introducing readers to writers since 1995

June 03, 2004

Live From BookExpo

by Ron Hogan

I got into Chicago Thursday morning after about 18 straight hours on Amtrak, checked into the hotel for a quick shower, and then down to McCormick Place (not, as my cabbie chided me, McCormick Plaza, which is in St. Louis)--made it with a little time to spare before hooking up with Mark Elegant Variation Sarvas for the Book Babes panel. He's written about it, and I don't have too much to add to his report since it would mainly be a rehash of what I've said about their earlier columns, other than to emphasize the point that I think their complaints are to some degree a manufactured crisis in which they end up contradicting themselves and falling short of providing a solid answer to what one of them (Ellen, I think) identified as the job of book reviewing when Mark put that question to her: to find good books and explore their relevance to modern times, contextualizing them in the limited space available to reviewers today.

Oh, and apparently we'll all be on C-SPAN.

As soon as we were done, Mark and I went down to the biz center so he could jack in his laptop and do a quickie post. Then it was off to the bloggers symposium, where he held court with Jessa Bookslut Crispin, Kevin Virtual Book Tour Smokler, and Dennis Moby Lives Johnson, with Michael Publishers Lunch Cader moderating. This discussion was pretty lively; Kevin and Mark at one end of the dais were both enthusiastic about being literary bloggers, while Johnson kept insisting that he wasn't a blogger but a journalist (though he showed up at the blogger panel anyway, even when he hasn't updated his site in ages, when it comes to that) and Crispin was pretty blasé about the whole thing. The permeable barrier between blogging and journalism (or, as Johnson put it, between entertaining readers and informing them) made for some interesting chatter, and Crispin raised the important point that book blogs can do things for first-timers and indie presses that mainstream media book coverage does less and less.

Cader at one point asked if bloggers were prone to attack books and authors they don't like, which Mark jokingly dismissed as "the Dale Peck syndrome." Fitting, since our very next panel was on "Bibliocide," and pitted Peck against Philadelphia Inquirer book critic Carlin Romano and Book Babe Ellen. It quickly turned into a Peck v. Romano rumble, which Mark and I found somewhat entertaining, though the rest of the audience apparently was expecting something completely different, including one bookseller who nearly suffered a meltdown, accusing Romano of being obsolete and demanding that he demonstrate the relevance of book reviewers to booksellers. And I'm sitting there thinking, since when is book reviewing supposed to be relevant to shifting units--but clearly this was an issue that nagged at the Babes, too, as they had spent some time that morning lamenting that reviewers couldn't drive sales the way Oprah or Imus could. Unfortunately, the competing audience agendas, uncorralled by the moderator, caused the event to dissipate, so when one woman asked a very intriguing question--should novelists even be allowed to review fiction?--the moderator just said, "That's a great question to end on, thanks for coming." I got in a few words with Romano afterwards, while Mark chatted with Peck, and then we came back to the hotel to watch Bill Clinton address the convention on a live C-SPAN broadcast.

Tomorrow I begin to wade through the exhibits. Expect somewhat less expansive entries during this time...


Terrific dispatch--keep it coming.

Posted by: Jimmy Beck at June 4, 2004 11:07 AM
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