BookExpo America 2005 got rolling a week ago Friday with neither a bang nor a whimper, but a shriek. As the participants filed into Manhattan's Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, a bagpiper paraded around the lobby, swelling hearts and shredding eardrums. Was this a subliminal wake-up call to the industry itself, which has been struggling with stagnating sales and a multimedia-driven culture? Perhaps. But the throng of booksellers, editors, authors, publicists and journalists gathering for the annual publishing powwow seemed determined as ever to meet, greet and overeat. And despite some recent challenges -- including the National Endowment for the Arts' controversial warning last year that literary fiction is about to follow the great auk into extinction -- the mood on the convention floor was notably upbeat.
You could sense it in the animated bustle of the crowd. When Mark Twain kicked off the very first meeting of the American Booksellers Assn. in 1902, he addressed an audience of 60. This time around, more than 25,000 people registered for the convention, and they all appeared to be clogging the aisles, grabbing up promotional items -- key chains, shortbread cookies, voodoo dolls, refrigerator magnets -- and spreading good cheer.
There were, of course, some things to be cheerful about. Oprah Winfrey announced a new selection for her book club: a triple-decker serving of William Faulkner: "As I Lay Dying," "The Sound and the Fury" and "Light in August." At the Vintage booth, staffers looked as if they had just won the lottery, which indeed they had -- 500,000 copies of the $29.95 boxed set were already shipped, with an additional 100,000 on the way.