Upcoming book trade shows for the industry don’t have as much appeal for me as they once did.
In New York, Book Expo America, the world’s second-largest show (behind Frankfurt), will feature a keynote by Barbra Streisand. When I was younger and star-struck, that might have been a major event for me. Now, I only wonder two things: will Barbra use this as some sort of rally for the American Communist Party, and will hubby James Brolin be outside with a van, hawking Bar’s film memorabilia?
I don’t know; good questions to consider.
Plus, 2010 is really the year with zero, zero chance to see J.D. Salinger signing books at a table.
And when one considers what the International Christian Retail Show in St. Louis will be like … tumbleweeds blowing down a dusty street come to mind.
For the past 17 years, I’ve attended ICRS (formerly CBA, which is what everyone still calls it) as a publishing representative journalist, and author. This year I think I’ll attend as one of the people who sell bags of hot almonds. It’d be a different perspective, and a way to go out on a high note, since ICRS is a rotting corpse that should be given a proper burial.
Oh, there are still some worthwhile things going on, albeit jarring to the senses. Tyndale, for example, is introducing some new product entitled “Does God Exist?”
The publishing giant describes the product in part: “This is the perfect resource for students preparing to enter college and a culture that may be hostile to their faith.”
We now live in a world in which legions of people know nothing about God, so perhaps Tyndale’s effort will be worthwhile.
The theme for this year’s ICRS is “Real People, Real Impact. It’s Why We Do What We Do.” That’s the kind of golden, genius, marketing blurb that one hopes CBA didn’t pay someone six figures for. But they probably did.
I’m jaded, yes. And here’s the point of this week’s Writer’s Bloc: I just wonder if the BEA folks are more honest than their Christian counterparts. One might be largely pagan, but at least it doesn’t pretend. The other pretends to care about pagans.
On my first trip to BEA, early in the presidential career of Wild Bill Clinton, I was like Tom Sawyer on Bourbon Street for the first time. Imagine my surprise at walking the aisles only to see, at one juncture, gigantic pornographic photos. These were the size of advertising banners that litter airports. The booth was obviously manned by a publisher of adult materials.
Staggering away from that, I went two aisles over and found myself in the gay and lesbian section. I simply have tried to put most of that out of my mind, but I do distinctly remember picking up a copy of the Advocate, the gay magazine. On the cover? Wild Bill Clinton.
Our Christian company’s booth was in the “Spirituality” section, which meant we were next to some Buddhists and across the aisle from a group who claimed to have been abducted by aliens in the 1950s. To date, they had sold over 300,000 copies of their one title. There’s virtue in simplicity and focus.
So in other words, everyone is upfront at BEA; they are who they are.
At ICRS/CBA, Christian phoniness is sometimes all-too-prominent. Publishers who care very little about people wear expensive suits and smile a lot. Piety reigns. There is also a hazy sense that all is right in the world, because we come together and sing praise songs and say the “right things.”
One of the things that stood out to me about attending BEA was the fact that buyers and other publishing representatives knew very little about biblical Christianity or the evangelical world. And these are smart, sophisticated, well-read individuals. What does that tell me?
The church has had very little positive impact on the culture, that’s what.
I remember once that an older lady came into our booth and wanted to know about a book series we were displaying. She asked specifically about the author and I explained that he was an Assemblies of God pastor.
She cut me off dismissively and said, “Well, I don’t know that means.”
Another time, an author, an amiable chap from southern California, was peddling his manuscript on healthy living. It was clearly New Age and he seemed taken aback when I explained we wouldn’t consider it.
He said, “I genuinely want to know why you’d turn it down.”
I explained that we were an evangelical publisher.
“What’s ‘evangelical?'” he asked in all seriousness.
This was a sharp guy, and he had not clue what language I was speaking.
How very sad that Christian materials have had such little cultural penetration. We haven’t done our jobs.
So at the end of the day, at BEA, you’ll see some dirty books and talk to alien abductees and perhaps brush up against the handlers of Oprah’s handlers. And yes, you’ll see a Commie pop singer’s worldview and cleavage spilling out all over.
But at least you won’t have to hold your nose while engaging a buttoned-up, toothy, phony slob peddling Christian books he doesn’t believe in.
Holden Caulfield wouldn’t have been caught dead in such a lousy venue, if you want to know the truth.