How did we get here, stuck inside of Mobile with the Oxford presidential debate blues? We'd foresworn the hoopla of our old stomping grounds for Alabama's port city, site of this year's Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) fall trade show, and were easing our pangs in the lobby bar of the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel. We ordered beers and cheeseburgers until the debate aired, and were coaxed out of our melancholy by publishing friends stopping by and toasting with us. Surely, this was one of the foulest political eras on record, and yet the excitement of this debate, of this election, was everywhere. We were young and literary. We were buoyant in the heavy waters of history. Such dreaded times, such hope and anger!
The debate was a toss-up, but we watched and strained to hear over the one-man cover band (Van Morrison, the Beatles and Buffett, of course). Let's face it, the nature of our business leans to the left. We're business people who trade in ideas and work comfortably at the brink of failure. So this may explain why every person we spoke with — be they writer, bookseller or publisher — were supporting Obama. The forecast for his victory was mixed, and the sense of gloom surrounding the economy was pervasive, but talk of good books was something we could always fall back on, and did frequently throughout the weekend.
Saturday morning we left the camera in the room (which explains the generic photo of the Mobile skyline) and hit the SIBA trade show floor, smaller and less intimidating than the seething maze of the national show, Book Expo. Rather than the usual suited automatons, here the publisher booths were manned by the familiar faces of our regional reps, who, most authors should know, are the front-line soldiers getting booksellers to take a chance on little-known and long-shot titles. Authors were also afoot, such as tall and lanky Ron Rash, who, despite the smallness of the show floor, got away before we could tell him how much we're enjoying his new novel, Serena. He was a hit at Saturday morning's author breakfast, along with surprise guest John Grogan (Marley & Me), who unveiled his new memoir, The Longest Trip Home, coming in October.
Unbridled Books' Steve Wallace, one of the rarest and most dogged of bookmen, introduced us to Joyce Hinnefeld, whose novel In Hovering Flight is a current indie bookseller favorite. Our friends at Random House hooked us up with some signed copies of E. Lynn Harris' Just Too Good to be True and Sarah Addison Allen's The Sugar Queen, if anyone's interested. And they were having a big time in the booth of River City Publishing, a small Alabama press. Author Suzanne Hudson passed out advanced copies of her forthcoming book, Second Sluthood: A Guide for the Post-Menopausal, Pre-Senilic Matriarch, while her publisher polled booksellers to determine if the title was too offensive. In this liberal business? Hell no.
We ducked out for lunch and drove over the Mobile Bay Causeway to the quaint town of Fairhope, the new literary mecca of the Gulf Coast. We dined on royal reds, gumbo and po-boys with author Sonny Brewer, who fed us juicy gossip from the book world. The good food and company was only enhanced by the temperate weather and the last-minute Ole Miss victory over Florida. Another crowning moment for Mississippi this weekend.
Like all events worth attending, food played a major role this weekend, and we were glad to accompany our Macmillan rep, Jeff Cope, to another Fairhope eatery. Among fellow booksellers, the guests of honor were two Macmillan authors — Joe Domenici, a former rep with the company who'd crossed over with his testosterone-driven new thriller, Bringing Back the Dead, and Julia Spencer-Fleming, a prize-winning mystery writer and Alabama native whose wintry thrillers are set in her current home state of Maine — and a tag-along writer from Penguin, Patti Callahan Henry, a writer of Low Country family dramas who was a delight and laughed at all of our jokes.
The next day we took our time driving north toward home, encountering none of the dry fueling stations that are plaguing the metropolitan southeast but finding our windshield smeared with love bugs, who are apparently mating this time of year and filling every square foot of airspace between Mobile and Hattiesburg. The paste of love bugs may have forewarned the week ahead, for by Monday, the good political feelings had expired, replaced by fear and revulsion for Congress, whose squabbling inability to devise a solution to floundering financial markets exposed the inefficiency of our government and economy.
So much for election fever. Politics will always let you down, but books never will. May stories and ideas always bail us out.