Should You Go to BookCon? Belated Recap and Advice

I definitely meant to post this much earlier, as in right when I got back from BookCon 2018, but better late than never! This past year, I was lucky enough to be able to attend BookCon for the second time, and I had an amazing weekend listening to panel discussions given by fascinating and hilarious authors, meeting lovely bookish people, and learning about new and interesting books. I made the last-minute decision to attend BookCon 2017 on a whim and went in with little advance preparation or knowledge about the event, and I think that having already attended once helped me better prepare this time around. I did have just as much fun the first time attending with no prior knowledge, though!

If you aren’t already familiar, BookCon is a 2-day event held at the Javits Center in New York for bookish fans as well as those in the book industry (although book industry people generally are more likely to attend BookExpo, an industry-specific event held in the week before the Con). A lot of emphasis gets placed on the free books aspect of BookCon (and there are free books, it’s true!) but there’s a lot more to it than that. I’ll go through my experiences with BookCon and my favorite parts below, but as a disclaimer, I’m not an expert–I’ve only been to BookCon twice and basically just figured everything out on my own, I don’t work in the book industry, none of this is sponsored in any way, I’m just an avid reader and a fan of all things bookish. As another disclaimer, this post is going to be really long, because a lot happens at BookCon and I have a lot to talk about!

So at BookCon, there’s a gigantic showroom floor with tons of booths featuring different publishers, bookish companies, and independent authors–this is the part of BookCon that I feel gets focused on the most, but it’s not all of it by a long shot. It is really awesome, though; it’s a lot of fun to wander the convention floor and discover different books and creators. There are large mega-booths for the biggest publishing houses, which generally have the biggest crowds, but you’ll also find a lot of awesome smaller and independent publishers and independent authors as well. If you have bookish friends with birthdays coming up, the show floor is the perfect place to shop for them, since a lot of bookish companies are represented and generally have some really great deals and discounts that you can take advantage of; I purchased a Supergirl-themed notebook for a friend at the Insight Editions booth, and a tote bag with a black cat and a stack of books for another friend (who has a black cat, of course) at the Obvious State booth. I also couldn’t resist a tote bag with a bookish quote for myself at the Obvious State booth as well, and I had my eye on a Jaws T-shirt for my dad at the Out of Print booth, but unfortunately they were sold out. As a compensation, though, they were offering $50 giftcards for only $25, so I’ll be able to order him the shirt from their site anyways. Like I said, great deals!

Book-wise, you will also tend to find some good deals at BookCon, although it varies from booth to booth. Some publishers are selling their books for full price; others offer discounts or deals specific to BookCon, and others have giveaways going on at specific times during the weekend. Probably the most popular pricing deal I saw was paperbacks for $5 and hardcovers for $10, but again, this could vary a lot from booth to booth. So, how do you decide what books to purchase at BookCon? Some people purchase full-price books if it means that you can meet the author and get them to sign it; other people will look for giveaways and sales. Personally, I’ll pay full price if it’s supporting an indie author or publisher, and I’m a big fan of the $5/$10 deals as I think that’s a very fair price.

Giveaway-wise, some are publicized beforehand on publishers’ social media pages or via the show guide (which you can pick up once you get to BookCon); some are more spontaneous. Some involve waiting in really long lines; some involve spinning a wheel for a chance to win a prize which may or may not be a book; sometimes books are sitting in piles for you to take; some require a purchase to get a free item. For me personally, I’ve found that giveaways depend a lot on luck and timing, and I think of them generally as a nice and unexpected bonus of going to BookCon rather than something I’d depend on happening, especially for more popular titles which are really difficult to find. I’d say that for the past two times I’ve gone to BookCon, free books comprise about half of the books I end up taking home.

