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Saturday, December 30, 2006

MLA Day Two: In which I attend no sessions

Ah, MLA, filled with intellectual exchange, vibrant debate, and knowledge to be gained. Unless you decide to skip all sessions that you had considered attending on day two and instead to eat, drink, and visit your book at the book exhibit.

Visiting one's book is, I believe, a time-honored but usually sub rosa tradition at the MLA. It works something like this. First, you publish a book. That's the hard part. But the next part is not easy--that is, if you want to avoid abject embarrassment. You have to sidle up to your publisher's booth, taking off your convention badge beforehand, and remain unobtrusive so that your publisher does not recognize you and say hello to you by name. While you are pretending to browse through your publisher's fine collection of books by Other People Who Are Not You, you can sneak sidelong glances at Your Book to discern, in ascending order of importance,
  • whether anyone else is looking at it
  • whether anyone picks it up
  • whether anyone has stuck one of those glorious "I have reserved this book" slips of paper in it
If you should be so lucky to see a reserve slip in your book (I was not), then of course you have to find a way to get a glimpse of it and see who has purchased your book. This is tricky, since if anyone you know happens to pass by and witness this, you will look like the ass that you are but do not wish to appear to be. It requires a very delicate maneuver, usually involving picking up the book next to yours and pretending to skim through it while you surreptitiously pull enough of the slip out of your book to see the name written on it. A few well placed hmm's as you mindlessly flip the pages of the Book That Is Not Yours will help to throw people off the track.

If you attempt to judge me and pretend to be shocked by my behavior, claiming you have never done such a thing, I can only conclude that you have not yet published a book. Because I am convinced that everybody does this, and have seen many people doing it.

After going to the book exhibit, I had the misfortune of meeting a friend in the central circular lobby of the Philadelphia Marriott. Ugh. This is not the place to wait for someone. Everyone you don't want to see will walk by in the span of ten minutes and engage you in conversation. And then a large number of famous scholars will walk by and make you feel quite small.

So I have nothing of merit to report today. But I can give you a brief list of new books that I may order at the conference discount:

Kenneth Gross, Shylock Is Shakespeare (Chicago)
Seth Lerer, Inventing English: A Portable History of the Language (Columbia)
Will Fisher, Materializing Gender in Early Modern English Literature and Culture (Cambridge)
Margreta de Grazia, Hamlet without Hamlet (Cambridge)

  • At 12/30/2006 04:49:00 AM, Blogger bdh wrote…

    Ooh I like Seth Lerer, and I've already sung praises for Will Fisher. Quick question H: like Other Scholars Who Are Not You, do you have your book in your Amazon wishlist?


  • At 12/30/2006 07:11:00 AM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    If this makes you feel any better: yesterday (which must have officially been visit-the-book-exhibit day), my partner visited the booth of the press that's bringing out his book this summer. Not because he wanted to talk to his editor, but because he wanted to imagine what it would be like to be visiting that booth at the MLA next year, when his book would be there.

    He confessed this to me in tones of great embarrassment. And I said, "what's weird about that? I'd totally do that!"


  • At 12/30/2006 09:36:00 AM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    bdh: Nope, I leave my craziness off Amazon--and a good thing too, given that you are looking through Wish Lists!

    Flavia: that's truly first-class visiting. Tell GWB I'm impressed.


  • At 12/30/2006 11:18:00 AM, Blogger dhawhee wrote…

    I have been known to make such a visit to see how the press is presenting the book: what is it next to? Is it on the bottom shelf where grocery stores tend to stock plain tomato soup? Or at eye level with all the new but soon to be outdated or cancer-causing hot treats? Does it get its own poster? (This happened to a friend of mine's book at NCA: impressive!) Such a visit is also worth considering for those who are shopping for presses: the imagining spirit of GWB could well be a fun and worthy practice pre-contract.


  • At 12/30/2006 12:06:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    Has anyone seen Inkhorn at MLA? Ubi Inkhorn?


  • At 12/30/2006 06:08:00 PM, Blogger Flavia wrote…

    Oh, and I should have added this: I went to one booth yesterday where all the display copies were discounted by some 40-50%. Naturally, all the good ones already had the little bookmarks in them indicating that they were spoken for. . . but I couldn't help noting that one book, by someone I know slightly, lacked such a flag--while five of the six books right around it did have flags.

    It's on an esoteric subject and I don't even much like the author, but I couldn't help imagining how I'd feel if I were he and stopped by the booth and saw my sad, unpopular volume sitting there ignored by the cool kids.


  • At 12/30/2006 06:35:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    I feel for that poor, unwanted book. Like the last kid picked in the recess football game. Like the wallflower never asked to dance. Like the lonely high school student sitting at a lunch table all by himself.

    Sigh... who knew the MLA book exhibit had such pathos? Maybe we should start an ad campaign: "For just 2 cents a day, you can help these needy books get off the exhibit shelves and into academic offices, where they belong. Won't you please help? Every book should have a fighting chance."


  • At 12/30/2006 07:48:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    dhawee: I have a random off topic question: when you wrote those forty recommendations, were those forty different letters you wrote, or forty different envelopes you sent in the mail (some with substantially the same letters)?

    I'm about to send off my last ones (so far): 14 students, 14 letters, 28 recs in the mail (because some people are applying to multiple programs, obviously).

    I'm not sure I could write another twenty-six letters for another twenty-six students (and colleagues).


  • At 12/30/2006 08:10:00 PM, Blogger Hieronimo wrote…

    This last comment would be "on-topic" had it been posted in the correct post. And if you had done so, S, you would have recalled that it was not dhawhee but the blogreader known as midmodern scholar who wrote 40 recs one year. Maybe midmodern will reply, though.

    I take it you put this comment here because that post about recs has now slid off our front page, and Blogger, being annoying, will only show "recent comments" that are posted on the front page. Blogger bothers me sometimes. If anyone knows of a better Recent Comments hack than this one, let us know.


  • At 12/30/2006 08:17:00 PM, Blogger Simplicius wrote…

    D'oh, and yes, that's why I posted it here.

    I assume when people say they've written X number of recs, they mean that many individual letters but figured I'd make sure.


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