Live, from New Orleans

Well, here I am in New Orleans. Excuse me: N’awlins. I had thought that I might provide you all (excuse me: y’all) with daily updates of the doings (doin’s) surrounding the glamorous ALA Annual Conference, and yet…well…who wants to read about me having dinner, or standing in a booth, demonstrating Booklist Online? (In fact, if you did receive an honest account of the latter, you might be creeped out by the sight of my Inner Salesman luring prospective customers with the promise – totally bogus – of sets of steak knives.)

But I did say that I was going to blog from conference (there’s that pesky verb again), so I feel that I must offer something. And I have to make it quick, because my laptop battery died, there’s no outlet in the booth, and I’m writing this on a terminal that, if I indulged in sound marketing practices (thank god I’m not a marketer) would be reserved for demonstrating Booklist Online.

So, in lieu of any actual news about anything that’s happening in New Orleans (New Orleenz), I’ll share an anecdote from last Wednesday in Chicago.

(I wish I could make that rippling visual effect they always use in cartoons to denote flashbacks, along with the harp music or whatever.)

Riding the bus home from work with my two-year-old (no, I haven’t hired him yet; I pick him up on the way home), I was indulging in my second-favorite activity while riding the bus: craning my neck to see what everyone is reading. (My first favorite activity is reading.) I saw a man reading The Good Life, by Jay McInerney, a book I loved.

As you know, publishers often use excerpts from positive reviews to advertise their books. Often, they use the blurbs on the books themselves, usually the paperback version. Even though we publish our reviews in advance of the books’ publication dates, there isn’t usually enough lead time to get the blurbs onto a hardcover – that’s why you usually see other authors’ praise on dustjackets.

When The Good Life was published, however, an excerpt of my review was featured prominently on the dustjacket. And so, seeing this guy reading the book, I found myself wondering if my praise had in any way influenced him to pick up the book. I didn’t want to ask him, of course. Saying, “By the way, you’ll notice my name on the back of that book you’re reading,” is – or should be – an offense punishable by flogging.

And yet, I was curious. And if my enthusiastic line had indeed encouraged him to read the book, did he like it, too? Or was he halfway through and thinking of quitting, angry at the reviewer who’d led him astray?

Time was running out. The bus was nearing my stop. Picking up my two-year-old, I made my way to the front of the bus, still debating my approach. But then the man closed his book. He was getting off at my stop.

The bus stopped and we got off.

“So, do you like that book?” I inquired casually, in the manner of a man who always solicits opinions from random strangers.

“Yeah, it’s good,” he said. “But then, I always like Jay McInerney. You know what it’s about?”

I told him I did, and thanked him for his recommendation. Even well-blurbed reviewers aren’t a part of most reading transactions.

On the plane down to New Orleans (Noo Orley-ans), I sat next to a young fellow who was reading Tom Robbins’ Villa Incognito, a book I didn’t really like all that much.

I kept my mouth shut.

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About the Author:

Keir Graff is Executive Editor of Booklist Publications and the author of five books. His most recent is the middle-grade novel, The Other Felix (2011). Follow him on Twitter at @Booklist_Keir.

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