May 27, 2010

Yesterday I went to BOOK EXPO AMERICA (their caps, not mine) at the Javits Center on New York’s still-undeveloped West Side. (I was working as Governor Hugh Carey’s speech writer when the center opened thirty [sic] years ago and wrote his remarks for the inaugural event–something to the effect that in another generation, this area will be unrecognizable. Guess what? It hasn’t changed a bit. Maybe in another thirty years, which won’t much matter to me, since I’ll be dead and gone.) Where was I? On, yeah, BOOK EXPO. Last time I was there was with my second novel,”Hour of the Cat,” which followed my first novel by eight years. I was at a signing booth. There was a long line in front of me. I was shocked and delighted. All these people for me, I thought. My fans. How wonderful. I had no idea. Then the volunteer assigned to help me with the signing explained that the line was actually the immense, endless overflow, extending down several booths, of people waiting for Donald Trump. Yes, the world’s biggest self-promoter, gas bag and real estate pimp. Several of those in line were kind enough to ask me to autograph a copy of my galley. This year, though the Donald wasn’t in sight, I went filled with a kind of dread about the death of reading, print, the book. I pictured a convention center with about six or seven sorry souls, deflated remnants of the baby boom generation, who were there because of forced retirement and nowhere else to go. But the place was full. There were lots of people who looked as though they’d been born after the presidency of George Bush, Sr. The headline in today’s NYT’s mentions “Anxiety Amid the Chatter.” But what I encountered was enthusiasm, passion, excitement. People still love books. They love to read. They want to meet authors. Many of them want to write books of their own and be published. I signed galleys. There were actually people who’d read some of my other books (and, no, they weren’t relatives). We talked. It was fun. I enjoyed it. When I left, I walked through the baking heat to Bryant Park, behind the NYPL. I drank a bottle of water. It tasted great. As my Uncle Joe O’Brien (he was the night clerk at the George Washington Hotel on Lexington Avenue and makes an appearance in “Hour of the Cat”) was fond of saying, “Dontcha know, kiddo, life is fulla surprises.”


  1. The Donald may not have been at Book Expo this year, but that other pimp, Sarah Ferguson, was peddling her new series of children’s books. Gimme a break! Bet she charged at least a buck-fifty for her autograph. It’s good to know that print books are not dead. Last weekend I prowled around The Strand with dozens of other print-heads who would undoubtedly agree.

    Regarding the area around the Javits Center, I would disagree. Had you walked about five blocks south along the river, you would have found yourself in the beautifully landscaped Hudson River Park…rolling lawns, stone sculpture, roses and honeysuckle in bloom, sea spray. Ahhhh…. I ride my bike there at sunset, and it’s the best part of my day.

  2. Mirable dictu, somebody is reading my blog! Is this possible? Who is this Linda Mann? And what do I have to do to get her to continue to read my blog? Yes, Sarah Ferguson was this year’s celebrity/hustler/resident pseudo-writer –it wouldn’t be an Expo without one (and is there anyone who believes for a second she writes a single word of those books?); but, still, the real story for me were the numbers of people (and not just dottering, ink-stained wretches the likes of yours truly) who continue to care about print. As to the Far (West) Side, I’m delighted to learn of Ms. Mann’s breeze-rich, sea-sprayed cycling expeditions (and if I were she, I’d be careful about inhaling the bottom-of-the-harbor residues carried in that spray) along the fringe of the Hudson–yet, to date, that strip of green is the exception, not the rule. The landscape (as opposed to the seascape) remains as it was: bleak, forlorn, depressing. (Don’t get me wrong. A part of me is attracted to places like this, unprettified, gritty and real, the fast-disappearing remnant of the old industrial city. I’m not against its redevelopment. But it would be nice [for a change] to see a process of rebuilding that incorporated elements of what exists and doesn’t just encourage the reproduction of those bloated Trumpian monoliths that line the West Side Highway. I’m not holding my breath.)

  3. Kind of fun, isn’t it, this blogging stuff?!

  4. Hey Peter,

    Great website—and blog! I’ve been there when it comes to benefiting from the backwash of another writer’s line. Years ago, a bunch of us sold all sorts of books down in Oxford, Mississippi because of a line waiting for autographs from Wendell Berry (talk about gasbags!). It made me think that publishers should prevail upon their big sellers to have warm-up writers at readings.

    By the way, Ms. Mann makes a good point about Sarah Ferguson. How in the world does this individual qualify as a writer, not to mention the keynote speaker at a major publishing event? Because someone ghosted a couple of children’s books for her? The more we degrade ourselves as a profession, the less seriously people will take us.

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