Another cool aspect of BookCon is the autographing sessions. I actually didn’t do a single autographing session in 2017 because I didn’t know about them (again, my trip was very last-minute) but this past year, autographing sessions were posted online a few weeks before the actual BookCon, and you were limited to signing up for 2 per day. Although technically I could have signed up for 4, I ended up only signing up for 3 because these were the authors/books that interested me the most that didn’t conflict with any of the panels that I wanted to go to:

  • Naomi Novik (Spinning Silver) – because I love a good fairytale retelling
  • Charlaine Harris (An Easy Death) – Harris is my most-read author on Goodreads, and her new series sounded great (which it is, I’ve since read An Easy Death and loved it).
  • Rebecca Roanhorse (Trail of Lightning) – I’d heard a lot of great buzz about this book and author, and the post-apocalyptic concept is always an intriguing one for me.

What might be the most underrated part of BookCon, and is also possibly the best part, are the panel discussions.

Here are the panels I attended, with the names of the panelists (names in bold are authors whose books I’ve read). As you can see, I definitely haven’t read books from every author in the panels I attended; I don’t think that’s at all necessary to do beforehand, and panels are actually a great way for you to find authors you may be interested in reading in the future. Of course, as a fan, you’ll likely want to see authors you already know you love speak as well.

Saturday:

  • Tor Presents: #FearlessWomen in Tor Science Fiction and Fantasy with Charlie Jane Anders, V.E. Schwab, S.L. Huang, and Seth Dickinson – the Tor panels tend to be really fantastic with wide-ranging discussions about politics, feminism, and the importance of awesome female characters.
  • Women of Mystery and Thriller with Sandra Brown, Megan Abbott, Sara Blaedel, Kate Kessler, and Karen Ellis–this was the only panel where I hadn’t read from a single author. Still great.

Sunday:

  • NaNoWriMo: The Power of Writing with Abandon with Susan Dennard, Marissa Meyer, Kami Garcia, Danielle Page, and Grant Faulkner – this was an interactive session, where there was both a panel discussion and a fun part where we were given index cards to create crazy sentences as a group. I found it really inspirational as someone who’s been doing NaNoWriMo for the past two years.
  • Toxic Male Syndrome with Jasmine Guillory, Zoey Castile, Alisha Rai, Sarah Morgan, Megan Frampton, and Claire Legrand – possibly the best panel I’ve ever attended.

(In 2017, I attended two panels: one with Margaret Atwood and the Handmaid’s Tale showrunner in conversation, and one given by Tor with Charlie Jane Anders and Annalee Newitz, in addition to other Tor authors).

In general, the quality of panels at BookCon is AMAZING. Panelists discuss interesting and relevant topics, and they usually have the audience both cracking up and thinking deeply about new insights by the time the panel is over. If you do make it to BookCon, I’d say that the panels are the one thing you absolutely shouldn’t miss.

One more thing I’d like to mention about BookCon is the people. Bookish people tend to be awesome in general, and BookCon is a great place to connect with other readers. I met several people standing in line who were so sweet and we shared tips and bookish info with each other; I also met up with people from Litsy on Sunday and attended panels with them. Some people attend BookCon with friends or in groups; I’ve attended by myself both times and it was completely awesome.

So, should I go to BookCon/Is it worth it go to BookCon?

I mean, I can’t really answer that for you, but it depends. I love BookCon and I think it’s a really awesome experience (see all of my gushing above) but it does require you to actually pay for the BookCon tickets, find a way to get to New York, and find a place to stay for at least 1 if not 2 nights. I’m lucky enough to have one of my best friends in New York who loves having people stay with her (and is very understanding about the whole “OK so there’s this thing called BookCon so I was wondering if I could stay with you except I won’t actually be able to hang out during the day” thing; she was actually the one who first suggested I come to BookCon last year when she heard about it and knew of my book obsession. Also, she has a life and a job so while I’m at BookCon she has her own plans and then we meet up afterwards to hang out.) so that means that I didn’t pay for a hotel, which in New York can get really expensive. I also live only a short plane ride away, and with advance notice can usually get a really good deal on a flight. So if you live further away and don’t have anyone in the city you can stay with, the cost of BookCon can really add up. The tickets themselves aren’t that expensive considering that you’re getting access to the show floor, some autographing, and the amazing panels (I paid $55.75 for standard weekend tickets; VIP tickets are more and they tend to sell out fast, but I’ve never even tried to get them) but the actual cost of a trip to New York is what gets you. And again, these are only my opinions–I’m sure that many people who attended BookCon had vastly different experiences from mine, and I’m absolutely sure that most of them probably planned better for it than I did.

