LAST WEEK I PROMISED you the bright side of the American Booksellers Convention in Chicago, and here it is, beginning with the few publishers' exhibit booths that shone with originality. Green Tiger Press of La Jolla, California, publishers of children's books and calendars, enticed the convention-goers with a ribbon-tied merry-go-round -- complete with carousel music and painted horses -- and with fresh popcorn. As usual, the Workman booth also captured the booksellers' attention. A cheery and grinning, apparently tireless young man named Frederick R. Newman, the author of a book entitled Mouth Sounds: How to Whistle, Tweet, Oink, Honk and Voopah Your Way to Social Success, did noises on request for four days running -- a hairdryer, a vacuum cleaner, a cat in heat, a one-man band, a five-piece ensemble, a getaway car, Lassie. This kid was the funniest thing to hit the ABA since Art Buchwald did his famous Carter family monologue in '77.
I dragged Little, Brown's Bill Guthrie over there right in the middle of his spiel on how the 125th anniversary edition of Bartlett's Familiam Quotations was the biggest book on the convention floor. Guthrie came away from the Workman booth wiping tears of laughter from his eyes. Now if Peter Workman could only figure out how to package a live Frederick Newman with every copy of Mouth Sounds, they'd have another No. 1 best seller.
Over at the Brigham Young University Press booth, a three-year-old tiger named Sultan was stretched full-length on the floor, zonked. There were angry murmurings among the cat-lovers and heart murmurings among the ABA's insurance agents, because on the following day Sultan had vanished, temporarily lodged in the Chicago zoo. The ABA's policy had no clause covering a tiger eating a bookseller.
For an hour, Margaret Truman was sitting at the autograph table right next to Ken Follett's, while Truman's publisher, Don Fine of Arbor House, who used to be Follett's publisher and is now locked in a lawsuit with Follett, stood between them, scowling. Everybody said, "Go look at Don."
Not exactly an exhibit, bt attracting attention wherever they went, was the delegation of publishers from the People's Republic of China. They were very popular, and apparently a lot of fun, or so testified the lucky ones who lunched or dined with them. "Have you met the Chinese?" was the question of the day. And, "Don't they have a great sense of humor? Aren't they cute?"
As for the books themselves, the "big" ones were the ones written by household names: James Michener, Truman Capote, Stephen King, Danielle Steele, E. L. Doctorow, Erica Jong, Avery Corman, Carl Sagan, Ken Follett, Lawrence Sanders, William Manchester, Sidney Sheldon, Mary Higgins Clark and others like them. These came in for the heaviest bookseller ordering. Other books that loomed large: The Sesame Street Dictionary from Random House, the new Bartlett's Familiar Quotations, the long-awaited Oxford American Dictionary and a knockout volume from Times Books: Corridors of Time; 1,7000,000,000 Years of Earth, written and photographed panoramically in America's canyons and deserts by Ron Redfern.
Emily Boxer of "The Today Show" and Steve Rubin of Writer's Bloc were out beating an unsolicited drum for a new novel they both loved -- The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel, coming from Crown. It's the first in a projected six-volume work and it's what I guess you'd call a prehistorical novel set in the time of Neanderthal man. Emily made me pick up a reading copy, and I loved it. Looks big.
As usual the hottest parties were the ones I didn't get around to. I think this job may need a younger person; I've hung up my dancing shoes in favor of placecards. By everyone's account, the liveliest party at this year's convention was Saturday Night at Gilleys, named for the Grove Press book and held in a country-western nightspot called The Rodeo. Not only was there chili, beer and bluegrass, there was also the famous mechanical bull that John Travolta rides in Urban Cowboy, which was filmed in the original Gilleys.
Everyone who went there had a stomping, manure-kicking good time and told me later that I should have been there. But, after the NAL party for Erica Jong, at which the buffet was stampeded, I retired to my room and didn't come out until the party at the Playboy mansion, which was a discostrutting, noisy, smokey crush.
Pantheon threw a bash for its Chicago author, Studs Terkel, and his new book, American Dreams: Lost and Found. Terkel was presented with this year's Irita Van Doren Award for his contribution to publishing, so the party was a doubly happy occasion.
Dell Books gave a dinner party to honor James Clavell and a luncheon to honor Rona Jaffe, John Saul and Danielle Steele, authors who have madeo wagonloads of money for them.
Possibly the funkiest of the parties was the one Bobbs-Merrill threw for their new book for the making of "M*A*S*H." Mike Farrell turned up in the flesh not too happy that costars Loretta Swit and Harry Morgan, although promised, were not delivered. What was delivered was a vast amount of food, including one serving table where carvers dressed in surgeon's gowns and masks were slicing huge chunks of very rare meat. The sight of the bloody flesh, the knives and the green surgical garb turned a lot of us green too, and we came away with empty plates, temporary vegetarians.
William Morrow held a small but expensive dinner party for their celebrity-author, Shelley Winters, so that she could meet face-to-face some of the most important chain buyers, men and women who can write orders for 100,000 copies of one book with a single stroke of the pen. Like a force of nature, Shelley blew in about an hour late, talking. She went on talking throughout drinks, dinner and coffee and was still talking when I left. Morrow has just published her autobiography, Shelly: Also Known as Shirley.
Shelly was moaning at the top of her lungs about how her manuscript had been edited down from the 1,250 pages she submitted. Referring to her editor, Ellis Amburn, (who has since left to become editorial director of Putnam), Shelly said "I called him 'bloodystumps Amburn' because he kept on cutting and cutting and cutting." She did brighten up at the thought that out-takes from her first book might furnish the substance of a second one.
And, dropping her voice to a confidential roar, she told us that she had just wrapped up a picture with William Holden and that "Bill" was giving serious consideration to running for Hayakawa's California Senate seat. So if that comes to pass, remember you read it here first, and I learned it at the Booksellers Association Convention, 1980.