Wednesday, June 08, 2005


O, BEA! (Part Three)

That was pretty much it for Friday: I came, I saw, I ate (see photo), I went home. I did spent some time trawling the aisles that afternoon, and overheard some classic snatches of BEA-speak. "I've got some new ideas for how to create transactional television!" "Was that okay, or was it too unpleasant?" "I may have been wrong about wall-to-wall carpeting." But once I retrieved my totes from the chaotic bag check, I went straight back to my apartment. No parties. To be frank, I felt like a candidate for hip replacement. I took off the narrow, punishing shoes I had bought at the Barney's outlet, pored over my precious new galley of Peter Guralnick's Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke (rotten title, but it looks like a tremendous piece of work, with much more detail than Daniel Wolff's You Send Me and the most benign portrait I've ever read of Allen Klein: he sounds like a soul-music Santa Claus, instead of the scam artist depicted in, say, Arthur Kempton's Boogaloo), and fell asleep. When I awoke, it was time for more BEA.

Things were hopping at the Javits Center. Throughout the day, author appearances jammed up the floor: the line for Stacy Schiff, who published the elegant A Great Improvisation in April, included not only history buffs and Ben Franklin freaks but a woman with a sleeping baby on her shoulder. The line for Bill Maher was even longer, and for all I know it included a woman actually giving birth. Rodale staffers had already distributed fans to the masses, each with a discomforting, life-size depiction of Maher's face on one side and the legend I'm a BILL MAHER fan! on the other. Smart marketing. Fanning myself in the crush, I tried and failed to get a decent photo of the wisecracking author, who looks very different with demonic red-eye and no hair. Then I kept moving. I encountered the inevitable guy in a white stormtrooper outfit from Star Wars. I had a chat with Dennis Loy Johnson of Melville House, who was happy to be cohabiting in the "cool aisle" with City Lights, Seven Stories, and various other top-drawer independents. Then I found myself pondering an enormous bus parked on the convention floor--it looked like the Spruce Goose of mass transit--with the Book TV logo proudly emblazoned on the nose. According to Scott Crosby, who patiently fielded my questions while awed C-SPAN fans tried to find some way to clamber on board, this behemoth was about to commence its whistle-stop tour of American letters. (Nonfiction only, of course: Book TV deals with just the facts, ma'm.)

Crosby dwelled on the statistics. "The bus is thirty-five feet long," he said. "Eight feet wide, thirteen feet high." (These are painful numbers for a New Yorker to hear: aside from Donald Trump, almost nobody in Manhattan lives in such a commodious space. Why, there's enough room in there for an alcove study and an EIK.) And what's inside? "The front half contains a fully equipped studio," he told me, "with cameras and flat-screen monitors. In the back half there's an Internet cafe and a control room. So we can actually produce live shows from the bus." The idea is to launch C-SPAN's magical mystery tour in September, at the National Book Festival in Washington, DC, and then keep the vehicle on the road eleven months out of the year. To be honest, the whole set-up had a distinct Austin Powers flavor to it, but there was no mention of a rotating waterbed ringed with clip-on reading lamps from the Levenger catalogue. Look for it in your neighborhood this fall!

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