Talking Books, with Sarah Jessica Parker and Pamela Paul
This year’s conference is sprinkled with publishing and writing stars and, in the case of Sarah Jessica Parker, who will give the opening breakfast keynote, a film and television star, as well. Parker will be in conversation with New York Times Book Review editor Pamela Paul, who will later talk about general book trends and numbers with American Booksellers Association CEO Oren Teicher. Other speakers include business guru Daniel Pink, who is returning to Winter Institute to talk about the importance of perfect timing. Other featured keynotes, which take place at the Memphis Cook Convention Center, include Pulitzer Prize–winning author Junot Díaz for his first picture book; Alberto Manguel, director of the National Library of Argentina, on the importance of books; and futurist Amy Webb on what will happen to the book business.
An award-winning actress, producer, honorary chair of the American Library Association’s Book Club Central, and editorial director of an eponymous imprint at Hogarth Press, which is about to launch its first list, Sarah Jessica Parker has made no secret about her love for books. In a widely viewed YouTube video, Parker calls books her “true constant companions.” For the opening keynote of Winter Institute, Parker will talk about her passion for books with Pamela Paul, New York Times Book Review editor and author, most recently, of My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues (Holt).
“I grew up in a home where reading was an integral part of our lives,” Parker tells PW. “We didn’t have a television, and we all left the house with something to read, always.” Parker continues this habit today, which helps explain how she finds time to read with a career that takes her around the globe, plus having three kids and a husband. “First of all, the subway,” Parker says. “There’s no better place to read, and I purposely take it for that reason. I pretend that wireless doesn’t exist underground.” She also reads during hair and makeup sessions and even when she’s on a set. If the scene requires a purse, she tucks a book inside it. Otherwise, Parker hides one under a table, on a shelf, or under a couch cushion. “If someone calls ‘cut,’ I pull my book out,” she says.
Perhaps it is Parker’s authentic fervor for reading that makes Paul welcome her and other celebrities to the book world. “I’m not snobbish about it,” Paul says. “It’s exciting that they want to be involved with books. It’s always delicious that public figures who are so successful in other realms that one might consider to be more glamorous than publishing want to be a part of the book world.” Paul believes that today publishing is “big enough and flexible enough” to accommodate a broad range of voices. “I see [celebrities] enlarging and broadening the sphere,” she adds.
And that is exactly what Parker hopes her SJP imprint will do. She seeks books that can effect change. Her excitement about the inaugural publication, A Place for Us (due out in June), a debut novel by Fatima Farheen Mirza, about an Indian-American Muslim family, is palpable. “I was so impressed with her authority, her ability to tell me about a family and a culture that I don’t know. It is an absolute thrill to know that it’s months away from publishing,” says Parker.
Like Parker, Paul seeks out emerging voices from around the globe that transcend time and place. But she says it was an accident that so many books on the New York Times Book Review’s 10 Best Books list for 2017 are about many of today’s hot-button issues: migration, Brexit, homeland and belonging, and gender issues. “With the exception of Ali Smith, who wrote [the novel Autumn] very quickly in response to Brexit, these writers have been working on their books for a long time, in some cases many years, and couldn’t have known that their books would land at a really prescient moment,” Paul says.
Parker echoes Paul’s sentiments, noting that global voices are important to her regardless of the political times in which we live. “We all know books have the opportunity to create empathy and to help one understand people who are foreign and unfamiliar,” she says. “They change the way we look at our neighbors and people we see on the subway.”
See Parker and Paul’s opening keynote on Tuesday, January 23, 7:45–9 a.m., in Ballroom A B.
Timing Is Everything, with Daniel Pink
If you’re greeting your bookstore customers with effusive warmth and cheer and then disappearing into the stockroom once they’re at the register, you’ve got it all wrong, says Daniel Pink. In his newly published book When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing (Riverhead), the bestselling author, whose TED Talk on the science of motivation is one of the 10 most-watched TED Talks of all time, discusses the importance of timing, both personally and professionally.
