It’s time once again for the ALA Annual Conference, when the Booklist crew girds themselves with overpacked schedules, bandoleers of business cards, 5,000-SPF sunblock (ALA’s most common summer location is the Surface of the Sun), sensible cardigans (meeting rooms, however, are so cold you could store corpses in them), and the desperate hope that we can get out of there with no more than 45 free tote bags.
But amid the jetlag and the cocktails and the panel moderations and the award presentations and the cocktails and the dinners and the cocktails, one does grudgingly accumulate a few memorable moments o’er the years. Maybe I’m just trying to psych myself up for this thing? Regardless, here are a few off the top of my bleary head:
1. Debating Dance Dance Revolution with Judy Blume. For reasons lost to time, this game was being demo-ed back in ye olden days. A few years before we were formally introduced to one another while crammed into the back of a cab (story for another time), I found myself standing next to Blume as she eyed the game. Should we try it? Blume was tempted: “I do like to dance,” she hedged. But her fans awaited, thus robbing me of an even better story.
2. Crashing the Newbery/Caldecott with Erin Morgenstern. Being a fan of Morgenstern’s The Night Circus, I was thrilled when illustrator Lisa Brown introduced us. I insisted Morgenstern accompany me to some Random House cocktails, during which a plot was hatched to sneak her into the banquet, get her a chair, a dinner, the whole shebang. And it worked! Paparazzi proof:
3. Doing Disneyland solo. Yeah, I know it sounds pitiful. Somehow I’d ended up with a ticket to Disneyland during an Anaheim conference and, to my surprise, ended up being free for a few hours that night. So like the creepy old man that I am, I donned my mouse ears (not really) and queued up for three roller coasters—every single one of which I was seating in the front seat alone, for maximum fear. I regret not purchasing those photos they offered at each ride’s end; it would’ve made for a good triptych of lonely terror.
4. Meeting Walter. WALTER! If you don’t know who Walter is, I can’t help you. Walter was literally the first person I ever met outside of my publisher who’d read my book Rotters, and his response was giving me one of his trademark bone-crushing hugs. Repeated back surgeries have not helped.
5. The cab line from Hell. There were, to be frank, a number of hellish elements to the 2014 conference in Las Vegas, but none marred my soul as much as the three-hour cab line (I might be exaggerating, but not much) I shared with Booklist Online editor Keir Graff late one night outside the Paris casino. I’ve never seen so much vomit, entire buckets of it, ejecting this way and that, hither and yon, baking to crusts in the desert heat, while bachelorettes and fraternity bros were literally carried by their friends out of cabs and into dens of sin. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat, thinking that I’m still in that line, the puddles of vomit edging closer and closer to my feet . . . .
6. Seeing Nicolas Cage’s grave. I managed to snag a couple free hours in New Orleans in 2006 and did the first thing that presented itself: a horse-drawn graveyard tour. Yes, I saw the Big Easy’s famous above-ground tombs and resting spots of famous voodoo priestesses, but what could be more magnificent than Cage’s huge white pyramid tomb, which will one day hold the holy body of the single greatest actor in human history. Even the picture I took radiates blinding waves of supernatural fire, just like Cage’s face:
7. Dominating the Printz acceptance speech. Even though I’d met him but one day earlier, I managed to be the subject of three gibes in Nick Lake’s 2013 acceptance speech for his book In Darkness. What could I have done in 24 hours to merit such sudden mockery? I SHALL NEVER TELL.
What shenanigans will happen this year in grand old San Fran? Who can say, though, judging by this list, it has a 50% chance of being the coolest thing ever and a 50% chance of being unmitigated disaster. Stay tuned.