Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Lorrie Moore, Daniel Pink, Pat Conroy & "You time-wasting ding-dong!": More notes from the NYC Book Expo

If you are interested in finding out what is new in the world of book-publishing, all you gotta do is ask me. After spending two whole days poking around at the massive 2009 Book Expo in New York City, I now know just about EVERYTHING there is to know about new books.

Every year the book-publishing industry puts on a huge show for book sellers and librarians and they pull out all the stops to make sure we all know just exactly books are going to be published next. Staged at the gigantic glass-and-steel Jacob Javits convention center, you walk in the front door and there spread out before you, "like a patient etherised upon a table," is a vast amount of information about what's going to be hot in the book-publishing industry next year. There are bunches of information booths, lots of shiny brochures, several Authors' Breakfasts and they are even giving away free books! I'm there!

This Saturday they also held an Authors' Lunch (I'm sorry but those sandwiches looked like they shoulda been catered by Subway), and several authors gave talks about their upcoming new books. The first author to speak was was Ken Auletta, a columnist for The New Yorker who specializes in reporting on digital stuff. "In 1998, I interviewed Bill Gates and asked him what scared him most. He replied, 'I'm most afraid that in somebody's little garage somewhere, someone is going to invent something that's going to make Microsoft obsolete'." Auletta has just written a book entitled, "Googled: The End of the World as We Know It".

"The people at Google don't think of a consequences when they invent. They just think about creating newer and more efficient ways of doing stuff. Why is it that traditional media also didn't think of ways to get ahead of the digital wave? They could have. But they didn't. Google has already digitalized over 10 million books. If you live in a third-world country and can't afford textbooks, you now have the ability to access textbooks through Google." In third-world countries, almost EVERYONE has a cell phone. You could just text them their textbooks!

"Traditional media needs to figure out how to ride this digital wave or it will crash into it. And by whining about the digital wave, they are playing defense." Like when traditional media sued Google and YouTube instead of working with them. "If you want to survive, you have to learn to play offense." The Democrats should take that lesson to heart and start playing offense too!

This statement was brought home to me recently when a police auto-call alerted us residents that a dangerous gunman was running amok in my neighborhood. I immediately googled around to find out what the freak was going on -- and found out that, except for the Oakland Tribune's ever-vigilant Kristin Bender, there were no breaking media stories about the gunman online. So I had to go out there and ask the police myself.

The next author to speak at the luncheon was Lorrie Moore. Never heard of her. But then I'd never heard of Craig Ferguson either and when he spoke I thought that he seemed rather dull. But now that I'm reading his new book, "American on Purpose," I take it all back. It's an excellent book. And it's even quite funny.

Moore's new book is called "A Gate to the Stairs," and is a novel the describes how that terrible post-9-11 period of fear and uncertainty in America effected the people in her book. "If I was a good public speaker," said Moore, "I never would have become a writer. I would have just gone from speaking platform to speaking platform. But here I am. So I'm just going to read questions from my readers and answer them."

First question: "It's been 11 years since you wrote your last book, 'Birds of America'. What have you been doing all that time, you time-wasting ding-dong?"

Second question: "How do you do it? A single mother of a teenage boy, having to support yourself and having to constantly answer meaningless e-mails from your ex?" Hmmm. I'm beginning to suspect these questions are staged. But they are also totally funny. "Can you sum up the body of your work with the phrase, 'Boys will be boys?'" And, "If I met you and got to know you, would I be afraid of you -- but in a good way?"

Next question: "You keep writing about 20-year-old girls. Aren't you a little long in the tooth for that?" Moore's answer: "At age 20, that is when you most feel passion. After you turn 21 and you can legally drink, your brain starts to decay. All the years of your life before 20 go by as fast as all your years after 20 -- so 20 is the midpoint of your life." I know what she means. When I look into the mirror I see an old lady, but when I look into my mind, I only see "Age 20". I am still filled with passion -- at least with the passions of the mind. So that's a good thing?

"Literature is the essence of the air that we breathe. It's the oxygen. It's a construction but its also a dream." Then I got three free copies of her book's new galley proof.

The next speaker was Daniel Pink, talking about his new book entitled, "Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us." Rats. They aren't going to give out no free copies.

"There are two main drives that power primates -- replenishing physical needs and avoiding punishment." Threats and bribes. "But maybe there's a third drive -- doing things for their own reward. One professor who was doing some testing brought two groups of people into a room with some puzzles and then left them. What do the groups do after he leaves? The group not receiving money for working puzzles gets interested in the puzzles anyway, while the ones getting monetary rewards soon lost interest. Rewards make even interesting things become uninteresting."

That probably explains why I keep blogging my heart out even though I never get paid for it and hardly anybody ever reads what I say. Hmmm.

"This book is about why people do what they do. We respond to more than just carrots and sticks -- because we get interested. The way that we run our schools and business right now is way off. The wheels have fallen off the bus."

The next author was Mary Karr. Never heard of her either. Apparently she wrote about some of her crazy relatives in Texas and became a best-selling author. I got crazy relatives! My sister Ann? As far as I can tell, she's certifiable. But I already wrote about her. So why aren't I on the NYT best-seller list too? Humph.

"The average rich American WASP can ignore reality even better than Texans. They will hook onto a fact at one point and, from then on, that will just be the way things should be. They ignore everything else. These people were the anti-venom for the snake-bite of my life! My book is about how to become a good mother when your own mother has schooled you that there are two solutions to every problem: Firearms and alcohol. Literature saved my life. Librarians saved my life. Reading saved my life." I can relate to that. The name of Karr's latest book is "Lit". But I only got one free copy of her book.

And now we were supposed to hear from Pat Conroy, author of the "The Prince of Tides". But apparently he couldn't make it. But they did give us free galley proofs of his new book, "South of Broad Street," which, according to the dust jacket, is about some friends in Charleston whose ties of friendship "endure for years, surviving marriages happy and troubled, unrequited loves and unspoken longings, hard-won successes and devastating breakdowns...." I scored three copes of that book too.

Then after the Authors' Lunch was over, I snuck three or four extra sandwiches into my free McGraw Hill messenger bag to last me through the day and went out on the floor of the Expo again, where I scored several children's' books for baby Mena and a whole bunch of free pens. Baby Mena loves pens that click and she loves to write. I got her eight different pens. She'll be my slave!

Then I went over to the "Arab World" section of the Expo and talked with some publishers' reps there about distribution rights for my book on the Hajj. Then I got stuffed onto the cross-town bus, dragged another 20 pounds of free books back to my youth hostel and took the subway down to the Lower East Side to see my old apartment at 317 East Fifth Street where I lived in 1965 for $28 a month when I was pregnant with baby Lorraine, bought some borscht and rice pudding from B&H Dairy and stopped in to see my friend Ben Treuhaft but he wasn't home.

Other than not connecting with Ben and only scoring 20 pounds of free books, this was a perfect day!