Thursday, April 17, 2008

Now, about that trip to London.


One of the great things about Tuesday's trip was that it required me to get up very early (ca. 4:45 a.m.) and thus to experience all those hours when I'm normally still asleep. The sun comes up at about 6:10 a.m. now--who knew? And at 5:30, the birds have the colleges all to themselves: blackbirds perch atop scaffoldings and rooftops and chimneypots, each calling to another, trilling and burbling. Ducks furrow smooth water under the bridges, tracing light ripples as they go. Doves tuck and huddle; geese croak quietly.

My hand was not steady enough to capture the dawn from the bridge.

By the time we reached London around 8, I was wide awake again and well able to watch the city as we passed through it. The train is a faster way to get into the city, and it affords a better view of the countryside, but its endgame isn't as interesting. The bus is a shorter walk from my college but is itself subject to bad traffic (everywhere) and takes longer even under the best circumstances. But there's a lot more time to see a lot more of London--in both its iconic and rundown varieties--in the last hour of the trip. (Plus, as it turned out, my bus's window created some awesome and unanticipated vignetting for me. Score!) After a little while, I realized I was shooting just to see what kinds of color and shape combinations I could get, in some kind of weird urban abstract snapshooting.


I had a good clean hour after arriving at Victoria, so I sought out the warmest coffee bar I could find and had a good bowl of cappuccino while I worked on finishing an installment of Barnaby Rudge. And then it was time for the book fair.


Now, I thought that the London Book Fair would be something akin to the Academic Mayhem's book hall, where every academic publisher who can afford it sets up a booth and hawks its wares, new and old. Whatever is about to come out is in its publisher's booth; if the book itself isn't quite ready but is hotly anticipated, a publisher will bring galley proofs or bound proofs, and/or a cover mock-up--whatever can be mustered to get people even more excited about some book that's about to drop. And most of the time--except when weird interstate tax laws get in the way--publishers are selling what they've got on display.

The London Book Fair is like the Academic Mayhem's book hall in a few respects: every publisher who can afford it has a presence on the floor there, and the more grand the publisher, the larger the space its team will have commandeered. There are some current and forthcoming titles on display. There are some publishers' catalogs lying around. But at the London Book Fair, everything is about a whole different kind of selling. It's not about trying to get people to buy the books that are already out. It's about trying to get a publisher to buy your client's manuscript, or trying to get a studio to get interested in filming your press's novel, or trying to get someone from another country to buy the international rights to something you've released. It's about books not as finished things but as things-in-the-making--things about to be made, things about to be re-made. Booths are centered not on the books themselves but on café-style tables with two or three or four chairs drawn up around them--countless little meeting spaces where people do countless deals.


I think that the friend of a friend who hooked me up with a badge so that I could attend the Book Fair was a little bemused by my excitement to be there. When I saw her again yesterday, back on my home turf (since she's visiting our mutual friend), she apologized profusely for having abandoned me to the wilds of the Earls Court Exhibition Centre, both of whose buildings were teeming with publishers of every kind of book, from every kind of country, in every kind of language. I assured her that it hadn't been any kind of problem: I wanted to see what it was like, and I saw what it was like, and it was eye-opening in the best of ways. I'm no naïf when it comes to thinking about books: I know that they're commodities, marketable things, just as much as they are works of art. I know that most written works from any given historical moment simply won't survive; they're culturally and historically expendable. Some people make their livings writing them; some people make their livings selling them; some people spend their earnings getting them; and lots of these people, at each stage of the process, get a lot of pleasure out of making and consuming them. To say it that way boils books down to a business, barely letting you glimpse how much life is bound up in every one of those stages. And that life in books (or in one subset of them, anyway) is what I love.

Still, it has to be said that I felt--because I was--pretty marginal in this big place. There wasn't any space for an agent-less, manuscript-less academic and writer. And that was okay, ultimately: I walked and lingered when I could and listened to what I could hear. I glimpsed some pitches being made; I heard people proclaiming the gorgeousness of their clients' sentences; I watched a guy writing the next chapter of his novel (or so I imagined, anyway) in the second story seating area of one of the venue's food vendors. I attended a seminar wherein we were all exhorted to exploit the medium of the graphic novel more than we have to date.

I saw the other side of the business in which I make my living, in other words. It was the farthest thing from a wasted day--even if there weren't any books for me to buy there. (Marilynne Robinson has a new book coming out in September, by the way!)

With every day that passes, I grow more certain that I'm launching a new book project. I didn't see this coming. Right now, I think it's still a scholarly book--but who knows. I'm following along; the path is starting to look pretty good.

2 Comments:

Anonymous MG said...

Your bit about books-as-business reminded me of that scene in "Say Anything" in which Lloyd professes his desire to avoid involvement with anything bought, sold, or processed. Publishing = Not for Lloyd Dobbler

9:00 AM, April 18, 2008  
Blogger Gryphon said...

That book fair sounds like quite a trip--glad you were able to attend. Hooray for a new Marilynne Robinson novel!

9:10 PM, April 18, 2008  

Post a Comment

<< Home