“There’s a hidden pattern to the day. All times of the day are not created equal,” Pink says. We all have periods when we are at our peak or in a trough and periods of recovery. Depending on whether you’re a lark (a morning person), an owl (a night person), or “a third bird” (neither one extreme nor the other), there is a hidden pattern to our days, he says. Most people are at their best in the morning and at their worst in early to midafternoon. Then they have a recovery period later in the afternoon.
Pink advises booksellers to pay careful attention to endings. “There’s incredible research to show that how something ends disproportionately affects our memory and evaluation of an experience,” he says. Pink points to restaurant research that has shown that the wrong amount on a check or a forgotten coffee will lead to extremely negative reviews from customers. But a surprise dessert or a waiter who chases after you to give you the keys you’ve forgotten has the opposite effect. Just because a customer walks out the door with a purchased book doesn’t mean that the buyer will return, if the ending moments in the store don’t also go well.
For publishers, Pink recommends against editing a book after the last meeting at the end of the day. Our peak times are ideal for intense, focused, “head-down” work, he says. Troughs are the best for doing administrative tasks like answering emails or doing expense reports. Recovery periods are good for brainstorming and taking meetings.
More broadly, Pink’s research on endings puts to rest the age-old question of what should come first, good news or bad news? Always, the bad news first, he says, whether you’re a manager giving an employee a performance evaluation or a medical doctor offering a patient a prognosis.
See Pink’s afternoon keynote on Tuesday, January 23, 3:25–4:25 p.m., in Ballroom C D.
Debating the Future, with Amy Webb
“I get asked all the time, ‘what’s the future of books?’” says quantitative futurist Amy Webb, founder of the Future Today Institute, a leading forecasting and strategy firm. “That’s a great way to miss what’s coming. If you’re trying to figure out the future of one thing, you have to look at the future of all things.”
Instead of focusing on a narrow topic like the fate of print, the futurist looks more broadly at the world, weighing developments in fields like bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, and virtual reality. Webb thinks these emerging trends will someday converge into new literary experiences, like a book that can be personalized to its reader, a text you can read in virtual reality, or a bookstore shelf that can read your emotions and deliver a book recommendation laser-focused on your mood at that exact moment.
Webb came to futurism after serving as a journalist in Japan (Newsweek) and Hong Kong (Wall Street Journal). She also spent eight years in high school and college as a competitive debater. “In debate, you are constantly asking questions and poking holes in hypotheses,” she says. The experience taught her how to “separate what feels right from what the data show to be true.”
Webb’s organization helps leaders around the world plan for technological disruption and find a better answer to the question, “What’s the future of X?” In her most recent book, The Signals Are Talking: Why Today’s Fringe Is Tomorrow’s Mainstream (PublicAffairs), she outlines the methodology that her institute follows when forecasting the future: how to find fringe thinkers nurturing world-changing ideas, how to discover patterns between trends, and how to “pressure test” every prediction.
Webb applied her skills as a futurist on a more personal level in her memoir, Data, A Love Story: How I Cracked the Online Dating Code to Meet My Match, about how she analyzed online dating trends and found her future husband. They now have a seven-year-old daughter and a home filled with technology, including walking and talking robots. Despite these trappings of the future, her daughter’s library is filled with print books. “Nothing is more important than making sure that she has the ability to think and to reason,” Webb says.
Webb was saddened to discover that her old high school had cut funding for the debate team. “As we enter an era in which humans will be augmented by machines, we need a future generation able to think critically and ask questions,” she says. “We need people who have the skills of a debater, who understand how to do primary research and how to ask difficult questions.”—Jason Boog
See Webb’s morning keynote on Thursday, January 25, 10:45–11:45 a.m., Ballroom C D.
