03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

How to Throw a Party for Books: the NBA's 5 Under 35 Event

Soft Skull publisher and all-around NYC belletrist Richard Nash recently posted a scathing opinion piece on this site about Book Expo America's decision to limit floor hours (and effectively cancel an opening night party) at BEA 2010. This means that book industry's biggest convention--drawing booksellers and publishers from around the country and across the world--will last a meager two days and have no opening night celebration. Nash was right--it seems like a bad decision. If you're throwing a festival for an allegedly beleaguered industry, how about making changes likely to amp up the enthusiasm of attendees rather than dampen it?

The BEA organizers should a) throw an opening night celebration and b) watch and learn from the National Book Foundation's 5 under 35 event, which took place Monday night at Brooklyn's PowerHouse Arena. The now-annual event honors five young fiction authors at or near the beginning of their careers. This year's honorees, who all read from their work, were:

(For the record, they were all good, and I particularly liked Weil and Morgan's readings.)

The National Book Foundation made the event work perfectly. Here's how:

  • They kept the focus on authors. By keeping the artists front & center and emphasizing the potential of early-career authors, the NBA fostered a sense of excitement and generated an aura of, it could even be said, celebrity. That's a good thing for culture in general. Better to have a few people more interested in Ceridwen Dovey's next book than Carrie Prejean's next sex tape.
  • They had a good space. Brooklyn's PowerHouse Arena is not only a great bookstore but a great event space. It's huge, airy, and complexly laid-out, a vast improvement over last year's cramped, dark, and sweaty space.
  • They supplied ample alcohol. A good thing.
  • They supported local businesses. All attendees got a ticket for a free meal from Soler Dominican, a street food vendor that was parked right outside the event space to accommodate partygoers. It was good.
There was only one unfortunate aspect to the event: It wasn't open to the public. It was invite-only. Don't get me wrong--a celebration for the publishing industry rank & file who make the books happen is a great thing, but certainly there are readers who would've liked to attend. They couldn't hold a limited number of tickets for sale to the public?

Still, as part of a lead-up to the National Book Awards tonight, they could've done a lot worse. Is the publishing industry healthy? As a whole, no. But there's a lot it can still do to stay vibrant.