Shelf Awareness for Friday, June 9, 2023


Del Rey Books: Black Shield Maiden by Willow Smith and Jess Hendel

St. Martin's Press: Lenny Marks Gets Away with Murder by Kerryn Mayne

Hell's Hundred: Blood Like Mine by Stuart Neville

Spiegel & Grau: Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen

Tor Books: The Daughters' War (Blacktongue) by Christopher Buehlman

Tommy Nelson: Just in Case You Ever Feel Alone (Just in Case) by Max Lucado, Illustrated by Eve Tharlet

Bramble: The Spellshop by Sarah Beth Durst

News

Ci2023: A Child's Freedom to Read

"All action matters," said Laura DeLaney, co-owner of Rediscovered Books in Caldwell, Idaho, during a panel discussion Wednesday morning at Children's Institute 2023 in Milwaukee, Wis. "This is something happening across our nation. It all matters, whether the steps you take are small or large."

Called "A Child's Freedom to Read," the session focused on practical strategies and tactics booksellers can use in their own communities to combat book bans and censorship. The panelists were Hannah Reimer, teacher at the University School of Milwaukee; Lance McGrath, librarian at the College of Idaho and president of the Idaho Library Association; and Jake Bowen, youth services librarian at the Oak Creek Public Library in Oak Creek, Wis. DeLaney served as moderator for the discussion.

(from left) Laura DeLaney, Hannah Reimer, Lance McGrath, and Jake Bowen

On the subject of what booksellers can do to resist censorship, Bowen noted that one of the best defenses against challenges is getting those books in the hands of community members. So many challenges are "form letter challenges," where "you get them and laugh," because it is immediately clear that the person challenging the book doesn't know anything about the book. Informed thoughts and opinions about those books are a good way to "challenge those challenges." Bowen also said bookstores could put up posters or signs about things like school board meetings, as a way of raising community awareness.

Reimer remarked that she loves walking into bookstores and seeing staff picks and shelf talkers, and wondered about booksellers creating displays for banned and challenged books that feature shelf talkers saying "why there's so beautiful," and "why they're so wonderful." They could also solicit opinions from customers, and create a "wall of Post-it notes" explaining how great and meaningful the book is. And adding to the point about form letter challenges, Reimer mentioned that a challenge made against Amanda Gorman's book claimed it was written by Oprah Winfrey.

McGrath urged booksellers to advocate for library use. Borrowing books does make a difference, as circulation numbers and similar data can be used to "justify and support funding" for libraries. He agreed that having banned and challenged books in stores is very important, because if community members don't see those books in bookstores, they'll assume they "shouldn't be in the library."

DeLaney reported that when she and her staff hear about new challenges, they set up a postcard writing station at the store. Customers and community members can sit down and write a postcard in support of local librarians, with the postage covered by the bookstore, and there is a template for customers to follow. She called the postcard station simple and fun, and whenever the store does it, "lots of postcards go out."

The conversation then turned to supporting librarians, who in many parts of the country are facing "intense and personal" attacks and are under heightened scrutiny. Rediscovered Books has held a post-legislation get-together with librarians in Idaho. There was no agenda for the meeting, DeLaney said: beer, wine, and food were available, and the entire point was community and creating a space where librarians know it's safe, because "librarians really need them."

McGrath agreed that support "means a lot," and advised that when trying to reach out to librarians, booksellers should try to work with local library associations. Many librarians feel threatened and "their guard is up," and going through established channels like library associations can assure them that the relationship is authentic and in good faith. Little things like thank-you notes from children and parents also go a long way.

Touching on library associations, DeLaney encouraged booksellers to join their local and regional associations. You don't have to be a librarian to join, and you will get text and e-mail alerts about challenges, pieces of legislation, and important elections. DeLaney takes that information and puts it into her store's newsletter and she encourages her customers to join the associations too. She also advocated for donating money to those associations, as "lobbyists aren't cheap," and there is a need for people with "boots on the ground" in that space.

