On Saturday, June 3rd, I woke up, threw on my well-worn To Kill a Mockingbird T-Shirt, and sat in sanity-testing NYC traffic in order to attend the book mecca of the month: BookCon. Established in 2014 by exhibition company ReedPOP, the two-day convention is to book nerds what ComicCon is to, well, comic nerds – with acres upon air-conditioned acres devoted to books, booksellers, book creators and everyone who loves them. My mom, book-savvy woman that she is, knew to purchase tickets for the two of us several months earlier, so off we went to the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center to get our share of literary treats.
After making a brief stop at the Main Stage to check out an informal talk titled “Do You Ship This?” (Tris and Four from the Divergent series was one OTP mentioned), we arrived at room 1E10 in time to get choice seats for a panel featuring Arrested Development and Transparent star Jeffrey Tambor. The author of the newly published memoir Are You Anybody?, Tambor engaged in lively conversation with moderator Abraham Riesman (staff writer for New York Magazine and its culture website, Vulture), candidly discussing his awkward childhood as a West Coast Jew, his years as a struggling actor before later-in-life success, and the best thing he ever learned from famous co-stars John Ritter and Henry Winkler: “Be nice.”
With some time to kill before our next panel, we hit the exhibition floor to scavenge for as many free books as we could get our hands on. Though the free literature was few and far between (“They were probably handing out more things at the industry convention yesterday” my mother lamented), we enjoyed the beautiful book displays by publishing giants like HarperCollins, Simon and Schuster, and the unexpected sci-fi imprint of author/Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard (seriously). I ogled the booth containing merchandise from book-clothing company, Out of Print (the manufacturers of my TKAM tee) before buying some tasteful stationary from fine paper crafters OrangeArt and, at long last, snagging some free books courtesy of the good folks at the Rutgers University Press.
Having had our fill of glossy paperbacks and chatty booksellers, we headed back to the convention rooms for one last panel, “Transforming a Bestseller On to the Silver Screen: The Book to Film Experience”. This panel had a much larger audience than the others we’d seen, no surprise given the four A-List authors on the roster: Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), R.J. Palacio (Wonder), Nicola Yoon (Everything, Everything), and Lauren Oliver (Before I Fall).
The four writers shared their positive experiences of having their works adapted for film, expressing amazement at what Yoon called the “miraculous” nature of good book adaptations and the perks of moving in Hollywood circles: “Oh my god, I get to meet Julia Roberts!” Palacio recalled thinking. The four consistently affirmed the importance of passionate collaborators who, as Oliver stated, saw authors’ stories “not as a means to an end” but an end in and of themselves. In one memorable audience exchange, Chbosky implored budding writers to safeguard their ideas while still being open to the advice of “five to seven” people they trust. “Art is a great lie that reveals the truth,” he declared.
And with that, we fetched the car, sat in a little more traffic, and went home to read.
BookCon was a highly enjoyable experience. There were plenty of books, plenty of engaging panels, and, in a departure from my previous experience at the Javits Center, plenty of personal space—I never felt crowded once. That may change as the convention grows in popularity, but I am alright with that. BookCon gave me the chance to celebrate books, something I often associate with solitude, in a communal space. It felt quite good.