The “Author Feast” session occurred on the second night of the annual Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association trade show. But to many attendees—booksellers, librarians, publishers, publicists, and authors—the dinner’s abundant trout, al dente vegetables, and chicken selections were secondary. The actual feast was on the written word.
“I’m like a kid in a candy store,” Annie O’Donnell, first-time PNBA attendee, said at the dinner. “I just want to grab everything; I am a book addict,” said O’Donnell, who sells books and comestibles at Dudley’s Bookshop Café. She was up from Bend, three hours southeast of the three-day Portland-based event that ran from October 8 through October 10, at its new venue, the Red Lion Hotel on the River. PNBA members hail from as far north as British Columbia, Canada, and east as far as Montana.
Long-time PNBA attendee Deb Mersereau, co-owner of Cannon Beach Book Co. on the Oregon coast, was also excited to be with her colleagues. “There’s simply camaraderie between the readers, sellers, publishers, all those in love with the written word," she said.
The love continues to grow. PNBA saw an uptick in its event attendance, including 26 volunteers, three of whom flew in from as far away as Minnesota “just to work for free,” as Brian Juenemann, PNBA's executive and marketing director, put it. There were about 400 attendees at any given time throughout the event, stationed on or roaming the show floor, and learning in education sessions. This year there also were more bookstores represented, books (thanks to 107 authors), and librarians, too.
At last year’s trade show in Tacoma, Wash., 14 libraries were represented. This year, that number jumped to 20 libraries (and 27 librarians). Sam Kaas, bookseller at Third Place Books’ Lake Forest Park site in Seattle and PNBA’s Education Committee chair said his effort to attract more librarians to the event was purposeful.
“I want to encourage more networking by putting authors, sellers, buyers, and librarians into this space, all at once,” said Kaas, who helped organize the well-attended education session, “Making Readers Happy: the Latest from LibraryLand.” Aimed at booksellers, its purpose was to offer ideas about how librarians and sellers can better collaborate with one another.
Also well-attended was the bookseller panel “Trailers, Tweets, and Snapshots: Social Media Outreach to Ensure a Robust Audience.” Author, teacher, and self-deprecating social-media buff (with at least 700 Facebook friends and 500 more who follow his every tweet), Bart King said he both loves and loathes his platforms. King has written more than 20 books; his latest is The Drake Equation (Disney Hyperion). He said posting to social media is a great way to build good relationships with his readers.His modus operandi is less is more; he fears Twitter’s new limit of 280 characters. “This is the best editor I’ve ever had,” he quipped of Twitter’s 140-character limit.
Still too limited are books by diverse authors and those with diverse characters. This was explored in a bookseller panel, “Beyond the Bookstore Walls: Multicultural Outreach in the Literary Community,” and was a constant topic of group and individual conversations throughout the event.
Rosanne Parry, bookseller, panelist, and author of The Turn of the Tide (Random House) and other middle grade and YA novels, said awareness among readers and booksellers is on the rise in the fairly homogenous Pacific Northwest. But it’s the booksellers’ actions – in their displays, in the books they guide their customers to – that will make the difference, said Parry of Annie Bloom’s Books in Portland.
Kayla Newton of Auntie’s Bookstore in Spokane, Wash., who describes herself as a person of color, said her favorite genre is sci-fi, especially space operas. She touted the Broken Earth trilogy (Orbit) by N.K. Jemisin as a favorite. It’s fine if books are written about brown people growing up in the projects, Newton said. “That’s a valid story. And it’s not mine. So where is mine? I want to see people who look like me in space.”
The genre of sci-fi came up a lot at PNBA; many cited the current political climate for the increasing popularity of escapist works, especially YA and adult books timed for the holiday season.
First-time author Ingrid Walker (High: Drugs, Desire, and a Nation of Users [University of Washington Press]) said, “It’s a gnarly time, a tough time. People can talk through books instead of being so upset with one another.” Walker, an associate professor of American Studies at University of Washington, Tacoma, added, “I can’t get enough of sci-fi right now,” and recommends Jenni Fagan’s The Sunlight Pilgrims (Hogarth).
Fortunately for PNBA, its reality is no fantasy. Larry West, PNBA treasurer, reported a surplus of more than $35,000, with assets inching over $441,000. “We are cautiously optimistic that we will end 2017 with a slightly better than break-even year,” West reported to the PNBA membership. Another positive was the report by Juenemann that PNBA has more than 900,000 orders for its hard-copy holiday books catalogs from 85 stores, up slightly from previous years.
At the conclusion of its membership meeting, PNBA president Shawn Donley remembered Brian Doyle, beloved Northwest author of works like Martin Marten and Mink River (Picador), who died at 60 this past year. “Every store (in our region) had a Brian Doyle story,” Donley said. “He’ll always be part of PNBA. Thank you, Brian, we miss you.”