"Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" --from The Treasure of Sierra Madre, a film adaptation of B. Traven's novel.
We will, of course, need our stinking badges when we descend upon the Javits Center next week for BookExpo America. We'll need them to get in, get around and get acquainted. Identity is everything. You may not have thought much about badges as you made your BEA preparations, but here are a few questions to consider:
Why do we wear name badges anyway? The answer seems obvious, but sometimes you wonder if it's clear to everyone at the show (see "badge flipping" below). In addition to getting you into the hall in the first place, a name tag is your ongoing, instant introduction to hundreds of guests at an epic book launch party in a very crowded room.
Pin or lanyard or badge holder? BEA veterans made their choices long ago. Primary issues affecting your decision will be tolerance for holes in clothing (pin), "badge flipping" issues (lanyard) and weight-bearing capacity (badge holder filled with pens, business cards, etc.).
Where should you wear your badge? Standard advice in the business world is that a name tag should be located just below the right shoulder, where it can be easily read when you shake hands with someone. Studies have actually shown that you're 85% more likely to remember a name if you don't have to cross the person's center body line to locate it.
But where do book people wear their badges? Look around BEA. Almost none will be near a right shoulder. The natural inclination is to pin it over your heart, like a corsage, or hang it from your neck on a lanyard or badge holder, industry studies be damned.
Where should you never wear your badge? That's easy. At every show, you'll see a few people (mostly guys) who pin their badges waist-high on a belt loop. There is no polite way to read those badges, so we don't care who you are.
What's the deal with badge flipping? If you're wearing a lanyard, the natural laws of motion will cause your badge to flip constantly to the blank side. You're probably not one of the chosen few everybody recognizes on sight, so a flipped badge effectively renders you invisible. Maybe that's your goal (If so, then why are you even here?), but my advice is to practice badge reflipping until it's as instinctive as straightening a tie. A trade show is no place to project a sense of mystery, unless you're publishing mysteries, though even then we shouldn't have to solve you first.
What is badge surfing? Whether on the trade show floor, at parties or even on the streets of Manhattan (where you'll encounter colleagues more often than you might think in a city of 8 million people), badge surfers are always scanning the crowd waves for gnarly breaks. Even while they talk with you, their eyes wander to passing badges just in case. If you happen to get caught in this social undertow, it's well within the rules of etiquette to replace traditional parting words like "See ya!" with the more appropriate: "Surf up, dude?"
When should you wear your badge? This is a key question for conference and trade show attendees everywhere. The easy answer is at all times when you're in the Javits Center. The tricky part comes when you leave the show.
When shouldn't you wear your badge? I remove mine as soon as I'm out of Javits and never wear it at the hotel or on the streets. But what about after-show dinners or parties? Operating on the assumption (based, I confess on deep personal insecurities we won't go into here) that nobody will recognize me, I always bring my badge along, then let the crowd dictate my next move. If I see familiar faces, the badge stays in my pocket. Among strangers, if more than half of the people are "badged," so am I.
Should you wear your badge on the NYC subway system to spark conversations with local readers? No.
Although my trusty Shelf Awareness holder still has last year's badge tucked inside at the moment, it seems anxious to acquire the updated version I'll pick up next week. Hope to see you at BEA. My stinking badge will say Robert, but you can call me Bob. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #2003.
"Badges? We ain't got no badges! We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!" --from The Treasure of Sierra Madre, a film adaptation of B. Traven's novel.
How well did you behave at BookExpo America last year? You have the right to remain silent. Some of you were nice, I'm sure; others were naughty. You know who you are. Or maybe you don't recall.
National Etiquette Week seems an appropriate time to offer a little advice as you prepare for total immersion in the crowded aisles of the Javits Center, not to mention a crowded city filled with crowded restaurants/bars. The streets of Midtown Manhattan are tough, but BEA can be tougher, especially during the opening hours of the first day, with all the pushing and shoving; the shouting and grabbing; the toe-stomping and elbow-crashing. Oh, the humanity!
So we need some rules. We need to talk about your behavior. I could rain a little Emily Post down on your parade, but let's try historical perspective instead. I refer you to chapter 7 ("Behavior in Public") of my new favorite book, The Etiquette of To-day by Edith Bertha Ordway, which was published in 1913. The guide is probably an appropriate symbol of our industry-in-flux times, since a century after its publication, this digitized version exists in Google Books while bearing a stamp from the University of Michigan Libraries.
