Ah, the perks of working at Chapters.  During the summer, our store manager told us that all Chapters employees were invited to the Random House Fall Preview at the Hyatt Regency.  Now, I don’t know about you, but this sounded pretty sweet.  And they’d send us free books!  Can’t say no to that.  So last Sunday, I headed down to King Street West.  If I had been doing a live feed, here’s what it might have looked like:

Several days prior – Receive an email confirming registration and asking us to bring a pen, since they won’t be distributing them.  Okay.­­­­

11:00 – Trying to decide what to wear.  Event is at posh hotel, with publishing head honchos, and Michael Ondaatje – the Michael Ondaatje.  And it’s raining.  Boots or heels, boots or heels?  Settle on black pencil skirt and Franco Sarto maroon heels, which are comfy but don’t see much sunlight because they’re heels.

12:15 – Walk past the super discreet Hyatt entrance three times before I realize that it’s the hotel, and I only really see it because I go through Starbucks.  Vaguely intimidated by heaps of shiny marble, leather cushions, running water, and really nice bathrooms.

12:20 – Head to second-floor ballroom and register, which entails getting a brochure and putting down my name, email, and Chapters store number.  First inkling that it’s not quiiiiiite what I’d imagined.

12:25 – Enter ballroom and absolutely clear I am massively overdressed.  Everyone there has “I work at Chapters!” tattooed on their forehead – boots, ripped jeans, sweatshirts, the whole casual gamut, excluding the proliferation of Coach and Longchamp.  I grab a fifth-row aisle seat, plop my coat down, and escape to get caffeine and fluffy croissant from a loaded table.   This must be where the pen money went.

12:32 – Sit back down and pull out review book, but quickly put it away because a) it’s published by Penguin (gasp!) and b) took a look at the handouts, which includes a 28-page PowerPoint handout.  Not a single romance novel, of course.

1:02 – Publisher reps Mike and Jen start the show, and tell us they’re going to spend the next two and a half hours telling us what books to expect through December.  Fun times.

1:10 – Michael Ondaatje introduces his new book The Cat’s Table and does a reading.  Had no idea this Canadian icon and author of The English Patient had a voice so hypnotizing – soft, gentle, firm, with a hint of not-quite-British accent (he’s from Sri Lanka, and his own experience on the ship to Canada informed the foundation of the new book).  His reading makes me think about other author readings, perhaps during signings – what if they’re actually terrible readers?  Would it put people off?  And there’s something terribly engaging about hearing a book read in person that brings me back to grade school; we should do it more often as adults.

1:17 – Beginning of the “Cirque du Livre”, many of the books Canadian authored.  Mike and Jen trade off describing books.  They’re engaging, I’ll grant them that – Mike is more easygoing, folksy and off-the-cuff; Jen is more scripted.  But then, this is the last stop on a 15-city tour, so they have their schtick down pat.

1:25 – Mike introduces Kelley Armstrong’s Spellbound, and says he gave away a major spoiler in Ottawa.  So now his synopsis sounds like “The heroine is recovering from something/someone in the previous book, and now is being chased across the country by something/someone(s) and aided by other possible agents.”  Better, mate, better.

Sometime during the next while – Synopses remind me remarkably of reviewing for AAR, and we have all the space in the world to do it (theoretically).  But how on earth do you summarize a book and interest a 100-plus crowd in less than a minute?  Very difficult.

1:45 – Jen introduces debut The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern, and says she hasn’t been this excited since Shadow of the Wind and Harry Potter.  Reeeeally.

2:00 – The star of the show, Dr. Samantha Nutt.  Approximately five feet tall with a high scratchy voice, in jeans and a leather jacket; looks 25 and is 42.  Damned Nations is based on her own humanitarian experiences in war-torn countries and takes a look at causes of war; in person she’s moving, charming, inspiring, and has a heap of common sense.  Standing ovation.

2:37 – Break for yummy brownies, lemon slices, and fruit.  Yup, this is definitely where the pen money went.

2:45 – To the people who can answer two questions about Hamlet: A plastic skull with flashing multi-colored eyeballs.  This is about where things start to go downhill.

2:55 – While talking about Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Marriage Plot, Mike does a magic trick.  They must be getting bored.

3:07 – Jen tells the ladies in the audience (i.e. 80%) that the sex scene in the new Lee Child (The Affair) is on page 260.  Like we need a sex scene to get us interested in Jack Reacher?  Patronizing and annoying.

3:15I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, new Flavia de Luce out November 1.  Much inner rejoicing.

3:21 – Janet Evanovich’s Explosive Eighteen, and Jen does a magic trick.  They must be really bored.

3:25 – Mike introduces The Scottish Prisoner by promising debut author Diana Gabaldon (ha ha), and lets out a reeking, stinking, nuclear-level spoiler from the previous book that turned me off of reading the entire series until I’m 92.   Now, I think he was just following the publisher’s blurb.  But unless I’m completely misinterpreting it, I’m not going there.

To summarize: This event was not what I had expected.  For one thing, it was exclusive to Chapters employees; it’s nice to know that they respect Canada’s largest bookseller this way, and it was informative to me – heck, I don’t have time to read all these books, and it’s nice to know what’s coming up.  But some of the books have already been released, or were just being reissued as trade paperbacks, so I felt some of it was redundant.  Then, I liked the overall casual feel, but at times it got too farcical, probably because the presenters were just really tired.  And really, some of the underhanded digs at romance (slight, but there) were not cool.

But in a few weeks, they’re going to send me free books to my store.  And if I email them back with thoughtful feedback, they’ll send me more books.  I honestly can’t see a bad side to that, can you?

Have you been to any kind of publishing event?  Thoughts?

– Jean AAR

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