A giant box of books followed me home from NCTE last November, dozens and dozens of books, picture books and middle grade novels and YA novels and graphic novels and memoirs and informational books and poetry.
My son shook his head as I was giddily unpacking. “You must have gotten all the books.”
To a non-book coveter, I’m sure it appeared so. But even as I was making happy stacks all over my dining room, I was acutely aware of all the books I didn’t manage to get. The books I said no to because I had no more room. The books that said no to me by being all gone by the time I asked for them. And the books I just couldn’t bear to wait in line for.
There is always one big book regret from NCTE, a book I think I can live without when I just can’t stand in one more long line, a book I then get home and think about every single day until it’s finally published and I can read it.
This year, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Shout was that book. I wanted it so badly that I decided to wait in line for it. The line can’t be that long, I reasoned. But it was. That line snaked up and down and around the aisles, hundreds and hundreds of people long. As I stood there dithering about joining it, twenty more teachers arrived and hopped in front of me. I don’t care much for signed copies of books. Meeting authors I love makes me feel awkward and gushy, so I usually prefer not to. There was a session I really wanted to attend starting in twenty minutes and no way would I get through this line in under an hour. Maybe more! I felt the regret even as I turned away, but I did turn away.
And then I thought about Shout. Every single day.
In February, I attended a new-to-me conference, the First Year Experience Conference. It was excellent, highly recommended for anyone in higher ed who works with first-year students. Before we left to travel to the conference, some colleagues who know me well advised me to bring an extra suitcase.
“What for?” I asked.
“The books,” they said. “Publishers give away free books.”
Free books at a higher ed conference. I tried to imagine what books academics would get excited about at a conference. A bunch of university press revised dissertations on impossibly obscure and niche subjects was what came to mind. No thanks, I said. I think I’m good.
“Well, at least sign up for the free lunches,” they said. “You get a sandwich or a salad and an author talks.”
Again, I had this image of a bunch of academics talking up their studies of grasshoppers or their dive into the archive to retrieve one tiny piece of paper from 1822.
“I’ll probably just read during lunchtime,” I said.
Of course I couldn’t turn down a trip to the exhibit hall once we arrived, and imagine my astonishment when the hall was full not of tiny university presses but of the major publishers with tables full of gorgeous shiny new hardcovers, novels and sociology and memoirs and essays and graphic novels and even the occasional middle-grade or YA novel. Book after book after book that I happened to be DYING to read.
I vowed to ask better questions next time someone told me about free books. That got me wondering about those free author luncheons, and when I saw the advertisement for one of those, I realized my mistake. Fatima Farheen Mirza would be talking about her novel, A Place for Us, which I had loved. Abdi Nor Iftin, whose story was told in the greatest This American Life episode of all time, Abdi and the Golden Ticket, would be talking about his memoir. And Laurie Halse Anderson would be talking about Shout.
“Do you want to sign up?” a publisher’s representative asked me as I goggled at the advertisement poster. “You can get a free copy of their books too. I can tell you what they’re about so you can see if you’re interested.”
Not necessary! Just give me the sign-up sheet.
And that’s how I found myself with a copy of Shout at last—and a signed copy at that. After the talk, the line to get books signed by all of the authors was only a couple of dozen people long. Even I couldn’t turn down my very first signed Laurie Halse Anderson for the price of waiting in line behind twenty people.