Monday, November 21, 2016
Book Riot Live: A review of my experience
I recently spent two days surrounded by books, authors, and book lovers at Book Riot Live in New York City. This was the second year of the fan conference, which is hosted by Book Riot.
I wasn’t able to go last year, so when tickets went on sale this year, I jumped at the chance for a solo bookish vacation.
When the day finally arrived, I was stoked. I read for the entire 86 minute train ride (I was reading Burning Woman by Lucy Pearce), then walked 1.5 miles to the venue at Metropolitan West. Despite the chilly temperature outside, I was sweating by the time I arrived thanks to my brisk pace (made extra brisk because of the aforementioned chilliness).
I dropped my coat off at the coat check, kept my backpack with me, and went to registration, where they gave me a tote with some promotional items, a water bottle, a name tag and lanyard, and a t-shirt I had pre-purchased. (Best event t-shirt ever, by the way, on account of its supreme softness, and the fun Book Riot Live artwork.)
There was one large room downstairs and an identical one upstairs. Each floor had a few vendor tables, a curtained off area for panel presentations, and a seating area. The downstairs seating area was for introverting and was decked out with bean-bag chairs and coloring tables. The upstairs seating area was for community meet-ups.
My initial excitement came down a bit when I realized that, in less than 10 minutes, I had seen all there was to see. I was worried that my $120 early-bird pricing ticket may not have been worth it. However, as the weekend went on, and especially as I attended the panels, I felt better about it.
Here is a breakdown of the highs and lows. I will start with the positives.
Things that were just perfect
I made some new acquaintances who fully embraced my awkward introductions. Sara and Michele let me invite myself to their lunch when we all walked into a tavern at the same time. A few minutes later, we invited another solo attendee, Merissa, to join us. Just like that, I had lunch buddies. Also, I introduced myself to Danielle by telling her how helpful the review on her blog of last year’s Book Riot Live had been. We sat together at a couple sessions after that.
I got to meet Liberty! Just walked right up to her, unicorn in the wild. And she’s fantastic.
I got to see a live recording of my very favorite podcast, All the Books with Rebecca Schinsky and Liberty Hardy. It was just as spectacularly fun as I expected.
I learned more about Book Riot’s mission to promote diverse authors. They have an in-house rule that every list they post on their website must include at least 25% non-white authors. Not many media groups pay attention to such things, and I really appreciate that Book Riot does.
There were some really interesting panels. My favorites were Rethinking Justice with Baz Dreisinger (author of Incarceration Nations), Emily Jacobson (the librarian who leads the prison library program for New York Public Library), and Valentine De Landro (cartoonist of Bitch Planet) and Libraries, Beyond the Books, in which three librarians discussed the many ways they serve their communities. And now I want to be a librarian. I wonder if it’s too late.
The author signings had short and fast lines, and the authors I met were very nice people. I bought Ayize Jama-Everett’s novel The Liminal People just because of the way he spoke in his panel; I wanted to support him. I found my lunch buddy, Merissa, buying the book at the same time for the same reason, and we went together to have them signed.
Brooklyn Public Library was there offering a free book matching service to help you find your next read based on what you like and what you don't like. I received four recommendations, one of which I have already read, so I am feeling optimistic about their other three choices. (You can get matched on their website.)
The Free Haiku poets from Haiku Guys & Gals were genius. Tanya asked what I wanted my poem to be about. When I said, “the stars,” she asked for more information, and I relayed a story about a science book on stars that I read as a child, in which the night sky was said to look like a dome. I asked my dad what a “dome” was and he replied, “It is like the top of the Capitol building.” From that, she wrote this…
The bean-bag chairs were so comfortable for taking a break with a book.
I left with four free books, plus two books I traded for at the Litsy book swap meetup.
I had the authors sign two books and one sticky note (because I couldn’t find one of the books, but now I can stick the note in if I get it), plus I purchased another book that I discovered later that night was signed.
The attendees were lively, respectful, kind, inspired individuals.
The bathrooms were delineated “All Gender Restroom.” Because it doesn’t need to be complicated. Or a federal issue.
Things I wish had been different
I wish I had gone with a friend (or a few). Although I overcame my introvertedness and made a few acquaintances, I think I would have enjoyed the experience more if I shared it with people I knew well.
I wish I had sat in the front rows of panels on the first day. It was hard to pay attention because you could hear all the ambient noise from the vendor areas carrying through the curtains partitioning off the panel areas. Separate rooms would have been nice to cut down on this problem, but I settled for sitting in the front rows on the second day, and that helped me stay focused.
I wish I were more familiar with the authors in attendance before I went. Also, it would have helped if I had known more than two of the Book Riot contributors. I was sometimes confused about who was Book Riot and who was a guest speaker.
Name plates in front of the panelists would have been super helpful.
I wish there were food options at the venue. I found lunch on both days around the block, but had to miss a panel each day to get to it.
I wish the postcards with the panel information had been printed with a side for Saturday, showing Stage 1 and Stage 2 events side-by-side, then the other side for Sunday. As it was (Stage 1 on one side and Stage 2 on the other), I had to keep flipping back and forth to decide where I was headed.
Although the introverting area was nice, what I needed was a quiet zone. As a sensitive person, I was overwhelmed by the constant noise. No matter where I was at the event, at any given time, I could hear the speakers of the panel and the hum of conversation surrounding the vendors and in the community areas.
I wish I had stayed at a different hotel, because I like sleep, and The OUT NYC values it less. Thanks to their nightclub, I was awake until 4 a.m. (when the club closed) listening to the lyrics and the DJ’s announcements (both quite clearly audible in my room), and feeling everything in my room very literally shaking. So even when I thought I would get to decompress in my room for the night, I left more overwhelmed than I arrived.
The final verdict
Overall, Book Riot Live was quite fun. I am happy I went, and I came away a more inspired reader (if that’s possible). Would I go again? Possibly. Now that I know what to expect and what I need to make it a good experience for my sensitive self, I could navigate it more confidently. All in all, it was a worthwhile experience, though I must admit, I think I got more value (as in pure ROI — return on investment) and had fewer sensitivity issues at the Hachette Book Club Brunch.