As a nine-year-old book nerd in the Midwest, I spent much of my time reading and writing letters to fake pen pals. I achieved normalcy only on Saturdays when I crouched in my pink pajamas in front of the TV, cereal dribbling down my chin as I watched the Super Friends champion the cause of moral good. Super Friends was one of my favorite cartoons and I was in awe of Wonder Woman, Aquaman, Superman and Batman as they battled injustice in Metropolis and emerged triumphant and unscathed by each encounter with evil. I never read comic books growing up but the extent of my crush for characters in tights sparked with Captain Planet (he’s our hero!), expanded with Sailor Moon (who was pretty flaky as far as superheroes go) and swelled with Batman, citizen turned masked crusader whose personal demons, handsomeness, and movie franchise formed the entire basis of my friendship to Nikki Sanchez in middle school. As I watched Super Friends on Saturday mornings, I wondered: where was my invisible jet? My sidekick? My league of like-minded peers who weren’t embarrassed to wear tights and codpieces because they had each other?
I’m no longer a child with fake pen pals, but sometimes I still feel marooned, especially in the Sea of Wonk, a vast body of water that overflows D.C. where knowing the ins and outs of Senate floor procedure leads directly to a first class ticket. For failing to assert any wonkiness, I’m typically granted space in the cargo hold. Is this how Wonder Woman felt? Was Bruce Wayne lonely because, aside from keeping his identity as Batman a secret, no one understood why he adopted his doppelganger in the first place?
Then, I found my people. Much like the Super Friends, who gathered at the Hall of Justice, my people gathered at the American Booksellers Association’s (ABA) annual winter conference, a four-day affair specifically for independent bookstores, owners, and their booksellers. The Super Friends, despite their uniquely individual superpowers, found confidence in numbers when they came together at the Hall of Justice in Metropolis. Similarly, my people were reminded of our importance to publishers and authors when we came together at a hotel in a Virginia suburb bordering the airport.
Typically, I’m just an average bookseller. I don’t have any special powers. I can’t wield the sword of justice. Sometimes, I can’t even convince customers that Olive Kitteridge is the title of the book, not the author. For a book nerd, the excitement of hanging out with other nerds was a delightful reprieve from family members who wonder when I’ll get a “real” job to pay off those student loans and former colleagues who ask how long I’ll hang onto this stopgap job once the economy recovers. Connected with other booksellers, I suddenly became awesome. I became a Super Nerd.
My conference days were dotted by sessions with topics such as independent bookstore financials, coping with the emerging E-book market, learning social media integration, and making non-fiction appealing to customers. A visit to the galley room yielded twenty-five advanced reader’s copies of books I can’t wait to devour. During lunch, I speed dated with publishers, each of whom guaranteed their spring and summer titles were the “hit of the season.” The author reception provided an opportunity to see what writers are like away from their prose while four hundred booksellers dashed eagerly from line to line in Hotel Ballroom A to have authors sign their books.
I was in heels, so I didn’t stand in line for just anyone. I waited patiently while Bonnie Jo Campbell happily chatted at length with each bookseller. I gushed about how much I enjoyed her short story collection American Salvage and we lamented the hard times that have befallen our home state of Michigan. I have a former teacher’s crush on children’s author Doreen Cronin and she kindly signed her previous books for me while I jabbered about all the five year olds I indoctrinated into her work using Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type and Duck for President. “In my classroom, Duck got more votes than John McCain,” I told her. “They said he had a better platform.” At a nearby table, a young, debut novelist asked men who requested she sign her book to their wives, “Why? Is that because I’m a woman? You think I’m a women’s writer?”
I spent nearly an entire meal ripping into the work of Jonathan Safran Foer, venerating the work of Mark Z. Danielewksi and disagreeing vehemently over the poetry of Mary Oliver with two booksellers. I gossiped about other bookstores over coffee and doughnuts. I strategized Twitter feeds with two hipsters from Brooklyn. On Friday of the conference, because I’m almost never out very late, I texted my partner to say I had accepted an impromptu dinner invitation with an author and some booksellers and would be home around eight. Two restaurants, ten bottles of wine, one bar, and a hookah lounge later, I crept in at three-thirty, slept for four hours, and went to work in the morning.
Hanging out with Super Nerds whose job is to evangelize all the reasons a non-Super Nerd should buy a particular book is apparently all it takes to turn me into one of the Gossip Girls, minus the trust fund and the headband with a giant bow. It’s a great feeling to be at home among your people. If you’re the only crime fighting superhero in Metropolis, why not hang with other badasses like yourself?