 

If you have any questions about BookCon, feel free to ask in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer! Maybe I’ll see some of you there this June…

February Reading Wrap-Up

Despite the fact that I had a productive reading month in January, and it’s often hard for me to have two productive reading months in a row, I actually did a pretty decent job in February. I read one impactful and devastating 5-star read and several excellent/enjoyable 4-star books over the course of the month, and struck a good balance between reading physical and audiobooks. I also picked up books from a wide range of genres but managed three 2019 releases, in keeping with one of my main reading goals for the year. So even if February was a pretty cold and miserable month in terms of weather, it was still a great month for books.

Total books read: 9

#readmyowndamnbooks: 5

Audiobooks: 2

ebooks: 2

2019 releases: 3

Short story collections: 1

Five Feet ApartGood and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women's AngerUnexpected Stories by Octavia E. ButlerThe Underground Railroad by Colson WhiteheadThe Last Romantics by Tara ConklinChildren of Blood and Bone (Legacy of Orïsha, #1)The Wicked King by Holly Black99 Percent Mine by Sally ThorneAn Absolutely Remarkable Thing

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (5 stars) – With The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead wrote a book that everyone in America, and the world as a whole, should read. It’s impactful, devastating, and vitally important. The writing is intensely immersive and so skillful as to seem effortless, which underscores the emotional difficulty of reading a book like this. I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister (4.25 stars) – I listened to the audio of this informative, infuriating book that discusses women’s anger in both a historical and contemporary context, and I thought it was fantastic. There are three books that I know of dealing with similar topics that were released around the same time (Eloquent Rage by Brittney Cooper, which I read last month; this book; and Rage Becomes Her by Soraya Chemaly), and I’m slowly making my way through all of them, as getting in touch with one’s anger is especially relevant given the current political situation. I thought that Traister did an excellent job of arguing the case for the importance and power of women’s anger and its crucial status in today’s world.

The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin (4 stars) – I really enjoyed this 2019 release that follows four siblings over a century. You can check out my full review here.

Unexpected Stories by Octavia Butler (4 stars) – Unexpected Stories was the sixth work I have read by Octavia Butler; she’s an author that I eventually want to read everything from. This particular ebook is comprised of a previously unpublished short story and novella that Butler wrote early on in her career, and although it wasn’t the strongest work that I’ve read from her, I still appreciated her skill and the emergence of the themes that haunt all of her works. The novella in particular was powerful and haunting, although it went in a direction I didn’t expect, one that was more optimistic than I had anticipated. It’s a very short book, just a quick snapshot of some of Butler’s early ideas, but it made me feel like I need to dive back into Butler’s longer work sooner rather than later. Her writing remains the one that tends to evoke the most emotional responses in me, and her use of science fiction to tell her stories somehow leaves them feeling more true than realistic fiction.

