BEA Buzz Books: Foreskins, Frank Lloyd Wright, and … Poetry?

Photo: Courtesy of Random House, Simon & Schuster, Riverhead

The Buzz Panel, traditionally one of BEA's best-attended events (we're talking 200 people!), was reinstated this year to the beginning of the fair — you know, so they could build buzz. More than last year, the panel — six editors selling one coming favorite apiece to galley-grubbing booksellers, with Publishers Weekly's Sara Nelson moderating — had its highs and lows. Meaning highbrow/lowbrow.

Ecco Press' Dan Halpern, with his distinctive wiry white halo of hair, tried to set the tone by flogging the unfloggable. "Is poetry beyond buzz or beneath buzz?" Halpern asked. The collection in question was Robert Hass's Time and Materials; Halpern managed to quote Elizabeth Bishop, Marianne Moore, Joseph Brodsky, Valery, and Hass — "the Fred Astaire of irony," per Halpern — who himself paraphrased Basho and Czeslaw Milosz. To sum up, said Halpern, it's "certain to avoid any list of best-selling titles."

The rest of the editors did in fact remember to sell books. There were plugs for A.J. Jacobs's latest stunt book, The Year of Living Biblically (there he is with a beard and staff on the cover — cute!) and Francisco Goldman's intense nonfiction about a Guatemalan bishop's assassination. Random House senior editor Susanna Porter discussed her big new historical novel, Nancy Horan's Loving Frank (see our Debut Novels chart), using the I-read-it-in-a-night-and-had-to-have-it spiel. Things were back to normal.

Enter youngish gun Geoff Kloske of Riverhead — who never tires of reminding you he discovered the Davids (Sedaris and Eggers) — heralding an unstoppable trend this year, the use of video where a few sober words of raving enthusiasm once sufficed. His video featured Shalom Auslander hilariously narrating to stock footage of Orthodox Jews from his lapsed-Hasidic memoir, Foreskin's Lament. Not to be outdone, Margaret Marbury of Harlequin capped off her earnest defense of reincarnation (and M.J. Rose's schlocky-sounding thriller The Reincarnationist) with a trailer full of dragons, flames, blood-red fonts, labyrinths, and of course, blurbs. When the projector repeated the clip, someone helpfully yelled out, "It was reincarnated," getting the biggest applause of the 80-minute session. —Boris Kachka

Related: The Early Word on Summer’s Debut Novels [NYM]