Robert Gray: A Signature Moment at MPIBA Fall Discovery Show

The Mountains & Plains Independent Booksellers Association Fall Discovery Show, held last week in Denver, Colo., featured an invigorating blend of youth and experience, energy and inspiration, hard work and great fun (just ask Valerie Koehler of Houston's Blue Willow Bookshop about the Texas team's nail-biting triumph in the Literary Trivia Game).

The show was a hit by any measure. Total attendance was 601, up dramatically from 535 in 2016. MPIBA executive director Laura Ayrey Burnett said, "The board and our staff, myself included, are all still reeling from the success and camaraderie felt at this year's show. We are almost always pleased after each show but this year's attendance just made a huge difference in expanding our MPIBA 'family.' All of our meal events were completely sold out and the exhibit hall was almost always bustling with more orders being placed than years prior. Simply put, it was wonderful on all fronts."

I'll write about some of the author events and education sessions next week, but I wanted to focus on a signature moment at this year's MPIBA show that beautifully encapsulated the "family" aspect of our profession.

Cathy Langer, Matt Miller & Joyce Meskis

On Thursday, a special ceremony was held just before the exhibit hall opened to honor Cathy Langer. After 40 years with Denver's Tattered Cover Book Store, she will retire from her position as director of buying at the end of December (just one more crazy holiday season!).

As a crowd of booksellers, sales reps, authors and publishers gathered around the small stage near the hall entrance, Joyce Meskis, Tattered Cover's owner from 1974 until this year, stepped to the podium and offered a heartfelt tribute, recounting her initial job interview with Langer in 1977: "Cathy came through with flying colors. It was just really wonderful. And I couldn't wait to offer her the job. In the course of our conversation with each other, I said something like, 'Well, can you commit to a year at least?' The rest is history.

"She is first a terrific bookseller.... She's smart, really sharp, intelligent, intuitive, with an unfailing memory; exceptionally hardworking, responsible, professional, all the valuable attributes that go along with being a well-rounded bookseller. But she's also a great humanitarian, a great woman, who cares deeply about a lot of things in our world and in our community, and in the life of her family.... She's done practically everything that an individual can do at a bookstore, and she has done it so beautifully, so well, so graciously, so, so, so, so beautifully. Thank you for everything."

Then Tattered Cover COO Matt Miller joined Meskis on the stage, noting: "If Cathy was up here, I'm sure there'd be about 130 years of bookselling between Cathy, Joyce and me." Miller said Langer is "considered one of the most highly respected buyers in the industry. In that capacity, she has served as a bellwether for publishers and sales reps for many, many years. She has done all these things with incredible energy, passion, efficiency and dedication. So, Cathy, from all of your Tattered Cover co-workers, bookselling colleagues around the country, the publishing community, authors and thousands and thousands of customers whose lives you have enhanced and enriched, thank you, congratulations, and best wishes."

Now it was Langer's turn. She addressed the crowd--her book family--with characteristic humor and modesty: "This is awkward and weird because I'm used to being at a podium or out talking to the public about fun people and saying wonderful things about them and getting ready for them to come up and say their great things.... It's also weird for me to be up here with all of you saying great things because I just every day got up and was able to do something I loved to do. I mean, every morning I'd say, 'I get to go to work, be happy about it and be excited about the reps I'd be seeing, customers I'd be working with, my co-workers. Every day I learned something new."

Noting her career has been filled with both challenges and "so much fun," Langer said that "it's really the community that has meant so much to me all these years.... The Mountains & Plains community is just amazing. I have so many great memories.... Over the years, there's been ups and downs, but it's always interesting, as we like to say. A roller coaster, a lot of fun, a lot of worry, but we've always had each other and that's really what's kept us going I think. It's the community. It's the authors, it's the books, of course. But the continuity of what we all do together is really what makes it so special."

She expressed gratitude to Meskis "for making me commit to a year. Really, I will often say that that commitment horrified me. I'd never worked anywhere more than 3-6 months, and that was only a couple of places. So, thanks, Joyce. It's been great."

Langer concluded by calling this "a really good time for me to be going on a new route, a new chapter. We've got great energy at the store.... Everyone's amazing, and so it's a really good time for me to say okay, have fun with it. I'm going to have a different kind of fun now."

A signature MPIBA moment. Happy retirement, Cathy, from your extended book family. More on the show next week. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (Column archives at Fresh Eyes Now)

Powered by: Xtenit