Author: Robert Stepanek


Mount Amiata, at 1,740 meters high, stands to the south of the Brunello region in Tuscany like a climatic guardian, shielding the territory from weather conditions such as cloudbursts and hailstorms – and thus yielding the mild, sunny, typically Mediterranean climate ideal for producing the light, appealing wines the area is known for. One would hardly suspect, then, that the region was the setting of fierce military battles throughout the 12th to 16th centuries, when the municipality of Montalcino first fought Siena, and then with Siena against Florence, to maintain control of its territory. Despite the city walls and great fortress protecting Montalcino as a man-made Amiata, when in 1559 the inhabitants handed over the keys of the city to representatives of Cosmo de’ Medici, it became the last town to survive as an independent municipality in Italy.


Could anyone have been surprised that after the landmark New York Public Library main branch building on Fifth Avenue acquired the official moniker of the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building that it would be simply a matter of time before its inexorable transition from a legendary public space into just one more piece of very deluxe Manhattan Real Estate, a metamorphosis ongoing as the facility is emptied out of much of its vast research collections in order to satisfy the NYPL high command’s objective of maximizing what they characterize as an ‘underutilized’ (read: under monetized) institution?

APAP 2014

While it seems for those who’ve lived in Manhattan for a while that the imperative of real estate development in Manhattan was exacerbated in the 12 years of the Bloomberg Imperium to the point that the arts have been pushed further and further out into neighboring boroughs, it’s still possible to see and listen to a diverse array of performers here. One great example of this is the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP) conference, which takes place in January every year. While the primary focus of the confab is to unite in one place folks whose business it is to manage theaters, festivals and other venues all over the nation where live performances are staged, and accordingly there are many panels and presentations which address issues in that arena, the undeniable highlight of the occasion is the showcase performances by the musicians, actors, dancers, magicians and other live acts which give the arts presenters an opportunity to see which acts they may wish to book for their upcoming year. Many of these take place at the conference headquarters at the Hilton Hotel in Manhattan, but for the duration of the event many other venues host performers as part of it (both in Manhattan and elsewhere in the city), and one need not be an arts presenter to enjoy some of the acts.


The recent timing of the announcement that start-up ebook retailer Zola has acquired start-up book retailer Bookish in a cash deal has had the effect of bookending, as it were, the 2013 and 2014 editions of Digital Book World, which will be taking place on January 13-15 at the Sharaton New York Hotel & Towers. After all, it was just last February – within a month after the 4th Digital Book World event concluded – that Bookish was finally up and running, after nearly two years of planning and delays. The acquisition will merge about half of the Bookish employees, mostly on the tech side, into Zola’s operations, while for the present time Zola plans to continue running Bookish as a standalone website as long-term strategies for integrating the two entities are hashed out.


With Autumn well under way, a number of food purveyors gathered under the Food Fete banner on November 7th to present their latest products to assembled journalists in New York. Here’s an account of noteworthy items I was able to sample.


When walking the floor at Javits for BookExpo America, I always have several considerations in mind. One is that since I am a writer and am developing a few long-form manuscripts, I make a point of checking which publishers are putting out titles in a similar vein as the projects I’m working on; lingering at their booths affords chances to engage in conversation any editors, agents or other industry personnel who might be there, and hence afford proposal opportunities. As I am also a reader, I always spend time ‘browsing the stacks’ of the show, seeing what diverse books and other sundry items are being promoted, with no objective other than satisfying my general curiosity. Occasionally, these two preoccupations merge.


Last year, as the National Book Foundation staff engaged in preparations for the November ceremony announcing the Winners of the National Book Awards, they were dealt a formidable obstacle when Hurricane Sandy swept through the Lower Manhattan area where they have their offices. Not only did the flooding downtown make usage of the building housing their facilities impossible for a matter of months, it also jeopardized the ceremony itself, as the grand bank building they customarily host the awards at was also within the flood zone; even after the waters receded its availability was uncertain due to prolonged cleanup operations made necessary once the storm rendered the financial district a disaster area. Thus, with their organization homeless for an incalculable duration extending beyond the set date of the annual Gala, an extraordinary diligence and persistence were demanded of NBF personnel while continuing their planning in absentia – which made the festivities-as-usual atmosphere at the Awards on November 14th all the more remarkable once the Cipriani Wall Street Ballroom was once again habitable by that evening.


Concurrent to the Fancy Food Show taking place at the Javits Center a few blocks away, the annual Summer Food Fete event featuring a more manageable array of food purveyors presenting their latest creations to food journalists was staged, and it included some exhibitors who had booths at Javits and some who did not. ‘Manageable’ is a relative term, however, as due to its timing to take advantage of the convergence upon the big event at Javits the number of brands represented was far more than Food Fete events staged at other times of the year – whereas previous iterations have had from 15-20 or so exhibitors, the event on July 1st totaled over 60 firms. Accordingly, the time frame for the event was a three-hour period instead of the normal two hours, and I regret not having budgeted time to account for the greater number of brands on hand and getting there earlier; arriving an hour into the event, I was unable to stop by all of the exhibitors’ tables to see what all was being presented.


The phrase “meat and potatoes” brings to mind a stereotypical middle-American diet, the sort you might associate with football players, deer hunters, and civil servants like policemen, firemen and the various branches of the military. Few Americans, however, are aware of the fact that the second part of that combo are not only truly of the Western Hemisphere in their provenance, but that the part of the Americas that they originated in is below the Equator – Peru, in fact. After being domesticated some 7,000-10,000 years ago, the potato has truly become an international food staple, having been introduced to regions outside the Andean origins of cultivation four centuries ago. Today, Peru still boasts a staggering variety of the edible tubers, some 3,000 of which (of approximately 5,000 varieties worldwide) are found there alone.


Having temporarily abandoned the rotating host-city format in 2009 (until 2016, when the annual event will be held in Chicago), once again BookExpo America will take place at the Javits Convention Center in New York from May 29 through June 1. The seven-year stint in what is unarguably the capital of publishing in the US has certainly been welcomed by many in the industry, as it has simplified arrangements regarding travel, shipping and the like, matters which otherwise can often unduly complicate schedules publishing professionals would rather dedicate to the business, networking and socializing at hand.