John Grisham’s latest leaves behind lawyers to feature a group he also knows well – writers. When manuscripts belonging to F. Scott Fitzgerald are stolen from Princeton’s Firestone Library, the chase is on, involving not only the FBI but the insurance company on the hook for a large payout if those papers can’t be recovered. The trail leads to the fictional Camino Island, described as a ten-mile-long barrier strip just north of Jacksonville, Florida. Suspicion focuses on Bruce Cable, owner of the popular Bay Books and a collector of rare editions. Grisham delivers a terrific plot with an engaging and quirky cast of characters. Along the way, he also includes advice to would-be authors – ditch the thesaurus, pare down the language including the use of adjectives, work from a detailed outline, and don’t be discouraged when no one shows up for your book signing.
The writers who live on the island, as well as those who pass through to sign at Bay Books, owe much to Cable. He loves writers. He promotes their books and takes many of the young attractive women authors to bed, specifically in the tower room in his island mansion. Bruce and his wife, Noelle, whose store specializes in French furniture and antiques, have an open marriage. She spends long intervals in Paris, shopping and connecting with one of her longtime lovers, leaving Bruce free to entertain his latest conquest. When Mercer Mann shows up on the island, it’s not long before Cable has her in his sights.
Mercer used to spend summers on Camino Island, enjoying time with her aunt, Tessa, who spent her life protecting the island’s turtles. Mercer hasn’t been back to the island since her aunt died, although she’s always been free to use Tessa’s cottage. After she loses her adjunct teaching job at UNC, she’s approached by Elaine Shelby who works for the insurance company hoping to recover the Fitzgerald manuscripts. Shelby wants Mercer to visit Camino Island, stay in Tessa’s cottage and tell the locals she’s there to work on her second novel, which is now three years overdue. With that cover story, Mercer will be able to get close to Cable to discover where he’s hiding the Fitzgerald manuscripts.
Grishman’s story keeps the pages turning, but it’s the interaction between the writers that makes Camino Island such an enjoyable read, not only for writers, but for fans who will recognize the characteristics of many of their favorites. The group includes the literary genius whose alcoholism threatens his career, the lesbian duo who have made a fortune turning out trashy bodice-rippers, and the young mother who hit gold with her vampire series. Mercer’s achievements gain her entree to the group. Her first novel won accolades and was nominated for prestigious awards, but her second book, a short story collection bombed, affecting her creative process.
Although Cable may be a thief, he’s also the book store owner every author would love to have in their corner. Amazon may sell the bulk of books these days, but nothing can replace actual book signings where authors can meet and greet their fans. Camino Island may prompt many to search through their shelves to see if they are lucky enough to possess any first editions. There may be gold within those covers.
The 2017 Book Expo’s big celebrity appearance was not your traditional top-selling book writer, but none other than former first lady, former presidential candidate, and now full-time grandmother, Hillary Clinton. Of course there was a book to promote – two, in fact. Her experiences from the recent campaign combined with her advice and encouragement for the country, and a children’s book based on her 1996 bestseller, It Takes a Village. She sat with another equally bestselling author, Cheryl Strayed (Wild) who, as moderator, asked Clinton about how she dealt with the blow of receiving 65 million votes yet, lost the election, and the direction the country is taking. Clinton remarked that her post-election days were filled with long walks and Chardonnay, and then shared her real fears for America due to the policies being put into place, “that may do irreparable damage, and that will test our Constitution.” She encouraged the SRO auditorium crowd to stay involved. The one-hour event was a “feel good” experience, and an opportunity for her supporters to stand and applaud the first US woman presidential candidate. It ended with Strayed inviting Clinton to hike the Pacific Coast trail with her, to which Clinton seemed to genuinely accept.
Mary Higgins Clark
But, back to the Expo. Every year, usually in Manhattan, most everyone in the publishing industry attends this three-day book festival to promote new books, new publishers, new writers, or new gadgets. It’s librarian “heaven,” as representatives are feted big time with their own comfy rest area, special events, and discounted prices for bulk orders. Lines are the norm as popular book giants like John Grisham, Scott Turow, Mary Higgins Clark, and Lemony Snicket signed copies of their latest, or in the case of astronaut Scott Kelly, a picture souvenir in anticipation of his upcoming memoir.
Neil Patrick Harris
Since the mid-2000s, there has been less and less exhibitors each year, and the poor new exhibitors are always relegated to the Siberia of the immense Javits’ main floor. The printed material handed out to inform press and attendees is not as helpful as it used to be when short blurbs of the books being given away were included. If anything, the Book Expo’s event booklet has the opportunity to show the need for printed material. For instance, at any one time, there may be 50 books being handed out either at autograph tables, or specific exhibitor booths. How does one decide which book to get? If you’re a librarian making purchases for the YA market, you’re out of luck, unless you physically go to the booth to see the book. The frenzy of the event makes the app, which involves four “click-ons” to get to the book blurb, frustrating and annoying. (Plus, though there are charging stations, most of us would want to save precious cell phone battery for picture-taking, and keeping up with colleagues rather than sit for half an hour while the phone recharges.)
However, I’m not here to bash this wonderful, much looked-forward-to event. Other highlights of the annual event include the quest for the hottest tote bags, like Capstone’s “I love reading” heavy duty bag, and the McGraw-Hill’s blood red bag, zippered and super-sized. Once a good collection of bags are dangling from our shoulders, the quest begins for books and more books autographed by the author, where possible. Some require tickets, like Neil Patrick Harris’ The Magic Misfits, Mary Higgins Clark’s new release All By Myself, Alone, and Nelson DeMille’s The Cuban Affair. The one surprise was Maria Shriver’s Color Your Mind: A Coloring Book for those with Alzheimer’s and getting thisclose to a Kennedy relative. Besides the books, there are lectures and panels throughout the day on subjects ranging from “how to build your author platform,” to the Monks of New Skete (with doggies in tow) who spoke about their successful dog-training tips and stories, all featured in their collection of books and training videos. Ed Asner appeared with Lawrence O’Donnell to discuss their new politically-slanted books; Alan Alda and James Patterson appeared at the Audio Publishers Association tea geared to librarians.
BookCon 2017, a similar event specifically for the public happens the two days immediately following the Expo, and was only introduced in recent years. Something is telling me that both events will eventually morph into one to cut costs and allow exhibitors to get more bang for the pricey exhibitor bucks. However, one thing is clear, we are reading and writing more than ever, we’re still all very excited about books. And, at the end of the day, for those that love them, that’s the best news ever.