BookExpo 2019 was held May 29–31 at the Javits Center in New York. At past BookExpos, the first day, which begins at noon, featured few noteworthy programs. This year, there was a significant lineup, including author events with big names such as Debbie Harry, George Takei, and Jennifer Weiner.
The First Full Day Begins
On Thursday, May 30, the long day started promptly at 8 a.m. When my wife and I arrived at 7:15, there was a large group of energetic young people lined up along 11th Avenue. It turned out that they were waiting for tickets to get books signed by famous authors. We went in and got our credentials in minutes. Then we had our own line to deal with to get good table seats for the Adult Book & Author Breakfast, headlined by Rachel Maddow, who wrote the upcoming book Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth. Others on the panel were Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point; Karin Slaughter, author of many thrillers; Marjorie Liu, creator of popular graphic novels; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of the upcoming The Water Dancer.
Maddow (at left) had previously written a book about how America so regularly finds itself in foreign wars, and she swore she would never write again. However, she felt compelled to expose the ways that the oil and gas industry is having an undue effect on society. Gladwell said he is uneasy that people are still reading The Tipping Point decades later, since it has possible implications for today’s world. Slaughter noted that she has no trouble finding names for characters in her mysteries who are about to be murdered—she just names them after family members. Liu said that she had once been such a shy person that she did not even tell her family when she got her first book contract. All of them agreed that it is best to be nice to fans, but to not let them influence future work.
After the breakfast, we hit the main floor to see what could be found in the exhibit hall (usually very nice tote bags). I noticed the attractive booth for BookBub and was curious about what the company does. The representative told me that it works to smooth the way between authors and their readers. The product reminds me of an early Netflix invention—“Tell us what movies you like, and we’ll recommend other ones you’ll like.” When testing it out, I just answered a few quick questions about my reading tastes, and BookBub did the rest. The first question was “Fiction or nonfiction?” I said nonfiction and was surprised to see that the first four entries on my suggestion list were novels. The next titles were nonfiction, and they were pretty much on the mark.
A Former Google and Facebook Executive Tells All
I had a very informative talk with Marissa Orr, the author of Lean Out: The Truth About Women, Power, and the Workplace and a former executive at Google and Facebook. I had been asked to provide questions for her in advance.
I asked, “Are you aware that your book has a useful message for men as well as women? In my long library career, I was never interested in being a director, dean, or provost. I just wanted to be in a place where I could solve problems and make a difference. This sounds similar to your redefinition of success.” It turns out that she is very aware of this universality. When the galleys for her book first came out, she distributed some to her friends and started hearing that their husbands picked it up out of curiosity and saw their own careers in her pages.
“Have you always aspired to be a writer, or do you feel that you have a compelling story to tell, and a book is the best way to get your word out?” I asked. She said she was slow to turn to writing, and she mentioned that a high school teacher had accused her of plagiarizing an essay because it was too good. It took her a decade and extensive writing as part of her corporate work to get past that.
I asked, “You have worked for two of the three titans in the social media world. Do you think that the obvious flaws in all three will make way for another company to make it to the social media Mt. Rushmore?” She said that in the early days of Google, the employees were worried that somebody might come along and invent a better search engine that would knock them off their perch. After her first decade there, she realized that this was not going to happen. Now, she thinks that a fourth face on “Mt. Rushmore” will likely be an idea so new that we don’t yet know what it might be.
“Can you envision going back to the social media corporate world, or do you have a major redirection in mind?” I asked. She laughed and said that by writing this book, she has pretty much burned those bridges. Her goal now is to increase her visibility as a motivational speaker. She believes (as do I) that that the reception to this book will help to make this happen.
Afterward, she went with me to the HarperCollins booth to pose for a photo with her book. As we said goodbye, I predicted that it will be a significant bestseller.
An Evening With Sonia Sotomayor
The evening closer is always a major event at BookExpo, and this year was no exception: Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor sat down for a session with the illustrator of her upcoming children’s book, Just Ask!: Be Different, Be Brave, Be You. The sitting-down part just lasted for a few minutes, because Sotomayor insisted on walking through the audience, patting people on the shoulder and shaking hands. One of the hands she shook was mine.
Her book is designed to give moral support to children with any kind of disability. She said that a thorough search was made to be sure that children of any race with any disability would be able to find themselves in the book. Eventually, she took questions that had been prepared by audience members. She said, “I will answer nearly anything except a preview of how a certain case will be decided. You will find out like everybody else when it is time.”
Most of the panel sessions were on book matters, but one Thursday-afternoon panel discussed the problem Google is having with Google Cloud. Apparently, Cloud is growing faster than the number of technicians with the skills to manage it.
On Friday, May 31, there was a panel on women in politics featuring Susan Rice, who talked about her rise in government in the Clinton and Obama administrations (her book is Tough Love: My Story of the Things Worth Fighting For), and Samantha Power, ambassador to the United Nations following Rice’s term (her book is The Education of an Idealist). Power told the hilarious story of confronting President Obama about a policy dispute. Unfortunately, he was on his way to the men’s room, so the discussion did not go well.
The 19th Amendment of the Constitution, which gave women the right to vote, was passed by Congress in 1919, and in its 100th-anniversary year, the concept of women in power was well-served at BookExpo.
Photos by Terry Ballard