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Monday, June 2, 2008

Lost in Books at BEA

I have just left Los Angeles and my first experience with Book Expo of America. In case you are afraid that the age of the printed, cardboard and paper book is dying out, and Americans have given up on pressed ink and turnable pages, one hour on the Book Expo exhibitors’ floor will re-Kindle your hopes for Guttenberg’s 600 year old legacy.

While the digital media on display was impressive (snapping at the heels of the amalgamating publishing houses), the breathtaking quantity of three dimensional books being pumped out every year is still astonishing. It was, in fact, a book collector’s orgy, with freebies on every table and authors in every aisle. If I come back next year, I will know to bring along an empty suitcase to transport my free library home.

I caught myself roaming the booths with a ridiculous, mesmerized smile on my face. Expo is a coliseum—two coliseums in fact—crammed full of people who revere books. It goes a long way toward making me feel less anachronistic in this Internet, People Magazine and cell phone dominated era. Writers—sometimes sexy, but often old, out-of-shape and unattractive—are the heroes here. Take that ESPN and Reality TV and Universal Studios! Descriptive voice, character development, page-turning plot and language reign as the idols in this bubble.

As a writer myself, though not in the hero league, I have always walked around with ceaseless narration ricocheting around in my brain. It gets quite noisy—almost intrusive, to tell the truth. Now, for all I know a lot of people do this, but I’d bet my career that every writer tolerates the same unvoiced cacophony. At Book Expo I couldn’t help wondering how this collective unconsciousness might shake up the world’s imagination, if we could only figure out a way to pipe that mental noise over the speaker system.

As I count down to the release date for my first novel, after four years of writing and rewriting and rewriting, BEA was a numbing reminder that about two hundred and fifty thousand other authors are also tussling for a spot in this year’s line up. Should I send Oprah my cell phone number, do you think??

On the other hand, how comforting to know that even if the Kindle or its like bumps books aside with the same lightening speed that the home computer eclipsed the IBM Selectric, in my lifetime I will never run out of the ruffling weighty pages of a good book—no batteries required.

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