Why do we do in-person book events in the age of social media? To sell books, certainly, but mostly, it’s about the joy of connecting face-to-face with readers, of meeting people, talking about books, about becoming part of a community of book lovers. I spent yesterday at the Harlem Book Fair along with other members of the New York Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America.
Of course, we never know when and where we’re going to make connections with readers. For me, yesterday, it was on the train ride home, after a very long day.
When I got to Penn Station, it was jammed with people. And every one of them, no exaggeration, every one of them wanted to get on my train to Princeton Junction. There was no space on the train that was unoccupied, the seats, the aisles, the lavatory, the stairways (it was a “doubledecker” train) and the doorways. I asked a young woman who was standing inches from me if there was an event that I was unaware of that would explain the crowd. “Taylor Swift” she replied. Apparently most everyone was heading to the Taylor Swift concert at MetLife Stadium. Fortunately, that meant they would all be exiting at the first stop, to change trains at Secaucus Junction.
When thousands of passengers exited the train, it was still crowded. There were no empty seats, and a few of us were still standing, but we felt the kinship of strangers who had shared an ordeal and survived. After the next stop (Newark Penn Station), there was one seat in my vicinity. I was exhausted, but I didn’t want to grab the only available seat. I deferred to a woman with a piece of luggage (I myself was carrying a small bag of books and the MWANY display banner). And then God bless her, she deferred to me. “I’m getting off at the next stop” she explained. We started talking. She was heading to the airport and a flight to Oregon. As she got ready to exit the train, I reached into my bag and gifted her a copy of Death and White Diamonds to read on the plane.
Which led to a conversation with another woman who was on her way home with three girlfriends after a day of theater in Manhattan. Back into my bag, for a copy of A Minor Case of Murder.
By the time I got home, I had gifted more books on the train, than I sold at the book fair. And that, in my world, makes for a successful book event.