DeLaney recalled that the Rediscovered team thought "long and hard" before stepping into the political arena, noting that during Covid lockdowns there were people with guns marching down the street past the store. Now, she reported the team is so much happier "having taken action," and people on the team feel so much better for not "swallowing" their fear and anger. It's also satisfying to extend their safe space beyond the store's walls.

Both DeLaney and McGrath have testified before the Idaho state legislature, and McGrath gave a number of tips for doing so. People should practice their public speaking and write down their words, with McGrath recalling that he wrote out a full statement and practiced it "over and over again" to get it down under two minutes. In most cases, the rule is "two minutes and then questions," and he said it is "okay to be over-prepared." One has to "remember to breathe," and he recommended breathing "into the question" before speaking.

Discussing some of the resources available, DeLaney said the ABA is working on putting together a comprehensive toolkit, though that is coming along slowly as many of the contributors are still in the thick of things. PEN America can provide a great deal of resources, and she mentioned a proactive initiative that Rediscovered Books created called the Read Freely Project.

Based on World Book Night, the project features eight books chosen by the store that can be distributed to community members for free. Community members can receive up to 10 copies of a given book so long as they submit a proposal explaining their plans for distributing those books. Examples include handing them out at coffee shops or to people leaving the pool. DeLaney said she would be happy to help other booksellers with the logistics of creating a similar event, but she emphasized that the featured books must be tailored to that particular community.

During the panel's q&a portion, an attendee asked how booksellers in parts of the country who are not facing book bans and challenges can help. Reimer said booksellers should do whatever they can to build more community now, and pointed out that even if no one's proposed any legislation yet, there may very well be people in the community who would want to.

DeLaney suggested reaching out to local librarians and asking what pressures they've faced on that front, while another attendee said that giving out banned books or creating a banned book subscription can be valuable anywhere. Yet another audience member said booksellers should look at local parent groups on Facebook--there may already be people discussing what books they don't want their children reading. --Alex Mutter


Harper: Sandwich by Catherine Newman


Midwest Bookseller of the Year: EyeSeeMe African American Children's Bookstore Owners

Pamela and Jeffrey Blair show off their award on Tiktok.

The 2023 Midwest Bookseller of the Year honorees are Pamela and Jeffrey Blair, co-owners of EyeSeeMe African American Children's Bookstore, St. Louis, Mo. The award, sponsored by the Midwest Independent Booksellers Association, honored the Blairs "for the extraordinary impact EyeSeeMe has made on their community and the independent bookselling industry."

In a long citation that includes EyeSeeMe's history and tributes to the Blairs, MIBA wrote, in part, that the store "carries an impressive array of books, but perhaps its most powerful story is the one between its own four walls. Co-owners and married business partners Pamela and Jeffrey Blair have created an extraordinary place that gives Black and brown children the powerful experience of seeing themselves in the pages of a book--and not just a select few books, but every book in the store....

"In addition to their literary gifts, the Blairs have also uplifted their community by sharing their infectious positive energy and warmth. Often joined in bookselling by their daughters Sarah and Naomi, they've created a business that celebrates family. While Jeffrey is often the spokesperson, Pamela is the backbone of the store, reviewing hundreds of publishers' catalogs every season to select titles that include compelling, positive Black representation. While she doesn't prefer the spotlight, her title discovery skills have helped booksellers across our region source books that create a more inclusive shopping experience."

MIBA executive director Carrie Obry said, "Pamela and Jeffrey have been at the forefront of positive change not only for readers, but also for booksellers, giving us a powerful model of Black-centered bookselling and inspiring others from historically underrepresented communities to join them on the path to bookstore ownership." 

The Blairs will be honored in a celebration on June 19. MIBA noted that Juneteenth "is a fitting date representing Black liberation and it's also the eighth anniversary of the opening of EyeSeeMe."