"The test of the depth of one's courtesy is found in one's attitude to strangers and the public at large," our new etiquette guru advises, raising a key question:
What would Edith do at BEA?
Getting there: "The dress for traveling should be plain and simple, suited to the need rather than elaborate. The effect of crumpled finery is so very unpleasant that no person of taste will make a display of it in a public conveyance."
Checking in: "The usual good manners of cultivated people, emphasized by the additional restraint which the presence of the public imposes, is a safe standard of etiquette in a hotel."
BEA/ABA conference sessions: "The loud-voiced, aggressive person, whose opinions are alone of vital moment in his estimation, and who will not yield a point in an argument, is much to be dreaded in any company, and effectually brings to an end any general conversation into which he intrudes."
Opening day on the floor: "Pushing, shoving and all like methods of getting people to move out of your way, or of getting ahead of others, are marks of great rudeness, and have a tendency to retard rather than aid one's progress through a crowd...."
Everyday behavior at BEA: "Never show hostility, nor permit people to quarrel with you. The irritability which crowded conditions aggravate makes it necessary to adhere, from principle, to the rule of strict good-will toward all."
Night life: "The considerate person will not enter even a public hotel late at night.... Those who are asleep deserve as great consideration as if they were awake, and more also."
Partying, a cautionary note: "It is not necessary to recognize in society a strictly business acquaintance unless you wish to do so."
Taxis: "In entering a carriage or automobile, one should step promptly, without either loitering or haste."
Paying attention all day long: "Straightforward attentiveness is the attitude of most profit and enjoyment in society.... The habit of a vacant or absent mind in company is a grave fault, and works greatly to the detriment of one's reputation for intelligence, in spite of all else that one may do to establish it."
Dining out, sexist edition: "In business life it is not good form to dine with your employer. This does not include a ban upon those business dinners, where there is a group of people, the majority of them men, with one or two unmarried business women of equal or superior business standing, who meet over the dinner table to talk of business problems."
BEA as an unusual circumstance: "The exchange of visiting cards with strangers, unless under unusual circumstances, is unwise and bad form."
Cell phone etiquette: "To converse in loud tones or talk of personal matters anywhere in public shows great lack of fine feeling and good breeding."
Final hours of the trade show: "It is a mark of good breeding to control or at least conceal one's moods, so that in company one always appears to be content, if not happy. It adds much to the happiness of others to give this impression, and is therefore generous as well as wise."
Etiquette "is the necessary colleague of intellectual ability in winning the farthest heights of success, and makes the plains of mediocre attainment habitable and pleasant," our guru advises. Behave yourself this year at BEA. Don't mess with Edith. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #1998.
Although we write about book-to-film adaptations often in Shelf Awareness, bookish theater gets less attention. So let's change that. Book-to-musical productions are hot right now. Matilda, based on Roald Dahl's novel, earned a dozen Tony nominations this week. Currently in various stages of development are musical versions of Alison Bechdel's Fun Home, Jonathan Lethem's The Fortress of Solitude, Roddy Doyle's The Commitments and American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis.
It's not just musicals. The London production of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, based on Mark Haddon's bestselling novel, won seven Olivier Awards. The Royal Shakespeare Company is adapting Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. William Goldman has written a new theatrical version of Stephen King's Misery. There's even a Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord production of Michael Ondaatje's The Collected Works of Billy the Kid in Paris.
All giving voice to the written word, and to the complex silence of reading. "As a writer of fiction, it is my job to work through silence, to enter the minds of my characters, to create voices for them, to give them a life that will matter emotionally and intellectually to others," Colm Tóibín writes in an author's note inserted in Playbill for the stage adaptation of his novel The Testament of Mary (Scribner). I saw the production, starring Fiona Shaw, last weekend at the Walter Kerr Theatre in New York City.
Both the novel and play are stunning to me in very different ways, and a perfect illustration of what happens when the voice (as well as silence) in your reader's mind is interpreted by a brilliant actor on stage. I had a similar reaction a few years ago to Vanessa Redgrave's breathtaking performance in Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.
While reading The Testament of Mary, I'd conjured a woman who was reflective yet fierce in her stillness and captivity, entangled in the web of a developing narrative not of her own conception, immaculate or otherwise. Shaw's Mary is more impatient, unable to rest as she tells her story while moving objects, including herself, about the stage.
And we are complicit in that story, too, witnesses to her confession as well as traditional portrayals of Mary. Pre-show, the audience is invited on stage to explore the set, with Shaw sitting rigidly inside a glass box, dressed in the colorful robes we recall from depictions of the iconic Madonna in paintings and sculptures.
