A Book Fair for Grownups from Penguin Random House

post its with advice adorn a question wall

In Midtown Manhattan last month, the publisher Penguin Random House hosted a Book Fair for Grownups. Themed loosely on the elementary school book fairs many of us may remember from our childhood, the event was a little bit like returning to childhood, but also had a club atmosphere with a line of people outside waiting to get in, a serious man working the door who kept the entry regulated, and color-coded wristbands to denote the kinds of tickets people had. Inside the event space, the three floors of the Lightbox were dramatically lit like a club as well, and a DJ played music.

Ticket sales for the Book Fair for Grownups benefit Read Ahead, a mentoring program in which “Volunteers from our corporate and community partners are matched with a student for the school year to read and spend time together during the students’ lunch hour each week.”

people mingle ina room with shapes projected on the walls

On entering the Lightbox there were some retail opportunities immediately, with Out of Print making a strong, curated showing at the door, and Office Depot’s line of high-end stationery supplies near the back of the room. Of course there were a few tables tantalizingly displaying recently published books from Penguin Random House available for purchase as well.

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One of the book table displays at the Book Fair for Grownups.

Also on this floor was a die-dye activity (I tie dyed socks!) across a demo of an HP photo printer that you watch print yellow, then magenta, then cyan in real time. And a giveaway of Mrs. Grossman’s stickers, always near and dear to my heart since they are based in my hometown.

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An employee of Penguin Random House distributes Mrs. Grossman’s stickers to attendees.

On the lower floor, themed “recess” and sponsored by Urban Outfitters, there was a bar, snacks, and lounge furniture set up with games and puzzles. I saw people earnestly grouped around a low table, sitting on beanbags and assembling a Spongebob Squarepants jigsaw puzzle, as others stood at tall cocktail tables, exclaiming over miniature Uno cards.

The top floor, a balcony overlooking the main event space, was the hot place to be. It had its own door person limiting access since the area could easily exceed capacity, and the events up there were the ones that were time-limited. This room was designated “the classroom,” and different “teachers” came in at different times to lead lessons. While I was there, there was an art project called an “envelope manifesto” that encouraged scribbling and destroying in a way that I am sure was very cathartic. They had those scented markers I remember from childhood, too! Later in the afternoon, houseplant guru Summer Rayne Oakes was scheduled to come in and lead a plant workshop and sign copies of her recent book.

People were in a shopping mood. There was always a line of people waiting to buy books from the tables, and the Out of Print merchandise was being put into use immediately by its purchasers. An employee selling the tūl notebooks and pens told me she and her team had met their selling target already, quite early in the event.

As with any event of this kind, a big part of the attraction is the chance to be in a room with a lot of people who share your excitement over books. I was pleased but not shocked to see a lot of great tee shirts indicating shared priorities.

Penguin Random House has had notable recent innovations in marketing and public relations, as the Book Fair for Grownups joins the Comic Con Book Club program, at which interested readers sign up ahead of time to read and discuss advance reader copies of upcoming genre books at comic cons around the country. I’m excited to see what the next Book Fair for Grownups will look like, but I’m also excited to see what other new ideas for events will be coming out of Penguin Random House soon!

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer

Emily Lauer lives in Manhattan with her husband, daughter and dog. She teaches writing and literature at Suffolk County Community College where she studies comics, kids' books, adaptations and visual culture. She is a former Pubwatch Editor for WWAC, and frankly, there is a lot more gray in her hair than there was when this profile picture was taken.