It was Saturday morning and Matthew Sharpe was late, but for a good reason. The author of Jamestown was supposed to be signing copies of his book in the autographing room of BookExpo America (BEA), but he’d just been named a finalist for a Quill Book Award, part of a program organized by NBC Universal and Reed Business Information that honors books in nineteen different categories at an awards show televised on NBC. Sharpe was busy being interviewed for MSNBC.
One of the draws at BEA is the free books—as many as you can grab to make up for the price of your ticket if you’re not a bookseller or member of the media. You can also have authors sign your free book for you, which is why one particular table was stacked with copies of Jamestown. A lone intern from Soft Skull Press, Sharpe’s publisher, was left to appease the people waiting in a line that stretched out into the children’s area of the convention center. It was the first day of her internship, and the people waiting in line, some with totes overpacked with books, were impatient.
Finally, Sharpe popped out from behind the author-area curtain, dressed in a checked pattern shirt, cuffs upturned to show a paisley pattern underneath. He’s a calm and quiet guy, still a bit surprised about being nominated for the Quill and interviewed for TV, but not too giddy about it. He sat up in his chair, pulled out a pen, and prepared to sign copies of his book at a table between the authors of The Brain Diet and Sober Celebrations—both nonfiction titles.
A lot of people just asked that their books be signed by the author without a dedication. Do they sell them on eBay? "I guess they could," said Sharpe when there was a lull in the line of autograph-seekers. The break didn’t last long. He attracted a steady stream of traffic—so steady, in fact, that he ran out of copies of Jamestown at the exact moment when a fan said she’d traveled all the way from Germany to meet him. She was kidding, of course, but she had been so effusive in her praise of Sharpe’s work that she convinced her friend to buy copies of all his other books—Stories From the Tube, Nothing Is Terrible, and The Sleeping Father.
Other die-hard fans were on hand too. Edward Kaback brought all of Sharpe’s previous books with him to be signed. Beth Shields asked for a picture. Librarians from Connecticut got their copies and said how excited they were to have Sharpe coming to sign at their library in the fall. One little girl who probably shouldn’t be reading Jamestown—considering it’s set in a post-apocalyptic future and includes some pretty violent scenes—also asked to get a copy signed. Her head barely cleared the table. It turns out she wanted a copy not for her but for her sister’s teacher.
Sure beats an apple.