Usually, one or two authors or books ignite bookseller gatherings and steal a trade show. This year, however, it was the venue – the Renaissance Hotel in a historic 19th-century train station (nicknamed “The Depot”) between downtown Minneapolis and the Mississippi River, that upstaged everything and everybody at the Midwest Independent Booksellers’s annual conference (Sept. 22-23).
For the first time, the show took place during the week, rather than on a weekend, and many of the attendees had never before met Carrie Obry, MIBA’s executive director since January. Still, the top topic for the 54 exhibitors representing hundreds of companies and 254 booksellers from 81 bookstores was their pleasant surroundings, after more than a decade in St. Paul’s dreary RiverCentre. Everyone agreed that this show’s “positive energy,” as so many described it, had a lot to do with it being held in such a beautiful place, including the sunny exhibit hall in an old train shed, with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking a bustling Washington Avenue.
“It feels like an old-fashioned book fair,” noted Sam Scinta, Fulcrum Publishing’s publisher, who disclosed that his company is going to attend more regional shows, and let Consortium, their distributor, represent them at BEA. “It feels almost European. All of our trade shows should be in old train stations.”
The locally-brewed beer being handed out Friday afternoon by both Llewellyn Worldwide and the University of Minnesota Press, while Minneapolis singer/songwriter Paul Metsa sang and played the guitar in the Universty of Minnesota Press booth simply added to the festive party atmosphere. This trade show became a bona fide celebration of books and bookselling.
Despite the fact that some of the larger publishers were emphasizing new YA series obviously intended to piggyback on the popularity of The Hunger Games series, the titles that most resonated with MIBA booksellers were fiction and nonfiction titles celebrating the American experience: Cheryl Strayed’s tale of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail after her mother died in Wild (Knopf, Mar. ‘12); Larry Millett’s coffeetable book with its vintage photos, Once There Were Castles: Lost Mansions and Estates of the Twin Cities (University of Minnesota Press, Aug.); Heartland: The Cookbook by Judith M. Fertig (Andrews McMeel, April); and American Boy by Larry Watson (Milkweed, Sept.). Two 2012 releases that especially excited booksellers explore the immigrant experience: A Good American by Alex George (Putnam/Amy Einhorn, Feb. ‘12) and The Book of Jonas by Stephen Dau (Penguin, Mar. ‘12), about which Hans Weyandt, co-owner of Micawber’s in St. Paul said, “If you are going to take one book [from MIBA], this one’s it.”
On the children’s side, booksellers were in a mood for quirky books that made them laugh. Big Little Brother, humorist Kevin Kling’s picture book, illustrated by cartoonist Chris Monroe (Minnesota Historical Society Press/Borealis, Nov.) was a hot property, as were two different little Chronicle Books releases: The Life of Fly by Magnus Muhr (Chronicle, Aug.) and Press Here by Hervé Tullet (Mar.).
Watson captured the essence of this year’s MIBA during the moveable feast event while recalling his last talk to the organization. It was September 18, 1993, and the Upper Midwest Booksellers Association met in a ballroom at the Hyatt Regency on the other side of downtown Minneapolis. Watson disclosed that he also read from Montana 1948 at a local Borders store the evening following that presentation. “A lot has changed about books since then,” he pointed out, “But a few things haven’t changed. Writers, and editors, and distributors, and book reviewers are collaborators. We’re still working to bring books to readers. We’re in this together.”
MIBA will return to The Depot in Minneapolis October 4-5, 2012.