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    Bridge Ladies Sometimes I think a meteor could strike the earth and wipe out mankind with the exception of my mother’s Bridge club — Roz, Bea, Bette, Rhoda, and Jackie — five Jewish octogenarians who continue to gather for lunch and Bridge on Mondays as they have for over fifty years. When I set out to learn about the women behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, and most of all the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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This Is Not Your Beautiful House

Yes, I am aware that the Book Expo is on. Do I care? Yes and no. When I was a little girl, my dad took me to lumber trade shows and I loved them. Especially the displays of knobs and pulls, hundreds of them. Racing down the aisles in search of candy and any free crap we could get our hands on like levelers and mini tool boxes (which I still have).

I hear things are heating up at the Javitz Center with dog fights breaking out over e-book royalties, the undead everywhere, and Barbra Streisand as the big draw with her book about her “passion” for design, which is a euphemism for control which is about how no matter what she achieves her mother will never be impressed. (Anyone else belong to that club?)

I understand that there will be fewer giveaways, fewer galleys, and t-shirts, and tote bags. Fare thee well swag! Fare thee well bowls of candy for grubby hands! When I was younger, the best part of the fair was scoring free galleys of favorite writers, sometimes getting them signed. Going to parties at night and sleeping with Knopf writers. (You know who you are.) Ha ha. The best part for me was scouring the small presses and university presses, such cool shit. Just soaking it all in, each publisher’s booth with its glossy blown up jackets. Watching people in meetings talk like squirels with their mouths full of nuts.

Do I care about BEA? Yes and no. It seems like more dancing on the Titanic.  Earlier today when I looked up above the convention center I saw something quite extraordinary: our beloved books getting in formation and flying away high above the Javitz Center, above the sad fray.

I’m glad I got to do this with my life. Lucky.

23 Responses

  1. One of my favorite books, DEAR GENIUS, depicts what I think of as the “golden age” of children’s book publishing. And this post, in a similar way, makes me nostalgic for Book Expo experiences of yore, wishing I could have been there to see it all. I would have undoubtedly been a greedy little minx, taking it all in (and, of course, grabbing as many galleys as possible).

    Thank you for this post!

  2. You are lucky to do this with your life and your readers are lucky read your reflections on this blog.

    I hear they served good booze on the Titanic.

  3. This post made me think back to 1996 when I attended my first APA (American Psychiatric Association) meeting that was held in NYC that year. I was still in my residency meaning that I was relatively poor and thankful for all the delicious dinners at fine restaurants, compliments (sorry folks) of the makers of Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Wellbutrin, Risperdal and Zyprexa. I don’t know for sure, because I have refused to meet with drug reps since 1998 or thereabouts, and the last drug dinner I went to was at the APA meeting in San Francisco in 2003, but I assume the gravy train has slowed down quite a bit at the APA meetings as well.

  4. Absolutely perfect, Betsy.

  5. Poor Babs.

  6. I attended BEA when it was in Washington D.C. Of all the national conventions I’ve attended, BEA was the most uncomfortable. 45 minutes to get a cup of coffee. No place to sit down, the walls lined with those fortunate enough to get something to eat or drinK, sitting on the floor leaning on the wall. The complete disdain of those staffing the exhibitor’s booths. What a waste of time and money for both exhibitors and attendees.

    I did bring home one tragic memory. I was standing at the intersection of two aisles deciding which way to go, when I heard, “Would you like a free book?”

    I turned to see this poor bastard who had bought a small booth to promote his self published mystery. The booth was filled with hundreds of his books he could not give away. The last thing I wanted was to lug around books, even the ones everyone was after, but I said, “Only if you sign it for me.” That was probably the one time he smiled during BEA.

  7. Of all the inanimate objects, of all men’s creations, books are the nearest to us, for they contain our very thoughts and ambitions, our indignations, our illusions, our fidelity to truth, and our persistent leaning toward error. But most of all they resemble us in their precarious hold on life.

    Joseph Conrad
    Notes on Life and Letters

  8. Good post. I’m going to BEA tomorrow to meet an editor, but hopefully I’ll still be able to pick up an author’s free arc for some summer reading! I only signed up for one day, as for me, BEA can serve as a distraction from writing. Sounds like some of the earlier BEAs were pretty monumental and fun!

  9. My BEA experience was in LA in 2003. I went for the Lambda Awards and stayed a few extra days because I’d traveled across the country. Staying overnight then coming straight home didn’t make sense.

    I was so green and pathetic. I’d read about Farrar Straus & Giroux and Jonathan Galassi. I found the FSG booth, and there he was, all spiffed up and Brooks Brothersy.

    I stood behind a display and gawked at him while he interacted with important people. Then I skulked away and came back to my hometown, population next to nothing.

    I got Jonathan Galassi’s autograph on my last book contract. It looks like a kid’s drawing of a wave on the water, but it’s his and I’m still star struck.

  10. Blisteringly sentimental. I disapprove.

  11. “…which is about how no matter what she achieves her mother will never be impressed. (Anyone else belong to that club?)”

    I’m the treasurer. I count our pooled neuroses.

  12. Am I the only one who thinks that the digital revolution is the beginning of a new literary age?

    Yes, I know we all love the smell of mildewing paper in our father’s Shakespeare anthology. But, geez, it’s just a medium. Do I care if we watch a movie on VHS or DVD or on Hulu? I’m personally excited. But it’s a lonely excitement when I’m among book lovers. I have this same argument with my mother, a retired librarian. As a web producer for years I can’t help but think the digital age allows could allow us (literary types) more money and time in disseminating ideas, writing, editing and less in cutting down trees.

    I’m buying my mother an iPad. I think she’s going to secretly love it.

    • I’m on your mother’s side of the argument. Although if she doesn’t like that iPad she can send it to me.

    • With Amazon going to 70% Royalty for Kindle downloads on June 30th, who cares if a book ever gets printed on paper. The industry then revolves around how good an author is at driving traffic to his or her Kindle Store book page. It takes about 15 minutes to upload your book (after formatiing) to the Kindle Store, and you don’t even need an ISBN number.
      NO agent, NO publisher. Life is sweet.

  13. I dunno. Twenty years into the digital revolution, and we’ve achieved twitter.

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