Books as Companions, with Alberto Manguel
Alberto Manguel, the director of the National Library of the Argentine Republic since 2016, has accomplished much: he has written books in both English and Spanish, edited anthologies on a variety of themes and genres, translated books, and reviewed books for various media outlets. But his most impressive accomplishment might be building a personal library of more than 35,000 volumes. It’s even more impressive considering Manguel’s peripatetic existence.
Since his birth in Buenos Aires in 1948, Manguel has hopscotched across the globe. He has resided in Israel, France, England, Tahiti, and Canada, as well as his native Argentina. In 2000, he and his partner moved to southwest France, where they lived in a medieval presbytery with a barn that they renovated to house all the books they owned. A little over two years ago, “for reasons I don’t wish to recall,” says Manguel, he prepared to leave and move to a one-bedroom apartment in New York City.
The task of sorting all of his books and packing some to take to Manhattan and others for storage in Montreal prompted Manguel to write his soon-to-be released Packing My Library: An Elegy and Ten Digressions (Yale Univ.). “Packing My Library [is] my attempt to crystallize a lifelong love relationship with books and libraries,” Manguel tells PW. His self-described “insatiable” book collecting emerged, ironically enough, from his family’s nomadic lifestyle.
His father was a diplomat, and Manguel says, as a young child he “felt lost, not knowing where home was.” He found comfort opening one of the books he carried with him from place to place. “I think it was one of my Golden Books,” he says. “Finding there, on the same page, the same story and the same illustration that I remembered from other nights in other rooms, I knew that books were my true home and my faithful companions.” By age three or four, he claims, he already owned 100 books, and still has some of them, the pages “scribbled with colored crayons.”
Refusing to be labeled a book hoarder, Manguel says that he just “love[s] the proximity of books, the visible number of them aligned on the walls, the promise of conversation they offer, their selfless friendship.” —Claire Kirch
See Manguel’s afternoon keynote, Thursday, January 25, 3–4 p.m., in Ballroom A.
Writing for Diverse Kids, with Junot Díaz
The Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, among other acclaimed books for adults, is finally ending what he calls “the epoch of disappointment” by publishing his first children’s book, Islandborn (Dial Books for Young Readers), which is set to be released in March.
“If you’re a writer and you have young people in your life,” Junot Díaz tells PW, “they naturally demand that you write them books.” For years, Díaz had nothing to share with his goddaughters, nieces, and nephews. “I always had the sense that they thought I was something of a fraud,” he says.
That is about to change with his latest effort, a picture book, illustrated by Leo Espinosa, which tells the story of Lola, an immigrant from the Island, who is growing up in New York City. When her teacher asks the class to draw a picture of where they’re from, Lola can’t remember the Island. So she interviews the people in her neighborhood to find out about it.
For Díaz, the story reflects the Dominican expat community in the U.S. that surrounds him. “I have a lot of young people in my life whose parents are immigrants, and they may have come over when they were really young. They don’t have the memories of their place, yet they live surrounded by it,” he says.
Díaz also drew on his own experiences immigrating to the U.S. from the Dominican Republic as a child. Even though he was a voracious reader, he says that he still felt “stigmatized as being behind and remedial.” That only made him read more. “When you grow up poor or other in this society, it feels deeply dystopic,” he notes. “Your greatest weapon is imagination.”
While he loved the artistic style of the 1970s picture books he grew up reading, Díaz says he was always disappointed that people of color were not reflected in them. “I wanted a book about Dominicans and Caribbeans in that style,” says Díaz.
Working with Espinosa gave him the opportunity to change that—and to boost his confidence about writing for young readers. “It’s intimidating to write a picture book,” says Díaz. “There is nothing better in the world than [to work with] somebody who is so talented they can make your ass look good.”
Despite his initial intimidation, Díaz has signed on to write another children’s book for Dial. A notoriously painstaking writer, he jokes that he should have it ready for publication “in under 18 years.”
See Díaz’s breakfast keynote on Wednesday, January 24, 7:45–9 a.m., in Ballroom A B.