This past Thursday and Friday, Book Expo America made its return to NYC and the Jacob Javits Center. I was lucky enough to have a reviewer/blogger badge and was beyond excited to attend! I imagined meeting all sorts of new people, discovering great, new reads, listening to fantastically informative panels, and in the end, I think my high expectations were to blame for my utter disappointment.
While I was at BEA, I did attend two panels that interested me, TOR presents Women in Science Fiction, and Why Fantasy Matters. The rest of the panels were simply not relevant to the genre Roadside Reader (or Pages and Pause Screen) focus on. It was then I began to realize that genre, specifically Fantasy (as an overarching umbrella genre), is actually a niche. I had immersed myself for so long with other fantasy nerds that I just accepted it as a thing for everyone. Still, that there were two panels there of interest among the business track of things was great. The authors were lovely and had great speaking points. I especially loved the Why Fantasy Matters panel for the mere fact that Victoria Aveyard spoke about how she structures her novels (3 Acts, 8 Sequences) and it just clicked in my head. Finally, I understand why sometimes a novel will just click for me, and why other times it’s beyond difficult for me to get into. I understand how I cam up with the 20% mark when reading to gauge my interest in it.
The rest of the expo was… interesting. I can’t say good, I can’t say bad. Just simply, not for me in the end. There were only a handful of new books that caught my attention (Beasts Made of Night by Tochi Onyebuchi was the one that really grabbed my attention. Cannot wait to read it come October!) Other highlights were getting autographs (and an Advanced Copy of Hunting Prince Dracula by Kerri Maniscalco, sequel to Stalking Jack the Ripper), whereas lowlights were aggressive attendees trying to scam the system.
It seemed to me that the main interest for the majority of the other attendees was simply to snag as many free books and advanced copies as possible, whether they actually cared for the book or not. Multiple attendees I waited on various lines with over the two days were actively trying to get others to take books off of them, books they grabbed but then realize they had no interest in reading them and therefore didn’t want to waste bag space on them. These books almost always ended up abandoned on the floor. There were multiple instances of attendees cutting lines, jumping into the same line multiple times to grab more books. I just, I don’t understand it.
Honestly, I could not care less about receiving free books or even getting advanced copies. I mean, yeah, advanced copies are nice if it’s a book you’re interested in. But to simply get it because it’s there, that’s not me. I’m not one of those collectors that needs to have five copies of the same book simply because certain ARCs and finished versions have different covers. I live in a tiny hole in the wall in NYC and am always moving apartments. Physical books, while always a joy, are also a burden since there’s never any space. Plus, although I am poor, I’m not destitute. If I really am desperate for a book, I’ll buy it.
I guess it all comes down to why I do this, why I review and run Roadside Reader. I do it because I like to read, I like to find new stories I might not otherwise have heard about. I do it to start a dialogue, one between myself and the book, but also with other readers. It’s why I started the Pages and Pause Screen podcast. It’s why I thought Book Expo America would be something fun to attend. I wanted to connect with others, to actually find new stories, new authors. Ultimately, all I walked away with was an understanding that perhaps big events like these aren’t about actively engaging with others, with new content, but instead, are a Black Friday-esque spree designed to reduce professionals into bargain bin shoppers.
Will I go back next year? Nope, but I will keep searching for events that actively engage the book industry in important literary topics, while still showcasing new authors, new books, and strengthening the community that helps keep it all running.