One of my favorite conventions happened this past weekend, and most of you probably haven’t heard of it. Book Riot Live is a rather small reader convention held annually in New York City. It’s run by the people behind Book Riot—a website for book reviews, podcasts, and online community. Despite its small size and lack of superstar authors, Book Riot Live really impressed me with its welcoming environment, smooth organization, and thoughtful panels.
This was only the convention’s second year running, but its manageable size meant that it wasn’t plagued by any of the chaos or confusion I’ve seen at other reader events lately. Book Riot Live took up only two floors of NYC’s Metropolitan West, with a stage for panels, a dozen or so vendor/sponsor booths, and an area to relax and read or color on the first floor. The second floor had another stage plus a few tables to buy books and swag from. Each stage had its own small signing area where you could meet authors after their panels. Thankfully, the lines were never long and there was plenty of room for con-goers to chat with their favorite authors, or with new writers whom they had just encountered and been inspired by at a panel. The vendor tables sold a lot of quality books and merchandise, and many also offered free swag, candy, or the chance to enter a giveaway. The read-and-relax area had coloring pages featuring the covers of novels as well as comfy chairs for cuddling up with a new book. The convention made sure that authors and guests of all genders felt welcome by providing gender neutral bathrooms and stickers on which to write your pronouns. But what really made the convention for me were the panels and the authors they featured.
One cool thing about having a small convention with such a diversity of authors was that you wound up having really interesting combinations for each panel. The first panel I went to had a wine reviewer, a young adult novelist, a nonfiction author, and a Chinese translator and writer sitting beside each other and discussing how they each found their way into writing. At another panel, a journalist, a correctional services librarian, and a comic book artist got together to talk about our justice system and the role that books can play in it.
Though the panels were on a variety of different topics, certain themes and key ideas came up repeatedly throughout the weekend, made even more poignant by the recent election results. One such idea was that new voices need to be heard and marginalized people should be able to represent themselves with their own voices. For example, Ken Liu spoke about his decision to write a silk-punk epic fantasy novel because he felt that the high fantasy genre was dominated by a single voice—Tolkien and his imitators—and that the few fantasies that did include Chinese elements tended to do so on a very superficial level. Tara Clancy spoke about how the simple absence of stories by and about working class women in NYC since the publication of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn inspired her to tell her life story. Patrick Phillips, author of Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America also explained how authors who have privilege can use that privilege to lift up the voices of others.
Another key idea was that minorities are not a monolith. Jade Chang, Negin Farsad, and Zoraida Cordova each mentioned how they didn’t have the stereotypical “immigrant experience” when they moved to America, for different reasons. Many of the authors also spoke about feeling outside pressure to tell a certain type of story—whether it was the expectation that marginalized authors will only write sad stories of tragedy and struggle or that immigrants should tell nonfiction accounts of their lives rather than delving into science fiction and fantasy.
Apart from these important and serious discussions, though, there were also lots of light moments in the panels. At the end of the day on Saturday, Tara Clancy brought the “If We’re Not Laughing, We’re Crying” panel to an appropriate close by telling an amusing story about her family that had me laughing so hard, tears came. On Sunday, “Sarah’s Scribbles” creator Sarah Anderson and Bitch Planet comic artist Valentine De Landro went head-to-head in a game of competitive literary Pictionary. I ended the con at a panel for Read Harder, a reading challenge run by Book Riot personnel which focuses on broadening minds and encouraging readers to have a diverse reading experience. The panel felt very uplifting, with both the panelists and audience members trading book suggestions and asking for advice. By the end of the weekend, not only had I picked up a few new books from authors and publishers present at the con, but I also came away with a whole list of recommended reads.
Overall, Book Riot Live was one of the most enjoyable conventions I’ve ever been to, with just the right mix of stuff to buy, panels to watch, authors to meet, and opportunities for just hanging around with your fellow con-goers. I can’t wait to go again next year, and in the mean time to start reading my new books and getting involved in all the new book communities I learned about at the con.