Sundays In: Galleys

by Dave Wheeler

Last week I was ushered into a peculiar privilege of booksellers, the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association expo. The book fair occurs annually, and in my now third year of professionally selling books, this was my initiation visit. I rode with two esteemed colleagues down to Tacoma, where a hotel conference room filled with publishers, local book reps, authors, and many fine booksellers from wide stretches of the Pacific Northwest wandered about, buying books, chatting excitedly about upcoming titles, and gushing over this and that.

I’d never been. But I had a guess as to what I was missing. The food was just all right. There was also a toast with some bourbon a little later on. (We know how to party.) But there were galleys to be had. Plenty of galleys.

The purpose of PNBA has been to connect booksellers with publishers who may not have a presence in the Pacific Northwest. Sure we have our lovely local reps, always running in and out of our stores, laden with galleys, but there is really little other face-to-face with the publishers themselves. But that wasn’t my concern: my concern was the galleys.

Mountains of books pending release dates, from days to months. I like feeling like I’m on the cutting edge of something. My knowledge of music went by the wayside a few years ago. Film has never been my strong suit. But books!–books are my gig.

You’ve seen galleys if you’ve ever spent much time in a used bookstore. They’re the ugly books, often bound with colored cardstock. And as much as I love finished books — the heft of a hardback, the myriad styles and typographies of dust jackets — there’s a simplicity to the galley that borders on sacred. This is truly about the content of the book itself. The words. The ideas. The voice alone. Without the costume. What it is is bare, unashamed, and essential.

I’d be kidding you if I led you to believe that PNBA is anything remotely resembling a gala affair. But maybe “hotel conference room” got that across. We really are a modest pedigree. The fun we do have hinges on something less tangible than the objects themselves, the travel perks (Tacoma!), the booze (though we love it). No: truly. If you look at any bookseller’s library at home, I’d wager a significant percentage of shelf space is filled with the truly horrid, tasteless designs and smudgy covers of advanced copies we fell in love with, not because of pretty design work or sexy French flaps.

Often a bookseller falls in love with a book early, before the Ouija signs of the New York Times or Oprah point to “yes.” And sometimes those signs never get there. But I’d bet you dollars to donuts the book any one of us recommends you stems from the sort of place the human heart has reserved for emphatic truth-telling, like we’re letting you in on the greatest secret we know.

“Sundays In” is a new bi-weekly column written as the experiences of one reader to another. While much of the week might be filled with work and errands, there might just be one afternoon to enjoy the pleasure of reading. For this bookseller, “Sunday” is Thursday.

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