitating Borat, one of whom refused to break character even after leaving the convention floor; etc.
And there were also the frequent—and charming—reminders of that some of the biggest players in publishing remain unrenovated: Knopf editor-in-chief Sonny Mehta mingled at the Strand's 80th birthday party on Saturday, confidently sporting a knitted necktie. All featured speakers at that BEA tie-in fete—including MC Ed Koch, bon mot slinger Fran Lebowitz and memoirist Frank McCourt (who got all Teacher Man and dressed down the disruptive people who talked while he toasted)—made sweet love to the idea of old bookstores, crammed with real, dust-covered books.
Still, this was also the year when the BEA truly started to grapple with the idea that there's something new and possibly scary on the horizon. Panels assembled to address the decimation of book reviews at papers throughout the country. The controversial Google Book Search—which is aiming to scan and digitize millions of books—had a prominent booth.
Are book reviews going to be left entirely to the blogs? Five years from now, will you be able to read Oblomov on your cell phone? Maybe. Ivy Compton-Burnett's The Present and the Past? (It's good!) Probably not. It's doubtful that places like the Strand will die off anytime soon. But if this year's convention suggests a trend, it's that book reviewers (ahem) and smaller independent bookstores are, sadly, in for a long struggle.