Sunday, June 24, 2007

BEA: Saturday Book & Author Breakfast

The front of the line waiting to see Stephen Colbert et al.
at the Book & Author Breakfast. It was only 7:45 a.m.

As mentioned in the prior post, I attended the Saturday Book & Author Breakfast with my perennial date Baratunde Thurston. Somehow, he's always able to drag his carcass to the show hall well before 7:30 a.m.--even when, as happened this time, he'd been up late the night before after hosting a film awards ceremony downtown.

In Chicago for the breakfast moderated by Jon Stewart a few years back, Baratunde's early-bird tactics got us prime seats at a center table up close to the stage. But this time, when I got to the Javits at 7:40, the doors to the great room were still shut tight and Baratunde was hundreds of places back in line. That's the beginning of the line in the photo above; it went up the stairs and snaked through the atrium, where we were standing.

Once inside, we got seats at a table about halfway back in the room, though we had to turn our chairs around after the program started. Besides moderator Stephen Colbert (I Am America and So Can You), there were:
  • Ken Burns (The War: An Intimate History, 1941 – 1945)
  • Lisa See (Peony in Love)
  • Khaled Hosseini (A Thousand Splendid Suns) subscribers can view the program here.

Do I have to say how funny Colbert was, or how enthusiastic the audience?

I didn't think so. However, I will note that he brought the house down with this:
A lot of people have asked me this morning about the difference between doing late-night television and doing a book. There is actually one very interesting difference. In late-night television, WE DON'T DO ANYTHING AT 8 A.M. ON A SATURDAY. ARE YOU CRAZY?! My eyeballs are hemhorraging!
I will also note that this was the best Book & Author Breakfast--indeed the best author panel--ever. Even at BEA, too often there is at least one dud on a panel (e.g., Editors Buzz Forum). But this time, each and every one was stellar. Hosseini was surprisingly funny, and even broke up Colbert at one point when they went mano a mano. If Hosseini's writing career ever flags, he has a bright future doing stand-up comedy.

Want to know what it takes to be a top-tier bestselling author? Like it or not, it's about performing and connecting with the audience, along with writing well. Watch and learn.

One caveat: If, like me, you're distressed by violent images (I'm still suffering PTSD from my accident), skip Ken Burns's video, which features graphic WW2 footage. That was the only part of the breakfast I could have done without--plus the "food," of course, which I long ago learned isn't worth eating.

During the Q&A, an audience member began her question by plugging her self-published book, which had a ridiculously long title. I and many others were groaning loudly. She asked Colbert whether he ever interviewed self-pubbed authors on his show. Obviously she doesn't watch it regularly, as just a few weeks previously he'd interviewed the author of a self-pubbed book (I forget his name & the title) on how to use prison time for personal growth. As always, Colbert was quick and graceful, answering her: "Well, you're on CSPAN2 right now!" There was a remarkably similar author at the Jon Stewart breakfast. He made hash of her and her "Jewiest-sounding name ever." She camped out later by the press room and we Fourth Estaters avoided her like a leper.

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