Cannon to the right of them,/ Cannon to the left of them,/ Cannon in front of them.../ Into the valley of Death/ Rode the six hundred."
Betsy Rider, owner of the 126-year-old Otto's Bookstore in Williamsport, Pa., paraphrased Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Charge of the Light Brigade" to sum up feelings about the Christmas season expressed by many booksellers at the New Atlantic Independent Booksellers Association trade show at the Marriott in Philadelphia over the Columbus Day weekend. "As we face the coming season and years of possible war, we're giving it all we've got and we're hoping our good luck continues," she said.
Though notably more mellow than last year's show in Washington, D.C., which was overshadowed by the beginning of U.S. bombing in Afghanistan on the show's second day, booksellers still expressed concern about the holiday season and, in particular, worried about the potential effect of a war with Iraq on business.
Lynn Gonchar, owner of the Tudor Bookshop in Kingston, Pa., noted, "We're hoping for our usual heavy traffic, but we're concerned because the economy is slow." Jack Buckley, owner of Ninth Street Books in Wilmington, Del., said, "The economic news is worse in Delaware than in the nation as a whole, if that's possible. I expect continued soft sales. And then there's the war."
According to NAIBA executive director Eileen Dengler, attendance held steady this year, with the 1,000 participants evenly divided between publishers' representatives and booksellers. More than 75 authors appeared at events, and 123 stores were represented.
As customary, booksellers raved about getting exposure to so many authors at once. The Book and Author luncheon honoring the NAIBA Books of the Year—October Suite by Maxine Clair (Random), Jefferson's Pillow by Roger Wilkins (Beacon), You Can't Take a Balloon into the Museum of Fine Arts by Jacqueline Weitzman and Robin Preiss Glass (Dial) and Amber Was Brave, Essie Was Smart by Vera Williams (HarperCollins)—featured half a dozen authors talking about their new titles. Likewise, the Sunday "movable feast" was a hit, with many of the 20 or so authors singing the praises of Carla Cohen, outgoing NAIBA president and co-owner of Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C., and attributing some degree of their success to her personal effort.
Fern Jaffe, owner of Paperbacks Plus in the Bronx, N.Y., said that seeing authors motivates her to sell books, and the "table talk" at the meals was "the best time I had this year talking to authors." She added, "It was interesting to note that at the lunch, Brian Haig [thriller writer, former U.S. Army officer and son of Alexander Haig] was on my right—and on my left were Pam Munoz Ryan and Brian Selznick [authors of Scholastic's When Marion Sang]."
Two authors who left particularly strong impressions on booksellers were Alice McDermott, author of the forthcoming novel Child of My Heart (FSG), and Sister Dianna Ortiz, author of The Blindfold's Eyes (Orbis Books), a memoir of her torture in Guatemala, where she was abducted while teaching the children of the poor.
"I was blown away by my conversation with Sister Dianna Ortiz," said Betsy Lerner. "I confessed to her that after my sales rep described the nature of the torture—which included a torturer wrapping his hand around her hand on a knife that they plunged into a live person until they had killed that person—I had decided not to buy the book and went into a deep funk. In our conversation and subsequently, I realized this is what we do to our young recruits when we force them to kill in wars they don't understand or believe in. Her reference to the American training the torturers got and the assistance of an American in the torture made my skin crawl. I noticed that when she spoke to the room full of booksellers, you could have heard a pin drop."
McDermott explained that her novel was an effort to get back to work after being stunned by the September 11 attacks and she expressed some dismay that the book would soon become a "commodity" to be "bought and sold." Jaffe joked that she and McDermott "made a wonderful connection, especially because we're both the same height" and reassured her that booksellers would care for the book as much as McDermott herself did.
Reps such as Susan Winterle, sales manager at Brodart, reported steady traffic at the booths. She said, "It is always pleasant to see customers and talk to potential customers. Writing orders is an additional plus. NAIBA is the fifth regional I've attended this fall, after PNBA, SEBA, NEBA and NCIBA. All were the best that I recall, and I've always found them as valuable as BEA and some of the other large shows our reseller division attends."
Kevin Posey, a sales rep for Wiley, added, "NAIBA gives me the chance to meet with buyers outside of their offices. Often this means that they are able to be more forthcoming with information that can help me get a handle on my territory. It's not an order-taking convention necessarily, but it does impact my sales positively throughout the year. I say that as someone who used to be decidedly cynical about the use of trade shows."
Local bookseller Michael Fox, co-owner of Joseph Fox Bookshop, a short walk from the Marriott, was impressed with the organization of the show. "I got lots of business done this year in a relatively short period of time," he told PW.
Publishers appreciated the organizers' decision not to take booksellers off the floor by holding meetings. The only meeting held on Monday was that of the general board, which installed Sheilah Egan, manager of A Likely Story Children's Books in Alexandria, Va., as the new NAIBA president.
Lanetta Parks, owner of The Compleat Bookseller in Chestertown, Md., summed up the mood when she said, "The NAIBA show gives me an opportunity to schmooze, shop and saturate myself in the world of books. For just a day or two, I can simply enjoy the books and the people who make them and other people who sell them without worrying about the minutiae of the everyday workaday world. It is a busman's holiday. Fie on those who stayed away!"