25 January 2012

Nawlins Day Two: Or, Did I Really Just Do That?

Day two of Winter Institute: our morning started off with a bang since Carl Lennertz was on hand to talk about World Book Night US.  Holy cow--anybody who is reading this blog and living in the US who has NOT already signed up for it should do it now! I signed up the moment I first heard about it.  Basically, it's a great big way to give books to people who aren't big readers.  And these are FREE books 'cause publishers, authors, wholesalers, and printers are all donating their resources to pay for these books.  I won't know until mid-February or so, but I signed up to give away 20 copies of Laurie Anderson's Wintergirls (selected from a list of 30 titles) to an after-school group the next city over from my bookstore. The idea behind this is to put books in the hands of people who don't have great access to books for various reasons: lots of people are choosing women's shelters, prisons, military bases, non-profits.  Some folks have said they want to give out books on their local street corner, or their local mass transit.  Doesn't this sound great?

Unfortunately, I thought the educational sessions for Thursday and Friday were lacking compared with previous years.  And due to my own stupidity (alas), the one session that would have been best for me to attend was switched to a different time slot and I missed it.  That's okay, though, with Rep Pick lunch to swoop in and save the day.  That's when booksellers get to sit on their bums and eat a boxed lunch (alas, soggy) while various sales reps come to them and have 15 minutes to pitch their company's best books coming up this spring & summer.  It's a lot of fun and it's very high energy, and I'm not sure how the reps keep themselves from going hoarse by the end of their 6th presentation.  Word on the street is that shots of Maker's Mark *might* have been involved.  There are a lot of titles to take in, so it's best when the reps limit themselves to saying more about fewer titles as opposed to saying less about more titles, but it didn't always work that way (alas, I wanted to say "alas" one more time in this paragraph).

Just a random shot of the cabildo that I made by light of day
The main star of Winter Institute, though, is the author reception that evening.  Dozens of authors sit at tables around the room and booksellers stand in line to get free books signed by those authors--as many as they want.  It's just crazy.  And just in case it wasn't jealousy-inducing enough, they also lay by significant drinks and hors d'ooeuvres for those people not fortunate to be invited out for a dinner.  So yeah, free books, free wine, free food, lotsa mingling with rock star authors (some of the headliners were John Green, Jeannette Winterson, Nathan Englander, Julianna Baggott).  How can that possibly be bad?  Well, it can't.  I mean, my shoulders went a little numb from the weight of all of those books in my tote bags, and after a while I couldn't balance two bags AND a class of wine, but life should always be so hard.

Anyway, I thought that I'd be one of those booksellers on my own for the evening after the reception, but one of my reps, Eileen from Ingram, saw me in the ballroom and asked me if I'd met Marsha, her colleague from the southern territories, yet.  When I said no, Eileen told me I should introduce myself to her because she wanted to ask me to dinner for that night.  Assuming me that there was no way that I'd run into Marsha in that crowd of 600 people or so, I just thanked Eileen and moved on.  But in one of those instances that you wouldn't believe if it were in a movie, I climbed into the elevator after the reception and there was Marsha from Ingram.  She squealed a little when I introduced myself to her and what do you know? She invited me out for dinner, and not just any dinner.  Dinner at Galatoire's.  Reservations were in 15 minutes. Would that be problem? Um, that would be a big, fat NO!

Not my image

Not my image
I'd never been to Galatoire's before, though I'd been steeped in its mystique.  It's from the old guard of New Orleans restaurants, or as they say on their website, it's the Grand Dame. The atmosphere is very Old World and the menu is exquisitely heavy.  Marsha ordered appetizer samplers for the table, and the soup (turtle) and salad (avocado and crab meat) were very good, but the piece de resistance came with the entree.  I had the decadent crabmeat sardou, served up with spinach creamed in a bearnaise and the most wonderfully tender artichoke hearts.  It wasn't beautiful, but it disappeared in double time.  Wyn, the bookseller from Lexington, KY, across the table from me, ordered the same thing and between us there was an orgy of yummy-noises.  But what was *really* photo worthy of the evening was what Rob, my neighbor from Ingram, ordered: puppy drum fish, fried and served up whole.  Hand to God, it looked like a prehistoric piranha:

Creepy, no?  It actually tasted pretty mild, but I was happy when Rob let the staff clear the carcass away so that we could proceed with desserts to share.  I love that a large table of relative strangers all shared the sweet potato cheesecake, black bottom pecan pie, Key lime tart, and bread pudding, sticking in one fork right after the other and passing them 'round the table.

This is a book jacket
We ended up shutting the place down, which is a point of pride for me, but I had plans yet to come, so after thanking Marsha profusely for including me for a dinner that I'd never be able to afford on my own, I walked back to the hotel to meet up with Steven Wallace from Unbridled Books, one of the best small publishers of literary books out there.  He's an old book buddy of mine and we'd agreed months earlier to drink each other under the table meet for a civilized beverage of the adult variety, but when I walked into the lobby I ran into Emily (my bookselling compatriot from Lemuria) and quickly surmised that Wallace would probably be more enchanted to be in the company of two Emilys instead of just one.  He was.  He's that kind of charming Southern gentleman.  So he took us 'round to the Napoleon House to introduce us to its signature sazerac.  Unbelievably, the bar had last call at our second round and we actually shut the place down.  That made me two for two that night.  Yeah, I rock like that.

Our were the only chairs still on the floor!

Wallace and the Emilys
 The night was still young.  Or at least the morning was.  So we texted Emily's roommate, Kelly, and she met up with us for another round. Unfortunately, only the Carousel Bar seemed open, which is cool enough, but it was super loud there and very difficult to chat, so we moved on after only one round to the one place we *knew* would still be open.  That's right: Cafe Du Monde, open 24/7.  Beignets, here we come! There weren't many tables in use when we arrived, but we sat back to tell all kinds of stories about the authors we've worked with (if you're a badly behaved writer who toured in the South or New England in the last two decades, your ears were probably burning) and Wallace regaled us with tales from the heyday of 1980s publishing and the gluttony and greed that marked that decade. I guess it was a little after 3:00 am when we looked up and saw that we were the *only* table in use outside at CDM, with all of the other chairs stacked up on the tables.  So while it's technically true that they're always open, I think this counts as three for three places that I shut down in one night.  Did I really just do that? Believe me when I say that is *not* my usual style, but I had the Emily reputation to maintain.  So what if we all had to be up for the 8:00 small press breakfast later that day? 
See what I mean?  Craziness!

Okay, I *loved* this shadow that the Jesus statue threw on the back of St. Louis Cathedral.  It was all eerie until Emily (or perhaps Kelly) quipped something about Touchdown Jesus.


  1. I could not possibly be more jealous of your absolutely amazing time in Nawlins. It sounds amazing! Every single last moment from the panels to the authors to the books to the FOOD to the drinks to the company you keep. Miss working with you SO MUCH. But glad you had an amazing time! Thank you for sharing it with us and I can't wait to hear more. Also, Touchdown Jesus is a new favorite.

  2. And it gets better!

    "That's when booksellers get to sit on their bums and eat a boxed lunch (alas, soggy) while various sales reps come to them and have 15 minutes to pitch their company's best books coming up this spring & summer."

    SO FASCINATING. That sounds like an awesome thing to do, seriously. All fast-paced and whatnot. And that fish is inSANE. And now I want a beignet. I don't think I've had one before, but they featured heavily in The Princess and the Frog.

  3. Good bye, sweet friend :)

  4. Lofty bye, sweet alternative other :)


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