Dispatch From BEA: Doom-Sayers, Agents, and Jackie Collins

BEA images
Clockwise from top left, Jackie Collins; an enterprising author; the crowd; Henry Holt president Dan Farley, 's Louisa Ermelino, agent Ira Silverberg. Photo: Photos: Boris Kachka

New York's Boris Kachka reports from Book Expo America, the book industry's largest get-together, which runs this weekend in Los Angeles.

Was the first promotionally costumed character we saw an omen of the tenor of this year's book fair? Probably not, because the woman walking around in a white wig carrying a placard reading "The Rapture Is Coming" clearly had her tongue in her cheek. She was one of the co-writers of How to Profit From the Coming Rapture, a how-to book, she told us, about "where to invest, and when to invest, when the world ends." But how does she know she'll be left behind? "We have to be," she said. "We're Jews."

Considerably more popular was Jackie Collins, demurely and silently signing away in full-haired, medallioned glory. Booksellers were just getting their bearings this morning, but several favorites among the hundreds of upcoming books on display were emerging. As usual, the Philip Roth galleys went first (for Indignation, due in September) — more than 800, gone in about an hour. Kira Salak's The White Mary and Brunonia Barry's The Lace Reader were books from this year's early Buzz Panel that seemed to be pulling their weight. The latter was a favorite of both Bridget Kinsella, a Publishers Weekly contributor, and Kathleen Caldwell, owner of Oakland's A Great Good Place Books. Caldwell also talked up Seldon Edwards's The Little Book, almost apologizing for the fact that, yes, it involves time travel. "I don't usually read that stuff, but it's so good," she said.

Even more sought-out were books that, for one reason or another, you wouldn't be seeing here. New galleys by bookseller faves E.O. Wilson, Malcolm Gladwell, and Marilynne Robinson were not yet available. Are their publishers just slackers, or is the fair maybe less of a priority in buzz-building than it used to be? Agent Ira Silverberg thought so but put a positive spin on it. "It's not about that one 'buzzy' book so much," he said. "It's back to the way it was when I started working — just people meeting each other, learning and talking and going to panels." BEA continues through the weekend. —Boris Kachka