Today is the third and final day of BEA, or Book Expo America, which is being held at New York's Jacob Javits Center. Industry events always seem an apt place to gauge the health of an industry. But the book business depends on book buyers and most of the people who show up at the Javits are on the selling side. So you look for other things: the quality of parties (and the amount of shrimp on offer), the number of freebies, the fame of the V.I.P.'s. Because keep in mind that most of the people attending BEA — people who work for publishing houses, at libraries, for bookstores, as agents, or as journalists — have a vested interest in the health of the industry being, well, healthy, and most of those people are actually attending as part of their jobs. Gauging the health of an industry by looking at how many industry people are at an industry event is something, but it's not everything.
On our visit, things looked pretty good. The booths were indeed packed and there were plenty of people—maybe even more people than books. Still, the sense that better times were in the past is inescapable. Leonard Marcus, a children's book historian, author, and critic, told me that this year seemed "less inclusive" than previous years, and also, that there didn't seem to be quite as many famous folks milling about. It used to be, he said, you'd see Mike Tyson, the Secretary of Defense, and Fabio, all in one fell swoop. Perhaps my timing was bad, but at the conference itself I saw pretty much only book industry folks (tote bags and dark-framed glasses are de rigueur) and a couple people who looked like they might be reality TV stars, though I couldn't say for what.