Having spent the past three days at Book Expo America, in New York City, I am now home. Seated comfortably in a lounge chair in my backyard, near Dallas, TX, I consider the contrast in these two vastly different environments.
It is quiet here, with only the occasional hum from a distant passing automobile. Purple finches and cardinals serenade from the trees overhead. Trickling streams cascade over a rock waterfall. My cat roams, searching for any sign of invaders.
This is not New York. Not even its distant cousin.
This is the space I share with my husband, an oasis from outside concerns, a place where I find solitude when needed. However, only a day ago, in New York City, the scene looked more like this:
Inside the Marriott Marquis Hotel I am challenged to select, from a series of alphabetized doors, the correct elevator to carry me to street level.
Outside, throngs of tourists and locals compete for pavement along with schools of taxis, snaking busses and viciously circling Lincoln Town Cars. Horns blare, despite posted signs that threaten to fine violators $350 per offense.
Pedestrians pay no mind to walk lights or each other. Once caught in the flow of traffic, individuals must keep moving or risk being pounded by those who surely will.
Inside the Javits Convention Center, the cars, busses and taxis are no longer a threat. But the foot traffic is equally, if not more, hazardous than it is outdoors.
In here, there are no traffic lights or unified patterns. Booksellers, publishers, authors, librarians, literary agents and others move about at every imaginable pace—and in no particular direction.
People dressed as storybook characters wander through the crowds. These whimsical figures mix incongruently with the bikini-clad women who’re offering free pina coladas.
An extraterrestrial-looking costumed pair holds a sign advertising a book about alien abductions. I can’t help myself. I laugh at their gray masks.
There is something here for everyone, whether fans of Harper Collins, Harlequin, Hay House, or L. Ron Hubbard.
A super-sized inflated Clifford greets visitors to the main floor atrium where media members periodically collect to film a variety of authors.
Educational classes are underway on the lower level. Inside the ballrooms, sessions are filled to standing room only capacities. I attend a few sessions, climbing over floor squatters to reach whatever crannies haven’t yet been occupied.
Every hour or half hour, depending on a predetermined schedule, authors rotate in and out from behind 30 autograph tables. Between classes, I bounce from line to line to obtain signed books and have my picture taken with The View host Sherri Shepherd.
Predominately, the action takes place on the main level, around the Random House, Simon & Schuster, Harper Collins and other major publishers’ booths. In these areas, ARCs (advanced reading copies) are distributed to those who arrive early enough to grab them. Occasionally, an author such as James Patterson may make a brief appearance.
I spot sex therapist Dr. Ruth Westheimer, whom I had previously thought was dead. What can I say? Believe me, I’m not the only one who’s admitted this.
At the Ingram booth, a collection of gawkers (including myself) watches the new Espresso machine (billed as the “ATM for books”) print out an entire book, cover and all, within seconds.
By midday, my hands ache from hauling an ever-growing stash of books. My feet are throbbing from traversing the gargantuan facility, and I am tired of dodging those who are clearly more important to the book trade than I.
A stop for some much needed bottled water sets me back $3.75, but that’s just part of the carnival-like experience. In the old days, pre-recession, many of the publishers dispensed water and sodas for free. For the most part, those times have disappeared. I’m sure the food vendors aren’t disappointed.
My latest book has been nominated for an award. I try to appear happy when the winners’ names are announced, though mine is not among them. Oh, well, I tell myself, God must have something better for me. I force a smile and keep moving.
By the end of day two, I’ve scored a private meeting with an editor of a major publishing house, met a man I’ve been trying to contact for months (and nabbed his personal email address) and developed tons of new book marketing ideas. None of this, I realize, would have been possible from home, though by now I sorely miss the tranquility of Texas.
At night, in Time Square, I again meld with the undulating masses, snapping photos whenever safety permits. It seems as if I’m the only object here that’s not in perpetual motion.
Suddenly I am struck by this revelation: I am but a single pixel in a mural of humanity.
That’s easy to forget, sometimes. Especially when I’m sitting quietly at home in my backyard.
Diana Estill is the author of Deedee Divine’s Totally Skewed Guide to Life.