Book Group Expo—a convention aimed at book group participants—will debut in San Jose the weekend of June 17—18 featuring a trade show of book club accoutrements (like refreshments) and 65 authors in salon settings. Depending on publisher support and attendance, its organizers plan to hold similar events in other locations around the country as early as next year, enlisting the help of independent booksellers to sell both tickets and books.
Billed as "A Spa for the Brain," BGE is the brainchild of Ann Kent, a retired health care company executive, and James Reber, a consultant to arts organizations based in San Jose. In January, BGE hired Kathi Kamen Goldmark, the producer of West Coast Live on National Public Radio and author of And My Shoes Keep Walking Back to You, and Susanne Pari, author of The Fortune Catcher, to book authors and arrange the programming. This year's headliners include Amy Tan, Khaled Hosseini, Dorothy Allison, Andrew Sean Greer and Mary Roach. But BGE also plans to spotlight up-and-coming authors—a favorite among book groups—and will feature Sara Gruen and Thrity Umrigar whose respective novels Water for Elephants and The Space Between Us were the subjects of recent bookseller buzz.
In San Jose, local booksellers Books Inc. and Cody's will both have stores on site; Kepler's Books and Magazines and Book Passage will host salons and promote the event to their customers. Tickets are $28 for both days (with a discount for group sales); they are being sold through independent bookstores throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and online at bookgroupexpo.com.
"We made a decision early on that we wanted this to be very community based," said Kent. "The publishers have been very supportive." Carol Schneider, executive director of publicity at Random House and an early supporter of BGE, said, "Book clubs have always been an important target for us. The goal is to move to other cities, so we'll have to see how it works out." Carrie Kania, publisher of Harper Perennial, said the publisher was eager to support an initiative that expands reading. "We do a lot of work with reading groups and that choice of what to read next is a pivotal moment. Anything we can do to help them pick us, we'll do."