Book Expo America is always interesting. I just attended my third, which was my first in the shadow of print death. Okay, so 30,000 attended the May 31-June 3 book trade show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan, and, as usual, there were tons of books available for the snatching. But it seemed there were fewer “big” books being touted, and no matter your position in the literature field, the fact that the outlets for book reviews — if not books — are shrinking, created anxiety.
Consider: Teresa Weaver, former book editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, was laid off and, fortunately, landed as book editor at Atlanta magazine. Starting June 25, she’ll be doing the entire book reviewing there, so that’s one market down or, at least, highly constricted. At the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, where I’ve been publishing reviews for years, the book section has been running reviews — mainly short ones — by staffers and wire for the past two months. The book section editor at the San Francisco Chronicle just told me that that paper, which has always had an eccentric, really wonderful book section, is laying off 100 of 400 editorial employees. At the Boston Globe, another outlet of mine for years, the space given over to book (and, for that matter, other arts) coverage is shrinking, too.
Because of that shrivel, a disconnect hovered over Book Expo. The gap between the publishing industry and the print outlets is widening, and online hasn’t stepped in - at least not in ways similar to the traditional print model. Sure, bloggers are legion, and plenty of blogs and websites deal with books. But the standards, authoritativeness and legacy of older print models are waning, giving people like me — who were raised on print and who work within its milieu with expectations to be paid professional rates for their opinions — the willies.
At the same time, there was plenty to warm one’s literary cockles at Javits. My inner groupie was pleased to get these autographs: Pulitzer Prizewinner Richard Russo (whose novel, Bridge of Sighs, is due out from Knopf in October); Lee Child (his recent Delacorte book is Bad Luck and Trouble); Stephen Hunter (the mystery novelist and Washington Post film critic’s The 47th Samurai will be published by Simon & Schuster in September); and Walter Mosley (Little Brown will publish his Blonde Faith in October). I also got imminent books from Alice Sebold (The Almost Moon, Little Brown, October) and Philip Roth (Exit Ghost, his latest Nathan Zuckerman installment, due from Houghton Mifflin in October). I had two boxes of books shipped home. Reading will not be an issue.