I was really intrigued by the world of the novella, “An Unnecessary Being,” which is set in a science fictional world where castes are determined by the amount of blue in one’s skin. The leaders of this world, the Hao, are revered for their strength as well as their completely blue status. That, and their rarity, also makes them a commodity and in many ways prisoners of the people who they lead. The story didn’t go the way I expected, but I thought the worldbuilding and sense of unease permeating the story were fantastic. The tone of most of the story reminded me a bit of “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” by LeGuin. (The plots are very different, though.) I was less intrigued by the short story “Childfinder,” which I wish had been developed more, but I’m really glad I read this bind-up. Octavia Butler is an amazing writer and I know I’ll keep returning to her work throughout my life.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (4 stars)  – This book was a fast, action-packed read with an important message. I got so absorbed in the story and literally could not stop reading it; I don’t remember the last time I read such a long book so quickly. I loved main characters Zelie, an indomitable and impulsive member of a persecuted group of people who have lost their magical abilities and have since faced discrimination and repression, and Amari, a runaway princess facing a cruel awakening to the real world, and felt very invested in their journey. I thought that the book tackled systemic racism and the pervasiveness of bigotry really well, and managed to strike a great balance between heavy topics and fast-paced action. I really wasn’t a fan of the romance, or the male main character, Inan, who changed sides and perspectives too many times, but those were my only real issues with the book. As soon as I finished it, I faced a sudden and intense need to read the sequel, which unfortunately won’t be out until June 4th.

99 Percent Mine by Sally Thorne (3.75 stars) – Along with seemingly everyone else on the bookish internet, I didn’t love this one as much as Thorne’s debut novel The Hating Game, but I did still really like it. In particular, I loved protagonist Darcy, a prickly, sassy photographer/bartender who refuses to let her heart condition dictate her life, and her determination to prove she’s capable of follow-through by sticking around to finish the flipping of her beloved deceased grandmother’s house. I didn’t find her love interest/twin brother’s best friend Tom to be quite as engaging, but it was definitely a cute, enjoyable contemporary romance, which is a difficult thing for me to find.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (3.5 stars) – I listened to this scifi debut on audiobook, and I thought it was a fun, engaging, fast-paced book to listen to; the narrator was great, and it’s a quick read. The protagonist, April May, becomes an unwitting social media celebrity after she discovers the presence of the “Carls,” giant statues that appear simultaneously in cities around the globe and have properties that mark them as something not of this world. As she gains more and more attention and followers, she becomes unmoored from her everyday life and her girlfriend, Maya, and discovers that being famous–and the Carls themselves–maybe aren’t what she predicted they would be. Although I did enjoy this book overall, I wouldn’t say that I thought this book had a ton of depth, and I wish the ending had more of a resolution and wasn’t such a clear setup for a sequel.

The Wicked King by Holly Black (3.25 stars) – I liked this book about the same that I liked The Cruel Prince, which is to say that I overall enjoyed the read, but had quite a few issues with the book overall. Slytherin/Machiavellian protagonist Jude frustrated me perhaps more in this book than she did in the last one, as despite the fact that some of her scheming was very skillful, she continued to make choices that were clearly the wrong ones. I do like the fact that she’s a YA protagonist who is very morally grey, but I think that her supposed skill levels have a lot of inconsistency and she can be a frustrating person to read about. The plot of this book meandered quite a bit, and I found some characters and circumstances a lot more interesting than others. I would have loved more time and emphasis, for example, on Jude’s fae sister Vivi and her human girlfriend, since I think that Vivi’s unconventional choice to live away from the fairy world deserves more exploration. I do plan to pick up the third book in what I assume is a trilogy, and I hope that things go in an interesting direction.

Five Feet Apart by Rachael Lippincott, Mikki Daughtry, and Tobias Iaconis (3 stars) – Some aspects of this contemporary YA romance about teens with CF worked better for me than others. I loved the female protagonist, a type-A teen with a popular YouTube channel, and I found her sections really informative and relatable, as an organization nerd myself. I also really appreciated how informative this book was in regard to CF, a disease I really didn’t have much familiarity with prior to reading this book. However, I wasn’t a fan of the male protagonist, who I felt was too much of a stereotypical YA love interest, and a few of the plot decisions toward the end were frustrating. I do think I’ll check out the movie at some point.

 

How did your reading go in February? Have you picked up any of these yet? Let me know!