Spiegel & Grau: Tiananmen Square by Lai Wen


Staff at B&N's Union Square Store in NYC Vote to Unionize

In New York City, booksellers at the flagship Barnes & Noble store on Union Square voted to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. They cited as reasons for the decision continued safety issues amid the rebound of the pandemic, including workplace harassment, substandard pay for the industry below that of independent booksellers, unstable scheduling practices, a lack of structure when it comes to job duties and tasks at work, and favoritism by management. These are issues they want to address in their first contract negotiations.

Jessica Sepple, senior bookseller at B&N Union Square, said, "I am so proud of my coworkers and excited to move forward as a unionized bookstore and a member of RWDSU. We still have work ahead of ourselves, but today we have shown how dedicated we are to improving our store for ourselves and each other. We are ready to create a better workplace and a better future for Barnes & Noble employees."

The vote to unionize workers at the Union Square store was conducted by secret ballot at the store on June 7, overseen by the National Labor Relations Board. The RWDSU will represent more than 100 workers at the store in contract negotiations, which will begin this year. The workers in the proposed bargaining units include booksellers, baristas, cashiers, and all non-supervisory employees at the store.


GLOW: Tundra Books: We Are Definitely Human by X. Fang


Wild Lark Books, Lubbock, Tex., to Close

Wild Lark Books, Lubbock, Tex., which opened in 2021, will close July 1, though owner Brianne van Reene plans to keep the online bookshop operational into the future.

Van Reene explained her decision in a Facebook post Monday, noting: "Most importantly, I want everyone to know that the bookshop has not been a failure--it is not closing because it cannot sustain itself. In fact, for a business of only 18 months, it's quite incredible that it's profitable. And that is all thanks to our amazing Readers! The story-loving community in Lubbock is STRONG and only getting stronger."

Citing the the financial strain she still carries from what was required to open Wild Lark Books, van Reene wrote: "Everything I have is in the bookshop and I took that chance with eyes open because I believe in Lubbock and this community--and I hoped for that faith to be returned. For the last year and a half, I have been turned down by every bank, every organization, every attempt to try to remedy the situation--and believe me, I have tried so so many and have had others try on my behalf (for whom I am eternally grateful)... but alas."

She also noted that she would be willing to sell the bookshop turn-key or accept a buy-in partnership, but "a bookshop is a lifestyle business, as it should be--and thus, likely the closing of the bookshop chapter." 

Van Reene told the Avalanche-Journal: "Essentially, I can no longer personally sustain the high interest debt I incurred in getting the bookshop open. I'll have a sale through the end of next week, and then I'll see what the stock inventory looks like after that as far as liquidation." She added that the publishing side of Wild Lark would continue.


William Morrow & Company: Lula Dean's Little Library of Banned Books by Kirsten Miller


Obituary Note: Richard E. Snyder

Richard E. Snyder--called "a visionary and imperious executive" by the AP--who built Simon & Schuster into the largest U.S. publisher in the 1980s and early '90s, died on Tuesday, June 6. He was 90.

Snyder began his career at S&S in the early '60s as a sales assistant and rose through the ranks to become president in 1975 and CEO in 1978. He held both positions until 1994, when he was fired by Viacom shortly after it bought the company. During Snyder's tenure, S&S's sales jumped from around $40 million annually to more than $2 billion. After S&S, he tried to revive Golden Books, but that effort failed.

Snyder focused on sales and blockbusters, with a particular emphasis on books by politicians and about politics, including most famously Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein's All the President's Men and The Final Days. (S&S has been Woodward's longtime publisher.) Others included David McCullough, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Ronald Reagan, as well as Watergate era figures John Dean, John Ehrlichman, John Mitchell, and Richard Nixon himself.

Of course, S&S also published many fiction writers of note during Snyder's time, including Mary Higgins Clark, Larry McMurtry, Philip Roth, Graham Greene, and Joan Didion.

Snyder expressed his sales-driven style well in 1984, when he told the New York Times, "You cannot be a publisher any longer without also being a businessman. The thought that you can publish just because you love books is a sure prescription for failure."

Snyder was widely known as gruff, mean, vindictive, and worse, and yet quite a few people who worked for him were loyal and appreciative.


