Penguin Random House account marketing v-p Ruth Leibmann described the Mountain & Plains Independent Booksellers annual trade show as having a "family reunion energy." That the 273 booksellers representing 67 bookstores attending this year's gathering in Denver on October 11-13 enjoy one another's company certainly was evident, particularly at the opening night reception in the exhibit area: people conversed more than they browsed the 122 exhibits staffed by 180 individuals representing 500 companies, and all gathered around the podium when Kathy Keel, MPIBA’s beloved operations manager, was feted upon her retirement after 30 years working for the 50-year-old organization.
“I love you all,” Keel told the crowd. “I’ve loved working with you all and being with you [at MPIBA trade shows and meetings], and sharing your words and your [lives]. Thank you for 30 wonderful, magical years."
With the midterm elections fast approaching, it’s no surprise that much of the show’s energy was politically tinged, with a number of the 85 featured authors setting their books within the context of current events.
Poet Carolyn Forché, quoting Thomas Paine, said “books are essential to democracy” at The Women's Voices Author Breakfast, adding that booksellers are on the frontlines now as never before. She introduced booksellers to her memoir, What You Have Heard Is True (Penguin Press, Mar. 2019) about a journey she made to El Salvador in 1977 in the company of a mysterious man from there who wanted her to document the truth of a divided country on the brink of civil war.
“It took me 25 years to work up my courage to write this book and another 15 years to actually write it,” she said. “Someone was watching over me, making sure that it would come out when it was needed.”
Laini Taylor, the author of the YA fantasy novel Muse of Nightmares (Little Brown Books for Young Readers, Oct.), upstaged the more low-key presentations by the other featured speakers at the Author Banquet–Valerie Jarrett, Tom Clavin, and Leif Enger--with her pointed remarks. "Fantasy literature teaches us anyone can be a hero, and not just that," she declared. "Anyone decent would and should be a hero, and would and should step up. If society is going to function, we have to protect human rights and dignity and decency.”
As is to be expected, in a region with residents that have a visceral connection to the land, books with environmental themes most resonated. Many booksellers PW queried named Pam Houston’s essays about living on a 120-acre homestead in the Rockies for the past 25 years, Deep Creek: Finding Hope in the High Country (Norton, Feb.), as the book they were most excited about.
Houston, discussing the book while emceeing the Reading the West Awards Luncheon, said: "The land grew me up; it raised me.” Referring to climate change's impact, she said she wrote about her homestead to record its beauty for posterity.
Daiva Chesonis of Between the Covers in Telluride, Colo., raved about Desert Cabal: A New Season in the Wilderness by Amy Irvine (Torrey House Press, in collaboration with Back of Beyond Books in Moab, Utah). “It was supposed to be an essay, but it is a 17,000-word rant. There’s stuff that needs to be said, not just about the wilderness and conservation; there’s some #MeToo in here as well,” she said.
Ben Rybeck, a bookseller at Brazos Books in Houston named Enger’s first novel in 10 years, Virgil Wander (Grove Atlantic, Oct.), as one of the hot books of this show, saying, “”There’s an energy behind it that’s specific to this region even though it’s set in Minnesota. It has a spaciousness of narrative that speaks to this region.”