"I'm a VP, welcome," said the woman who served us lemon chicken at Book Expo's politically themed author luncheon, which was facing the sudden political reality of a walkout by the entire serving staff of the L.A. Convention Center, forcing fair organizers to wear aprons. "The news of the walkout caused quite a discussion in the green room," said novelist Christopher Buckley.
"We had some prominent liberals there who were going to walk out in solidarity with the staff. I as the Republican in the group favored bringing in scabs."
Two of the authors seemed to be on strike, too: Michael Moore, who never made it because of bad weather in Michigan, and John Krakauer, who couldn't be here to promote his coming book on Pat Tillman because he failed to finish it on time, forcing its removal from fall catalogs. Moore's scab was the equally caustic though considerably more presentable Arianna Huffington, while Krakauer's chair was left respectfully empty. The fact that NBC correspondent and War Journal writer Richard Engel had just flown in from Baghdad put the other writers' difficulties in perspective.
It was Daily Kos' Markos Matos Zuniga, though, who made things a little more exciting with a few strange barbs. "I didn't have money to buy my way in," said the wildly popular lefty blogger. "I didn't have a rich, powerful famous family for me to trade off of" — at which point all eyes turned to Huffington. Then he turned on BEA's keynote speaker, Thomas Friedman. "Five years ago, as of yesterday, he got on to Charlie Rose and he talked about how Afghanistan wasn't enough. America needed to send a message to the Arabs. Fourteen times he told us that in only six more months things were going to turn around in Iraq. And he's been so wrong. He was wrong, but he sells a lot of books and this convention honors him."
The cynical Buckley seemed gracious by comparison, but his phoned-in one-liners demonstrated that satire doesn't always translate well on the rubber-chicken circuit. ("Everybody needs an editor. Even Hitler!") It almost made us wish we hadn't skipped that night's BEA benefit, featuring Lewis Black, who — whatever you think of him — at least has some fire in his belly. Funniest guy we saw? John "I'm a PC" Hodgman, who at a forum at 8 a.m. Sunday managed to blow every other humorist out of the water. "I still have a fondness for books," said the onetime literary agent. "Many a time I will be antiquing, and I'll say, 'What's that old-timey curio over there? What is that, a candlestick telephone, one of those old pull-chain toilets? Oh no, it's a book. I used to help make those things! I will buy it and use it to decorate my chain of casual family-dining restaurants.'" —Boris Kachka