Books, books everywhere: BookCon 2014

Going into BookCon this past Saturday, I had a whole list of panels and autographing sessions I wanted to try and fit in my schedule. Like with other cons I’ve attended, the minute I stepped into the convention center my game plan became useless in the face of reality.

In the end, I was able to attend three excellent panels and no autographing sessions (I haven’t told my Dad yet that our book hunt last week, while fun, ended up being just for nostalgia’s sake). The first panel of my day was The World Agrees: #WeNeedDiverseBooks, and that ended up being the only panel for which I didn’t have to wait in line. I’m shocked by that, because it was by far the most interesting and enlightening panel I attended.

All of the panelists were insightful, eloquent and at times heartbreaking. I remember in particular when they were asked to recall the first book they read as children/teens with protagonists like them, and a few of the panelists said they hadn’t read one. In an academic sense, I expected that answer. I’ve seen the recent statistics about diversity in children’s books and YA (and can only imagine that those statistics were the same or worse 10–15 years ago). But hearing it from the lips of some very impressive authors/illustrators just drove that lack of diversity home even further, connecting the purely statistical knowledge in my head with the more abstract sense of what that lack actually means.

And the panel was packed, with people standing in the back when all the seats filled up. So it’s not just a small handful of authors who understand the need for diversity and want to fight for it and speak up about its importance. The whole thing picked up steam with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on social media, and I can tell you from this panel at BookCon that the movement is only gaining momentum. We’re ready to see literature more accurately reflect our reality, and it makes a big difference for children and teens in particular.

The second panel of my day was Amy Poehler in Conversation with Martin Short. After the insightful and emotional topic of my first panel, it was nice to take in something lighter and humorous. I also have a lot of respect for Amy Poehler. I’m a fan of Parks & Recreation, but I also love how she doesn’t shy away from calling herself a feminist in a world where that word has been misconstrued, and I admire her Smart Girls YouTube channel and website. I consider Amy Poehler a role model for many reasons.

She and Martin Short had great rapport, but I think my favorite moment, one that exemplifies why I love Amy Poehler, was at the end when Martin Short asked her to tell the audience why they should buy her upcoming book instead of, say, Kim Kardashian’s book. Amy Poehler said she wouldn’t answer the question phrased that way because she hates when people casually pit women against one another. So Martin Short asked again, leaving off the objectionable part of the original question.

In that moment, I think Amy Poehler showed great awareness of our current pop culture and how magazines and whatnot tend to place women actresses, authors, directors, etc., at odds. As if we’re all Highlander and there can be only one in any given career path. So I’m glad that even in front of this (relatively) small audience and with this rather well-known fellow comedian, she still wouldn’t stand for that unnecessary comparison.

My last panel of the day was The Fault In Our Stars. This panel was…insane. Well, not the panel itself. But part of the reason that I only managed to attend 3 panels despite arriving at BookCon at 9 AM was because of the lines for events.  For the TFIOS panel, my friends and I waited about 90 minutes. But we’re all fans of John Green and wanted to hear what he and some of the people who worked on the movie had to say about it. We had planned our day around ensuring we would get into this panel.

And it was worth it. Nerdfighteria, the community of people who watch John and Hank Green’s YouTube channel, are so enthusiastic, and it was fun to be in a gigantic room full of people who enjoy John Green’s books as much as I do.

The moderator asked some great questions about adapting the book to the screen, what made FOX 2000 so interested in the story, and the hardest scene to film, among others. We got a sneak peek at a scene from the movie. But my favorite moment came from the Q&A at the end, when someone asked the panelists who they wanted to cosplay. This led to John Green having to explain what cosplay is to the other panelists (including an exasperated remark from Green, “Haven’t you been on Tumblr?!”), and then each of them jokingly answering “David Tennant” because of a previous mention of Doctor Who.

Despite how much I enjoyed the three panels, I do wish I had also been able to make it to the one about writing, publishing and promoting a book, or graphic novels, or multicultural publishers in conversation, or dystopian futures. And that brief list doesn’t mention any of the many autographing sessions! But even if BookCon were an entire weekend, I wouldn’t be able to attend every event I want. Like with reading, there is so much and so little time—decisions have to be made.

For my first BookCon (it was also the first official BookCon; it used to be BEA’s Power Reader Day, I think), I’m satisfied with what I chose. Maybe next year, with better organization on BookCon’s part and a better game plan on mine, I’ll be able to do even more.

Did you attend BookCon, or have you attended another book convention? Tell me about your favorite panels/experiences!

About Nicole DeGennaro

Burgeoning writer, insatiable reader, and continuous dreamer.
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2 Responses to Books, books everywhere: BookCon 2014

  1. Katie says:

    That TFioS line, though!! X__X
    I think I was one of the lucky ones that basically got to do everything I had set out to do, even though it meant eating the cheez its and water from my bag and not doing anything but going to the lines for the panels, and the panels themselves. I wasn’t like, super gung-ho about the autographs, but I would have liked to try to catch some if I could—but could not!! I’m hoping very much that next year it will be better organized / better staffed. First year cons are tough, though…and I’ve been a con-goer for years now, and so I can cut them a little slack.
    I’m also hoping that next year maybe they can extend the event over two days. The We Need Diverse Books panel was definitely the highlight, just being in a room with those amazing authors and their unified platform, and in a room full of diverse *readers* seriously almost made me cry nerdy happy tears, man.

    • I would love if they made the event two days. I guess BEA was still taking place in the rest of Javits, so hypothetically they could just keep the BookCon area separate for two days instead of one? Although of course I don’t know any of the behind-the-scenes logistics for that. On the one had I was impressed with how much they managed to cram into one day, but on the other it meant I couldn’t attend half the events I wanted to.

      If they do expand it to two days next year, I hope they’ll have more panels like #WeNeedDiverseBooks—while the Amy Poehler and TFIOS panels were fun, I’d like to see more that talk about the problems in the publishing industry and ways to solve those problems.

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