Saturday, June 16, 2007

BEA: Editors Buzz Forum

Buzz Forum as seen from the cheap seats; Sara Nelson standing.

Late in the afternoon on Friday, June 1, I attended the always much-anticipated "Editors Buzz Forum." In years past, it was called "Editor and Bookseller Buzz Forum." I wonder if the new title was supposed to underline, or just to reflect, the lessening importance of booksellers at BEA (formerly ABA--American Booksellers Association).

Moderated by Sara Nelson of Publishers Weekly, in order of appearance the panelists were:
  • Daniel Halpern: Ecco/HarperCollins
  • Geoffrey Kloske, Riverhead
  • Margaret Marbury, Mira Books
  • Susanna Porter, Random House Pub'g Group (not Jennifer Hershey, as previously announced)
  • Marysue Ricci, Simon & Schuster
  • Elisabeth Schmitz, Grove Atlantic
( members can view their presentations, as well as other BEA programs, here.)

Nelson announced that each panelist was going to talk for no more than 10 minutes about just one book. Well, OK, maybe two books--but really mostly one, and really for only 10 minutes.

First up was Daniel Halpern, who apparently didn't hear the part about "only 10 minutes." He also apparently didn't practice his lengthy speech beforehand. Worse, he mostly read it in a monotone. Worst of all, the book he chose was a new poetry collection by Robert Hass--AND HE NEVER MENTIONED THE TITLE!!! (Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005)

"Why read poetry?" Halpern asked. "And further, does anyone?"

Why, indeed? Halpern sure didn't give a satisfactory answer--or at least none that I could hear, as he hadn't mastered the use of that newfangled contraption, the microphone. I doubt his presentation gained any new poetry readers either (not me, that's for sure). He certainly lost listeners; people were streaming out by 4:15.

The New York Magazine account of the program notes, "The rest of the editors did in fact remember to sell books." Thank dog! (TM, Miss Snark)

Next was Kloske, who in welcome contrast actually spoke to the audience instead of droning from a text. He told us about the author of his lead title--Shalom Auslander--then talked about the author's background, his earlier collection of short stories and how he came to write this book, a memoir about breaking with his Orthodox Jewish past. By then I was getting impatient to hear the title. Was Kloske going to pull a Halpern and not say it? No, he was just building tension so he could reveal it to maximum effect: "Foreskin's Lament--and it's not going to change," which elicited much laughter. Auslander's terrific trailer for the book elicited even more laughter. (You can see it here with Kloske's talk; crank up the volume.) He's some kind of advertising whiz kid and it shows; every book trailer should be so good. (Ian McEwan's people, take note.)

Then we had Margaret Marbury, who extolled MJ Rose's upcoming The Reincarnationist: A Novel of Suspense. I was wondering if maybe Mira had snuck in a ringer from the publicity department, because Marbury was a) audible, b) passionate, c) succinct; and most of all she d) answered the Three Big Questions:
  1. So what?
  2. Who cares?
  3. What's in it for me?
She showed a VidLit trailer for the book. Unfortunately it ran twice, which prompted a wag to call out, "It was reincarnated!" I'm very curious to read the book, as MJ told me a little about it (very little, as she didn't want to jinx it) over a lovely dinner in Denver almost a year and a half ago. So I grabbed two galleys just in case.

Susanna Porter was also unschooled in how to speak into a microphone, which is too bad, as her lead title, Loving Frank by Nancy Horan, sounded like my cup of tea. At least I think it did; between her too-soft voice and the noise from the hallway, I caught maybe 1/3 of what she said. This much I do know: The book is historical fiction about the scandalous affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Cheney 100 years ago; inhouse enthusiasm is "incredible" and Ballantine is "pulling out all the stops."

Marysue Ricci didn't need to read from any notes, as she had her shtick down cold for THE YEAR OF LIVING BIBLICALLY: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by AJ Jacobs. He's the only author I can remember who's been featured twice--the first time was for his debut book, The Know-It-All. "I think he's done it again," said Ricci, who SPOKE INTO THE MICROPHONE and opined that this book is more saleable and appealing than The Know-It-All. "As a lapsed/recovering Catholic, I never thought I'd love a book about the Bible," she confessed. She brought the house down with these taglines: "The Bible Belt meets the Borscht Belt. AJ puts the 'ha' back in Hasidism, the 'fun' into fundamentalism. Thou shalt not be able to put it down!"

Elisabeth Schmitz talked about two books, only mostly not into the microphone so I mostly couldn't hear her. "Why should we care about the murder of a Guatemalan bishop?" she asked about Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder. Um...dunno. I also don't know why we should care about Sick Girl, Amy Silverstein's memoir of having an emergency heart transplant at age 24. After maybe five minutes I gave up and went into the hall, where I scooped ARCs into the thoughtfully provided BookTV tote bags and joined up with my escort for the evening's festivities. More about that later.

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