Harper Celebrate: Why Do We Stay?: How My Toxic Relationship Can Help You Find Freedom by Stephanie Quayle, with Keith W. Campbell


Notes

Norton Celebrates Its 100th Anniversary

Norton's Julia Reidhead (l.) with Binc executive director Pamela French.

W.W. Norton celebrated 100 years of independent publishing of "books that live" in style at Cipriani in New York City Tuesday night. The 1,000 attendees included 166 authors, five of whom--Michael Lewis, Joy Harjo, Neil Gaiman, Rita Dove, and Richard Powers--spoke to the appreciative crowd of their happiness of being published by Norton. Chairman and president Julia Reidhead thanked many people for the company's achievements, including two predecessors heading the company, Donald Lamm and Drake McFeely, who were both in attendance. Read our in-depth profile of Norton on its 100th anniversary here.


Karen Torres Leaving Hachette

Karen Torres

Karen Torres, who has been working at Hachette Book Group and its predecessor companies for more than 36 years and is v-p, field sales & account marketing, is taking advantage of Hachette's voluntary resignation benefits program and leaving the company. Her last day will be Friday, July 14.

Torres began her career in 1987 as a marketing assistant. She rose in the sales department to marketing manager, then to marketing director, and then to v-p of account marketing. In 2013, Torres added the responsibility for managing HBG's field sales team that calls on independent bookstores across the U.S. Until recently, Karen also oversaw the library and academic marketing teams for HBG.

As the company noted, "Karen is renowned in the industry. As a champion of reading and independent bookstores, everything Karen did in her career was aimed at selling books, but there was always a special place in her heart for the indies. Karen has served on the boards of New England Independent Booksellers Association and the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association as well as worked with BINC during its launch. She has forged enduring relationships with booksellers all over the country, some relationships spanning generations and multiple owners at various stores. Karen's hard work and relationships are responsible for putting thousands of books on the Indie Next list, ABA's indie bestseller list, and various other bestseller lists.

"Karen leaving HBG is momentous news because she is part of the fabric of this company. Karen leaves behind a team of dedicated people who will carry on her legacy. She will be greatly missed here and throughout the bookselling world."

We, too, will miss Karen, who has always been an enthusiastic advocate for indies.

After July 14, she can be reached at rkt326@gmail.com.


Image of the Day: In Other Words, Leadership

Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers in Farmington, Maine, hosted a discussion with Shannon A. Mullen (r.), author of In Other Words, Leadership: How a Young Mother's Weekly Letters to Her Governor Helped Both Women Brave the First Pandemic Year (Steerforth Press), and the subjects of her book, Maine Governor Janet Mills (center), and a constituent, Ashirah Knapp (l.). Though they all communicated during the pandemic, this is the first time the three were in the same place at once, and the first time Governor Mills met Knapp in person. (photo: Pamela Knapp)


Media and Movies

Movies: Poor Things

Searchlight released the first full-length trailer for Poor Things, based on Alasdair Gray's 1992 novel. Deadline reported that this marks the second collaboration between Emma Stone and filmmaker Yorgos Lanthimos on the heels of his 2018 Oscar winner The Favourite. Poor Things hits theaters September 8.

Ramy Youssef, Jerrod Carmichael and Christopher Abbott also star in the film written by Lanthimos' regular collaborator Tony McNamara (The Favourite). Ed Guiney and Andrew Lowe produced for Element Pictures, along with Stone and Lanthimos.



Books & Authors

Awards: RSL Christopher Bland Winner

Paterson Joseph won the £10,000 (about $12,555) RSL Christopher Bland Prize for The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho. The award honors a debut novelist or nonfiction writer first published aged 50 or over.

Chair of judges Lemn Sissay said: "The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho is historical fiction, bursting with the wit and perspicacity of its protagonist Ignatius Sancho. Paterson Joseph, an actor by trade, is clearly a writer in an actor's body. Many thespians feel the urge to inhabit the world of a writer, but few can fulfill it to the degree of Paterson Joseph. He inhabits characters and scenes as Dickens does, through the character and story. The Secret Diaries... leaves the reader frowning at the audacity of history for leaving out such a brilliant character. Equally we are slightly in awe of the author for turning history around."