As the play opens, however, Mary wears the drab clothing of a poor woman and speaks to us in an all-too-human voice--alternately mournful, scared, cynical, funny, angry, yet always piercingly observant. The voice of a mother who has lost her son.
"It is written for a voice," Tóibín has said. "And it is written for an actress' voice. And I had in mind as I was working a voice like Fiona Shaw's voice that would have a huge level of commitment to loss." Both voices--Shaw's and the one I imagined as a reader--now inhabit my mind with equal force.
Earlier this week, Tóibín learned that even though The Testament of Mary has earned a Best Play Tony nomination, it will close Sunday after just 43 performances due to poor ticket sales.
How did he deal with the loss? "I think dark laughter might be the best way to put it," he said. "And when in doubt, consult Oscar Wilde.... He has a quote--success is merely a preparation for failure. Anyone who works in the arts knows, if you're writing a novel or a play or anything, you have to be ready for someone to say, you're time is up."
He also noted that "about 30,000 people will have seen the play over a 6-week run by the time it closes, with a standing ovation every night. In European terms, that's a huge success. In Dublin I'd be walking around with everyone saying, what an amazing success you've had with your play."
I bought my ticket months ago, when I first learned the play was coming to Broadway. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Shaw told NPR that while she is "on the stage alone, I suppose what happens is, I feel I'm surfing the story with the audience.... I tell this particular story, and I follow it as I'm in it, and the audience follow it with me. So I do feel a great communion, dare I say, with the audience." This is how it felt to me, too--her voice, her silences, Tóibín's words and, somewhere in there, myself as reader and then as audience. Communion. --Published in Shelf Awareness, issue #1986.
I take neither credit nor blame for how my reading/writing mind works. Nature? Nurture? Who knows? For example, the recipe for this week's column includes the following ingredients: World Book Night, reluctant readers, oil fields, "fracking" (hydraulic fracturing), frak (Battlestar Galactica), A Sand County Almanac, Desert Solitaire and book recommendations that alter reading lives.
I spent no small part of Tuesday monitoring Twitter and Facebook for reports from the World Book Night front. Though my eyes eventually turned into charcoal briquettes from excessive on-screen time, it was also fun witnessing "live" the enthusiasm and irrepressible bookish energy of all the amazing book givers.
World Book Night's goal is to help volunteers distribute "a total of half a million books within their communities to those who don't regularly read." While the word "non-readers" appeared regularly in the posts and comments, gradually I began to pay closer attention to the phrase "reluctant readers" and its variations:
Gave out 20 copies at a book&cupcake soirée for reluctant readers!
I took some books to the gym with me as well--lots of people who said they don't really read anymore.
I thought going in to #wbn2013 tonight that I'd give copies to teen girls. Gave to mostly adults who miss reading. Many men.
Gave out copies of The Lightning Thief to a group of reluctant readers/students with learning disabilities!
Many people I met tonight said "I don't remember when I last read a book" & were excited about reading Connecticut Yankee.
When I asked if he read much, he said "no," but when I told him it was World Book Night and asked if he would read a book if I gave it to him, he said, "I would absolutely read it!" When I handed it to him, he said with such excitement, "Thank you ma'am, no one's ever given me a book before!"
Saved one for a man who told me he got back to reading after receiving a book from me last year, and had asked if he could have one this year!
Although we should never give up hope for the non-readers, WBN's volunteers reminded us once again that the "reluctant reader" category, especially among adults, is like an untapped oil field under our own backyard. Monumental efforts are underway to inspire reading among young people (Google "reluctant reader" and you'll see what I mean), but what if we could reach those reluctant adult readers more consistently? Consider the financial impact on our industry if even a small percentage of them bought just one or two or three books a year?
It would be fraking amazing, wouldn't it?
What words can do: Battlestar Galactica managed to turn fraking into the quintessential safe-for-work (SFW) obscenity. Then there's its homophone, "fracking," which is a political and environmental hot potato. This calls to mind Promised Land, a fraking fracking movie I watched recently that portrayed how easily distorted our perceptions, not to mention our preconceptions, can be of others (fracking opponents vs. proponents; readers, non-readers, reluctant readers, etc.). Reading, as you already know, is one of the best ways ever invented to see the world through disparate eyes.
