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Booksellers convention full of interesting people

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Last weekend I mingled with booksellers, publicists and other book critics at the National Booksellers Convention and Trade Show (BookexpoAmerica) held in sunny Los Angeles.

It's always a thoroughly stimulating place to be. The organizers estimated 37,000 registered attendees, including 1,000 media types like me.

You have to be good with crowds to survive in such a setting, so you develop an awkward shuffle as you slip from a thin carpet to a lush one without falling down. You also need an effective scanning technique enabling you to take in all the new book titles without slowing down. When you see a good one, of course, you have to stop and give your business card to a publicist and cheerfully add, "Would you send me that title?"

One thing I was not prepared for this year: There were a number of people who were not either booksellers or members of the press who figured out how to get through tight security with their luggage on wheels or their collections of bags, all of which they proceeded to fill up with books, then say to each other, "I'll be right back — I'm taking these out to the car."

That said, there are a number of interesting people to talk to while standing in line or eating meager breakfasts, waiting for eminent writers to take the podium. A number of them are would-be writers who hope to get ideas or contacts to help them get published.

Writers as a whole seem to be people with remarkably little ego.

My favorite speaker this year was Alec Baldwin, currently starring in NBC's "30 Rock" with Tina Fey. Baldwin identified himself as an unlikely author who had discovered something to say about divorce in the forthcoming "A Promise to Ourselves: A Journey Through Divorce and Fatherhood."

Sounds deadly. It's evident that Baldwin has never recovered from his ugly divorce from the glamorous Kim Basinger. But to his credit, he acted as a model master of ceremonies, first introducing himself by reading a hilarious resume as if he were someone else.

Other speakers were Magic Johnson, the former Lakers basketball star who has written a still untitled book about his astronomical success in business — he owns huge numbers of Starbucks and Burger Kings.

Philiippa Gregory, British author of "The Other Queen" who is well known for her book on Anne Boleyn, was charming, and Andre Dubus III, whose new book, "The Garden of Last Days" is a seamy book about the world of strippers and prostitutes, spoke more like a guy off the street than a famed author.

Between speakers the suave Baldwin served up a litany of clever one-liners. He seemed for all the world to be Tina Fey's big network boss.

The highlight of an author's luncheon panel was Richard Engel, NBC Middle East correspondent and author of "War Journal: My Five Years in Iraq," a personable and eloquent speaker. Substituting for Michael Moore was the incomparable Arianna Huffington, editor of The Huffington Post and former candidate for California governor. Huffington is very liberal and very witty. Her book is "On Becoming Fearless," a subject she ought to be able to write about persuasively.

Huffington, who was borne in Greece and educated in England, has written 10 other books. She jokingly said she actually picked up her charming Greek accent in Fresno.

Christopher Buckley, satirical political novelist, is a Republican and son of the late William J. Buckley, sometimes known as THE American conservative. Buckley has a new book called "Supreme Courtship" about the U.S. Supreme Court. If his books were as funny as he is at the podium, they would make him very famous.

Whatever. Most of the books I saw are being published at the end of the summer or early in the fall. It should be a good year for readers.

E-mail: dennis@desnews.com