Joseph added: "As a fledgling actor I wanted to be respected by my peers and to be looked upon as 'one of us.' The granting of this award is more than the equivalent of that, as the work on the page is somehow more personal. All my love and much of my life has gone into the creation of The Secret Diaries of Charles Ignatius Sancho and my reward has been this accolade. Sancho would be pleased, if not a little surprised, that his short life has lent itself to such attention 243 years after his passing. We bring him to life a little more every time we remember him in music, image and word. This novel is my small contribution to that remembrance and I hope it leads to many creative echoes of the life of a great Black Briton."


Reading with... Carlos Fonseca

photo: Rodrigo Ruiz

Carlos Fonseca was born in Costa Rica in 1987, brought up in Puerto Rico, and studied in the U.S. He was selected by the Hay Festival as part of the Bogotá39 group (2017), by Granta magazine as one of its 25 best young Spanish-language novelists (2021), and by Encyclopaedia Britannica as one of the 20 most promising writers in the world for its "Young Shapers of the Future" (2022). His previous novels are Colonel Lágrimas and Natural History, both translated by Megan McDowell. Austral (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), also translated by McDowell, is a novel about legacy, memory, and the desire to know and be known. Fonseca teaches at Cambridge University, where he is a fellow of Trinity College.

Handsell readers your book in 25 words or less:

Austral is a book about endings and beginnings. A book about what lies beyond the apparent ends we find: of languages, of cultures, of life.

On your nightstand now:

Right now I am rereading one of my favorite novels: Marta Aponte Alsina's La muerte feliz de William Carlos Williams. Aponte is a wonderful author, and her retelling of the story of William Carlos William's Puerto Rican mother, Raquel, is simply wonderful. I am also reading a lot of books with monologues in them, trying to understand how some of my preferred authors work the genre.

Favorite book when you were a child:

I loved Jules Verne's Around the World in Eighty Days. I loved that sense of adventure, and the idea of a journey that spans the world.

Your top five authors:

Of William Faulkner one could say what he said of Thomas Wolfe: his ambition led him to fail in the most magnificent way possible. After Faulkner, I would place W.G. Sebald: he gave us a new way to look both at history and nature. Then perhaps the works of the Argentine Jorge Luis Borges: he made possible to think of literature as conceptual art. The Brazilian author Clarice Lispector, on the other hand, showed me that writing can be everything: even happiness. She is the writer of ecstasy. And lastly, I would include a poet, César Vallejo, who perhaps got closer than anyone to expressing pain.

Book you've faked reading:

I didn't so much fake reading it, but something interesting happened with what would soon become my favorite book: Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! I must have run into it when I was about 20 years old, struggling to perfect my English. I tried a couple of times to read it but failed: couldn't get past the middle. But I nonetheless knew the book was special, so I started saying it was my favorite book, which it was. I just hadn't quite finished it yet.  

Book you're an evangelist for:

If there is one book, then it would be precisely Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! It is just at another level.

Book you've bought for the cover:

I vividly remember encountering, when I was 21 in 2008, the FSG translation of Roberto Bolaño's 2666. It was a beautiful boxed set containing three books, and the cover was such a wonderful baroque mixture of religious iconography, natural history, and playful doodling that I was immediately driven to this Latin American writer whose name, surprisingly, I hadn't encountered yet.  

Book you hid from your parents:

When I was an adolescent, I used to hide the books that I felt were too close to what I was writing at the time. A silly way of perhaps hiding from myself the evident plagiarism of those early writing attempts.

Book that changed your life:

I will always remember finding, in my go-to bookshop in Puerto Rico, a copy of Clarice Lispector's The Hour of the Star. Opening that book was a game changer; it showed that literature could be so much more than just telling stories.