Two such reading moments tidily bookend my adult life thus far. When I was student teaching in a high school many years ago, we were supposed to assign Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac. One boy flat-out refused to read it. On a whim, I handed him a copy of Edward Abbey's Desert Solitaire and asked that he just check out the first chapter. Abbey's cranky voice worked. A decade later, I ran into this former student at a softball game and the first thing he said was how much he'd loved that--to use an updated and safer term--"fraking book." Still had his ragged copy.
More recently, a man having dinner at our house said he didn't like poetry because it made no sense to him. I grabbed a couple of books by Gary Snyder and David Budbill, asked him to just give them a chance. "This," he said after sampling, "I like."
It's what booksellers and librarians do every day; it's what hundreds of volunteer book givers were doing Tuesday. As WBN has once again shown us, there is a deep reserve of reluctant yet potential readers and customers out there. Isn't that the best fraking news ever? Even if we could lower their reluctance threshold just a bit, it would be a great victory. Are they worth the effort? WBN shows they are. And I think we fraking need them. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #1980.
My name is Bob and I'm a... bracketer. Now bracketology, as fans of NCAA college basketball's March Madness know, is an aggressive but relatively harmless obsession. It even manages to infiltrate the world of literature, especially in the annual Tournament of Books. And don't think for a moment that poetry gets off the hook. Poetic March Madness can range from the ridiculous, as in CBS Sports' attempt at a haiku preview of this year's first round:
Louisville wins big
Thursday's first after dinner
A few blowouts: fine.
to the sublime, like B.H. Fairchild's poem "Old Men Playing Basketball" (The Art of the Lathe, Alice James Books), which begins:
The heavy bodies lunge, the broken language
of fake and drive, glamorous jump shot
slowed to a stutter. Their gestures, in love
again with the pure geometry of curves
Then there's the Poetry Madness bracketology happening right now at Powell's Books, Portland, Ore. To celebrate National Poetry Month, Powells.com is hosting a six-round competition to determine 'The Best Poet of All Time.' Voting started April 5 and continues through April 29, with the winning bard to be announced April 30. The bracket began with 64 poets, divided into four categories: Living, Deceased, In Translation and Pacific Northwest. Each poet competes against one opponent per round, and voters control who moves on by selecting their favorite poets in the matchups.
The poetic bracketology that affects me most, however, occurs between the pages of all those volumes jammed into my poetry bookcase. We're talking real brackets here: [ ], and one reader's entire adult life spent extracting nuggets from poems that already functioned well without my scribbling interference. If a mea culpa regarding all this literary panning for gold is in order, then consider it done.
I just went downstairs, pulled a few collections from my shelves, almost but not entirely at random, and brought them back to my office. It's not the first time. This is something I do: an occasional poetic bracketology session. No point in bracketing if you don't return to the scene of the crime once in a while.
Idly flipping through pages, I realize that even if I didn't already know these books were mine, I'd recognize them because at least one out of every five pages has lines of poetry set off in hand-carved brackets. Purists and serious book collectors would be appalled at the way I deface my books, not to mention the poetry itself. But I'm a collector in my own way. I collect the insides of books as well as the insides of poems.
Bracketing in a collection I love creates a kind of commonplace book, a way to remember what I want to remember, what I need to remember. Like these lines from Tracy K. Smith's "My God, It's Full of Stars" (Life on Mars, Graywolf):
Sometimes, what I see is a library in a rural community.
All the tall shelves in the big open room. And the pencils
In a cup at Circulation, gnawed on by the entire population.
Or this from David Budbill's "After a Walk on a Gray, Drizzling, Cold Spring Morning: The Thirtieth of April" (Moment to Moment, Copper Canyon):
Each in our own place, each in our own time,
each calling distinctly, all calling together.
Sublime and earthy. This chorus of voices.
Or this from W.G. Sebald's "Giulietta's Birthday" (Across the Land and Water: Selected Poems, 1964-2001, Penguin):
One leaves behind one's portrait
Even in a week as brutal and inexplicable as the one we've just experienced, I'm not looking to bracketology for simple solace. The job of poetry isn't to make me feel better. If it offers a little hard-won perspective, however, I don't complain. Consider Adam Zagajewski's "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" (Without End: New & Selected Poems, FSG):
Remember June's long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
We've traveled a considerable distance in this column, from NCAA basketball to mutilated worlds, but that's what I love about poetry, how it finds its own way. Each poem is a loner, an outcast. Poems are even born alone, though the lucky ones may find temporary shelter in literary journals or, eventually, in books where they huddle with their "collected" or "new and selected" cousins. As a reader, poetry also lives for me between the brackets. --Published by Shelf Awareness, issue #1975.