By David Nilsen
Friday, May 13, 7:30 a.m. – My body is profoundly irritated with me after two straight days of endless walking with a heavy backpack on my shoulders. I make several pathetic noises while I cross the room to get dressed.
9:05 a.m. – I didn’t stop for coffee because several booths are promising free coffee. Macmillan is having a librarian’s breakfast at 9:30, and an area of the floor known as The Blend (lots of small booths from indie companies of varying reputation) is also having free coffee at 9:30. You know who’s not making us wait half an hour to get free coffee? Publisher’s Weekly. I make a beeline for their librarians lounge. I’m the second person to arrive.
9:30 a.m. – I call this segment Tour de Coffee. I head over to The Blend to track down the coffee offered there, with plans to cross the floor and do the same at Macmillan, just to make sure I’ve had all the free coffee that’s coming to me. I’m pleased to see the coffee is set up at the booth for McSweeney’s. Two young women are working the booth, and I express my gratitude for free coffee. “I already loved McSweeney’s, but this just takes it up a level.” They laugh warmly and appreciatively. I congratulate myself on a non-awkward social interaction as I walk away. This is my daily life in public: a balance sheet of awkward versus non-awkward experiences. I spend most of my time in the red, but when I make a quick jump into the black this early in the day, I am inordinately proud of myself. Hi, I’m weird.
9:38 a.m. – The Blend is something of a ghetto. I get the feeling the companies that got put here didn’t realize how far away from the main traffic of the show they were going to be. I feel sad for them and hope they’ve gotten their money’s worth out of the show. The entire area feels like the main street of a small town that was once on a major travel route until the interstate highway got built thirty minutes west. The Blend is that town five years later–full despair hasn’t set in, but you can see the glazed panic in their eyes numbed by the whispering opiate of denial. The Blend, ladies and gentlemen!
9:45 a.m. – I stop by the booth for Akashic Books and talk to the friendly attendant. I tell him I recently read and enjoyed Stacy Wakefield’s The Sunshine Crust Baking Factory, and we talk briefly about the book. He laughs when he says they’ve been mostly talking to themselves back here in The Blend, making light of it. He seems like he’s in good spirits, but his humor has the tenor of a hostage in a video assuring everyone they’re being treated very well as they glance fearfully off camera.
9:58 a.m. – I head over to Macmillan’s booth, but the crowd of caffeine-addicted librarians is worryingly large, so I skip it.
10:15 a.m. – I come around a corner and find myself face to face with a larger-than-life (in so many ways) cardboard cutout of an almost nude stud in a chef’s hat, holding a spatula. This is too fun to pass up, so I approach the man at the booth and ask him what his booth is about. He then begins to show me Weslo’s Home-O-Erotic Cookbook, a big, glossy, full-color cookbook with over 100 excellent recipes and over 70 full-page photos of naked men preparing said recipes. He assures me the recipes are wonderful, “And, of course, the book is fun to look at too.”
10:30 a.m. – Leigh Bardugo is doing a signing at the Macmillan/Henry Holt booth. All the more reason for Katy Goodwin-Bates to hate me now. The signings here are a really big deal. All throughout the day I will find entire aisles blocked by long, snaking lines of readers waiting to get their favorite author’s autograph. I came around a corner yesterday and found myself four feet away from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
10:51 a.m. – I stop in at the booth for Counterpoint/Soft Skull and remember, sadly, that Soft Skull is now an imprint. Nothing in the booth shows the edge and spit and grit their books once had.
11:13 a.m. – Coach House rep: This book is about insomnia.
Me: Oh, I have that.
Rep: The book or insomnia?
Me: Insomnia. That’s fun.
Rep: No, not really.
11:15 a.m. – I utilize human speech at the Graywolf Press booth! It’s mostly to gush, but the woman I talk to is incredibly friendly and it’s okay. I am absolutely crushing my awkward/non-awkward balance sheet today.
11:23 a.m. – There is a Donald Trump impersonator here in support of Scott Dikkers’ Trump’s America: A Complete Loser’s Guide. He mostly looks like him and mostly sounds like him and he’s acting like a dick, so I’d say it’s a solid impersonation.
11:48 a.m. – I am getting the solid impression, even before lunchtime, that everyone else here is just about as done with the show as I am. We’re all exhausted and sore, and booth reps have probably accomplished most of what they’re going to by this point, so they’re just ready for the show to be over.
12:01 p.m. – Kaiser Colour has an adult coloring book just called Hello Hipster. I appreciate the plainspoken honesty. The coloring pages include things like Instamatic cameras, tobacco pipes, and typewriters. One page allows you to color an intricate beard.
12:23 p.m. – I make one more stop at the PW lounge to get a sandwich, then make my final rounds. I head back to Housing Works, but the attendant is again deep in conversation. Too bad. I’ll check out their website and see how to get books to them.
12:45 p.m. – Readers, I believe my time at BEA is coming to a close. I’ve seen everything there is to see, and I have about five tote bags full of freebies, including everything from books to a soccer ball to cinnamon candies shaped like ants which are called (wait for it)…Fire Ants. I have done BEA, and BEA has done me.
I’ll be posting my show recap on Monday. For now, it’s time to hit the road back to Ohio. Thanks for reading!