Favorite line from a book:

I have always loved Vardaman's "My mother is a fish" in As I Lay Dying. I love how by itself it is a nonsensical, ugly phrase, but within the context of the novel, Faulkner is able to transform it into such a powerful expression of grief.

Five books you'll never part with:

I think Julio Cortázar's Hopscotch will always be dear for me. The same for Juan Rulfo's masterpiece novella, Pedro Páramo, and Marguerite Duras's Blue Eyes, Black Hair. I take Anne Carson's beautiful book-artifact, Nox, everywhere I go. And lastly, I like to keep a copy of Sebald's Austerlitz close by.

Book you most want to read again for the first time:

I wish I could go back to that moment of absolute innocence in which I first encountered Kafka's books. I wish I could return to that moment of absolute magic in which you encounter something unexpected, something fascinating and strange that nonetheless seems to work just perfectly.


Book Review

Review: Prophet

Prophet by Sin Blaché , Helen Macdonald (Grove Press, $29 hardcover, 480p., 9780802162021, August 8, 2023)

Helen Macdonald (H Is for Hawk) and Sin Blaché, making their debut, have teamed up to offer readers a tightly paced, genre-bending tale in Prophet, which imagines the weaponization of nostalgia--and the surreal, horrific threat that poses to the modern world.

A diner has appeared in the middle of a British field. Except it's not a real diner--it's more like the memory of one, with the scent of coffee but no coffee makers, a bright neon sign not powered by electricity. Other objects, too, have popped into existence without explanation: a Scrabble box that's solid all the way through (with no interior), a rotting bouquet of roses, a teddy bear, a cassette tape. Despite the seeming innocence of the objects themselves, they turn out to be gravely dangerous to those from whose memories they have sprouted--turning nostalgia into a harmful weapon, one requiring careful investigation and containment. The U.S. military brings in two pros to peel back the layers of this "bizarro nightmare": Sunil Rao, "a savant with an attitude problem," inexplicably able to detect the truth around him with near infallibility, and Adam Rubenstein, an American sergeant "unremarkable to the point of invisibility," quietly dangerous and assigned to keep danger-seeking Rao alive as they hunt down the ever-morphing substance known as Prophet.

Prophet is slow to build at first, and a bit confusing at times--a result not of poor writing or worldbuilding, but of the sheer absurd horror of a world shaped by Prophet and the dangers it presents to those who encounter it. ("It just feels as if none of [the words] are working properly. None of them are talking about what's there.") As Rao and Adam work to open their minds to the impossible reality of their situation, Macdonald and Blaché invite readers to do the same, starting with an expanded understanding of the concept of nostalgia, and the not-so-subtle tactics of the power-hungry intent on capitalizing on that: "[Nostalgia] is emotional and psychological, but it's also political. Highly manipulatable, either politically or in the marketplace."

While fantastical, this framing feels eerily similar to many 21st-century political conversations, making Prophet as much a work of science fiction as a prophetic what-if tale. Within this construct, Macdonald and Blaché have created not just unlikely heroes, but an unexpected queer romance, complete with absolutely pitch-perfect banter between Adam and Rao across every page. As the two seek a kind of peace--for themselves and for the world they know--amid the warring forces of hope for the future, love in the present, and a burning sense of nostalgia around them for the perceived safety of the past, Prophet proves a beautiful, tense, strange, and heartfelt first collaboration from a duo not to be missed. --Kerry McHugh, freelance writer

Shelf Talker: A beautiful, tense, and heartfelt novel imagines the weaponization of nostalgia, as an unlikely pair must fight to protect themselves--and the world they know--from memories made deadly.


Deeper Understanding

Robert Gray: The Bookish Haunting of the Javits Center 

In olden times (pre-2020), at the Javits Center in New York City, if you looked out of a Level 4 Pavilion window during BookExpo, you could see part of the Level 3 Exhibit Hall below. It was a moment when you almost felt like you were flying above the trade show floor, the scurrying book people, the crowded aisles, the colorful booths beneath huge banners announcing the presence of major publishers, distributors, and other "players" in the business.

