Book Nerds Unite! Representing Birmingham at Book Expo America

What’s better than a trip to New York? A trip to New York that includes author sightings, book nerdery, and lots of free books — so I’m packing my bags next week and leaving Alabama for BEA, the biggest book conference in the U.S.


I’ve been to Book Expo America a few times before, but this time I’m taking backup: Two of our blog writers, Mollie and Carla Jean, are coming with me. Mollie’s a librarian in California, Carla Jean’s Managing Editor of Birmingham Magazine (and soon-to-be author), and I’m a bookstore owner — basically we’re a triumvirate of nerdy awesomeness. I kind of think we should form some kind of superhero team, but I guess we’ll feel that one out once we get there.


While we’re in New York, we’ll be keeping you posted about our literary adventures here and on social media (follow my Twitter and Instagram if you want to be book-spammed), but to get us warmed up, I thought I’d throw out a list of my favorite moments from last year’s Book Expo. Here are my personal highlights from BEA 2013:



Seeing Penguin’s Book Cart

For a girl who has a Pinterest board dedicated to book trucks and book bikes, seeing Penguin’s book truck and book cart in person was pretty magical — they reminded me of the days in elementary school when the Bookmobile would come by (basically the most exciting days of my young life). It helped that the guys manning the booth were familiar with Church Street and that they talked to me about my book bike (aka a bunch of books loaded onto my Vespa and sold on the sidewalk downtown).



Asking Chip Kidd about fonts

I met Chip Kidd at my first BEA and got so starstruck (yeah, I’m the kind of girl who gets starstruck around authors) that I forgot to ask him to tell me why he slightly changed the font in the middle of The Cheese Monkeys — a question that’d been bothering me for years (yeah, I’m the kind of girl who gets bothered about fonts). I’d been regretting this lapse for years, so it was great to have another chance. He was charming and gracious. (And he told me that the font changes when Winter enters the story and changes everything.)

Watching people get excited about books

My sister walked me to my first day of the conference last year, and when she came in and saw a Malcolm Gladwell banner as big as a house announcing his new book (here’s my review of that book, David and Goliath), she pretty much flipped out. (She’s a huge Malcolm Gladwell fan and threatened to disown me this year if I didn’t finally get around to reading Outliers.) Seeing so much genuine love for books is awesome, and it’s nice to be in a place where, for once, you don’t feel weird when you get super excited about them.



Exploring other coffee shops and bookstores

There’s no place like New York for a lot of reasons, but finding so many indie bookstores and great coffee shops is certainly one of them. My apartment was right next to I Am Coffee, basically my favorite non-Church Street shop ever, and we were just a few blocks away from Three Lives & Company, which in my mind is the perfect bookshop: small, charming, with a perfectly edited selection — I also met one of their booksellers at the Penguin cart at BEA. (The picture above is my sister at Marc Jacob’s Bookmarc store.)

Getting a Galley of Bone Season

One of the great things about BEA is getting lots of ARCs (Advanced Reader Copies). ARCs are free books given to booksellers and media people (and now bloggers, too) so that we’ll read the books before they come out and hopefully promote them to our readers and customers as soon as they’re published. At BEA, ARCs are everywhere, but there are always a few special ones that are especially coveted or that their publishing reps seem particularly excited about, and Bone Season, a fantasy book compared to Harry Potter, was one of those. I grabbed one of the last copies, read the whole thing on the plane home (and in the airport during a super-long layover), and blogged about Bone Season when the book came out.



Grabbing the new Chuck Palahniuk for Mollie

I tried to find the line for Palahniuk (famous to everyone for writing Fight Club and to book nerds for a whole lot more) for 40 minutes before finally making it. It was totally worth it to bring back a signed, brand new copy of the not-yet-released book to Mollie, who was crazy excited — even better, since Mollie’s coming with me this year. We published her review of Palaniuk’s Doomed when it came out later that year. (Oh, and I got to see Chuck Palahniuk’s super muscular arms. I mean, really.)



Shakespeare’s Star Wars

One of the main reasons I go to BEA is to look through the books publishers will have coming out in the next few months so I can plan what Church Street will stock at the holidays. It’s pretty much like Christmas shopping for an entire town, which for a holiday junkie like me is kind of the best thing ever. One of my favorites from last year, William Shakespeare’s Star Wars, ended up being one of our best sellers at the shop when the holidays rolled around.



Tote bags

So many tote bags!!! And they all have cute book themes, so now all my grocery baggers know I’m a book nerd. (Finally.) There’s also lots of other awesome book swag, like these genius Fahrenheit 451 matches from Out of Print clothing.



Getting retweeted by Neil Gaiman

When I left for BEA last year, I didn’t know much about our barista Janie. But I did know that she loved Neil Gaiman, because it’s pretty much impossible to meet Janie and not know that she loves Neil Gaiman. I wanted to get her a signature, but the room was full. I kind of tried to bribe a security guard to let me in, but it turns out I’m not that good at bribery. Anyway, I eventually got in (they let in the overflow people and I grabbed one of the last seats), and I did get those books for Janie, and she was seriously pumped about it when I got home. Also, I felt like a rock star when Neil Gaiman actually responded to one of my tweets. Once his book Ocean at the End of the Lane came out, practically everyone on staff at Church Street read and loved it, and it became one of our best sellers of the year. Here’s our blog review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane.



Chuck Klosterman’s interview of Jonathan Lethem

I’ve been a Klosterman fan ever since I pulled Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs out of a pile of galleys at the newspaper where I used to work. I read the whole thing in a Saturday and felt like I’d found a pop culture soulmate. I still read customers passages out of that book (mostly the When Harry Met Sally and breakfast cereal parts). Klosterman is an expert interviewer, so it was kind of a thrill to see him do his work with Lethem, another author I enjoy. And I’d met Klosterman at my first BEA, so seeing him last year, my first at the Book Expo as an owner of my own bookstore, was a nice full-circle kind of thing, and I blogged about Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat when I got home.


Carrie Rollwagen is a co-owner and book buyer at Church Street Coffee & Books, an independent bookstore and coffee shop in Birmingham, Alabama. She’s attending Book Expo America 2014 in New York this week.

Email with a purpose Let's Keep in Touch

Good news (and practical tips) for small businesses — we're not into being pushy or spammy.