Bold Face Progressives: Jeremy Scahill's Blackwater Book Big Hit at Giant Book Expo in L.A.

Every year the book publishing universe gathers for an over-the-top extravaganza of tens of thousands of book people, who are subjected to supercharged and often tacky marketing (giant-size posters of Ted Turner, Michael Moore and James Paterson), a gaggle of celeb authors, a multitude of parties -- the most coveted invite at this convention was a party at Prince's house -- and everything else that could happen when a hugely diverse, unwieldy industry gathers for four intense days.

The '08 BookExpo America took place this past weekend at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The book industry's hand-wringing and crisis of confidence were on full display. Rumors swirled about the future of Borders: Would there be layoffs, mergers or flat-out going out of business? Meanwhile, the new threat of the electronic book -- long on the horizon and finally making its presence felt -- spread unease and debate.

"I still would rather take a book on a plane than some kind of electronic reader," one book fan insisted. Jeff Bezos and the Amazon.com team were there to push Kindle, the company's electronic reader, which the New York Times suggests might be approaching the "tipping point," as it already accounts for 6 percent of Amazon.com's sales of books that are available in both print and electronic formats.

But when all is said and done, much of the buzz on the massive floor of the convention is linked to which authors are most popular, as indicated by the size of the crowds standing in line waiting for the coveted author-autographed copy. And this year, there were very big lines to meet, like the one in front of Jeremy Scahill, the guy with the biting critique of the world's largest, most lucrative and powerful mercenary army: "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army," just out in paperback by Nation books.

It's fun to use the autograph lines as a barometer of the cultural political zeitgeist. Progressive activist and funding consultant Brenda Coughlin, who was wandering the cavernous floor of the Expo, noted: "Wow, Jeremy's line is longer than the line for Ryan Seacrest." Scahill, whose personal buzz-cut look was copied by Justin Timberlake, was taken aback. "Jeez, I didn't realize until you pointed it out, but the line goes on and on, and snakes around the corner."

At the same time, maybe 100 yards away, Arianna Huffington was signing "Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe" in front of a comparably long line, charming the book industry masses with her Greek accent and pointed political commentary. She mentioned that she loved the article on AlterNet about her and the interview on Grit TV with Laura Flanders and yours truly. Huffington's book excerpt was the third most trafficked item of the week on AlterNet. And, oh, she will be on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno" on Wednesday night -- do tune in.

Huffington was recruited to join the Expo lunch panel on publishing, replacing the elusive Moore, who had bad weather in Michigan and couldn't make the scene -- too bad those giant posters of Moore as a friendly, cuddly guy went to waste. Also on the lunch panel was the firebrand blogger Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, better known as Kos. His new book is called "Taking On the System: Rules for Radical Change in a Digital Era." Markos told Publishers Weekly: "With the existence of the web, the 'nothing I can do about it' attitude is no longer defensible. We have the tools now where people can gather around each other and gain power." Another book signer was Vincent Bugliosi, whose provocative book, The Prosecution of George W. Bush for Murder, was AlterNet's fourth most popular offering last week.

All in all, BEA '08 was a friendly place for progressive thought and action, perhaps a portent for November, when the nation will get a chance to decide whether it has had enough of the current brand of politics.

Tune in Thursday to Peek for the boldface progressives from the REM concert at the Hollywood Bowl, and John Edwards' popularity at the Demos Celebration in New York City.

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