Lately I've been haunted by a different vision of Javits. I'm standing on the bare cement of the abandoned Exhibit Hall floor, staring up at that same window, in which, quite faintly, I can see a spectral figure, wearing an official BookExpo badge and weighed down by tote bags full of books and swag, like Marley's chains. 

In Christopher Morley's classic novel The Haunted Bookshop, the store displays a large placard in a frame that says: "THIS SHOP IS HAUNTED by the ghosts/ Of all great literature, in hosts." I've been wondering if Javits Center is haunted by a bookish ghost. I'd like to think so. 

Yet another post-BookExpo season has come and gone since we last gathered at the Javits Center in 2019 for what we still considered our annual business-as-usual celebration of all things book. Maybe the haunting began the following year. Virtual BookExpo 2020, in the early, terrifying days of Covid-19, had an eerie vibe because of all the disembodied Zoom imagery, not to mention global plague literally in the air. 

At the time, ReedPop said, "We are now looking forward and can't wait to return with a stronger show than ever in 2021." No such luck. By the end of the year, they had "concluded that the best way forward is to retire the current iteration of events as they explore new ways to meet the community's needs through a fusion of in-person and virtual events that will reach larger audiences than they ever could before." 

Like everyone in the spring of 2020, I'd suspended any delusions about the future. By May, without BookExpo to attend, I wrote: "Imagine thousands of book people convening annually for a few days in Manhattan. Imagine a city hotel full of booksellers. Now imagine the book world we're living in this spring. Imagine bright lights, big city, no BookExpo. Imagine people who would be talking books all day--and well into the night, face to face--suddenly becoming Zoom watchers. Imagine that being the best-case scenario under tough, even life-threatening circumstances. Covid-19 hit hard, Javits became a hospital, BookExpo went virtual and we don't know what the book world will become in six months, one year or even five years."

Well, we know what it looks like three years later. BookExpo is a memory or, as it happens, a collection of memories. Recently my Facebook Memories option has been serving as a kind of medium, calling up images of BookExpos past, including:

May 24, 2010: "BookExpo America preparations: Snuck into NYC yesterday so i could see "The Mourners" at the Met. This afternoon I went to the Javits Center to pick up my badge (helps to beat the morning crowds tomorrow). Very quiet there, which will change soon. Working this afternoon. Dinner with my Shelf Awareness buddies tonight. Let the BEA games begin!"

May 27, 2011: "Back home after five excellent (and exhausting, but in the best possible way) days in NYC for BookExpo America, and it seems soooo quiet here in Saratoga Springs."

June 3, 2018:"Two photos that sum up my time in NYC last week: A view from my hotel room and an overview of BookExpo's exhibition floor at the Javits Center. Glad to be home as of 20 minutes ago."

Actually, my first inkling that Javits Center might have a bookish ghost may have happened as far back as May 30, 2020 when Facebook Memories conjured a 2017 post ("At a BookExpo not so long ago, nor far away....").

In retrospect, maybe Javits was already heading down the path to becoming a haunted book house before the plague hit. As far back as 2009, a respected indie bookseller shared some impressions with me about what was then called BookExpo America, concluding, "I hope that BEA can morph into something meaningful for publishers, authors and booksellers. There must be a way to communicate with each other, to wow each other that doesn't involve cheap Ikea-looking furniture. I think the dinners are valuable, the chance to meet authors is valuable, the empty booths are not. Something is going to change, because those vacant booths cost a lot of money."

Were the vacant booths a sign of things to come? Over the next decade, we all know that the BookExpo exhibit floor became increasingly... spacious, as fewer exhibitors participated and larger companies downsized their presence. It didn't quite reach the point where Edgar Allan Poe might have found inspiration for a story about scary book people in an abandoned glass castle, but in the years leading up to 2020 the possibility of an intervention by New York's Finest (cue Ghostbusters) didn't seem out of the question. 

Does the Javits Center need a bookish exorcism? Nah. But if you do happen to be there sometime, you might just look up at that Pavilion window and wave. 

--Robert Gray, contributing editor

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