img_7720One notable aspect of the 21st Annual Indie & Small Press Book Fair this weekend is the location, the members-only library of the General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen, at 20 West 44th Street in Manhattan, which is also home to the New York Center for Independent Publishing. The free book fair (donations accepted, in exchange for homemade baked goods on each floor), which lasts through Sunday, is a great excuse to wander up and down the floors and halls of this fascinating building on one of the more interesting blocks of Midtown. The Algonquin Hotel, another literary landmark, is across the street. (Times have certainly changed: The hotel now lends Amazon Kindles to its guests.) It was busy with people skimming books, talking about books and buying books. Who said print is dead? We strolled about for a couple of hours, and I came home with a bag of promising oddities, including a few entries in the Continuum Books series on significant pop albums (Radiohead's "O.K. Computer" and Neutral Milk's "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea," for example) and some gifts for others that I can't list now.

The books at the tables are from small literary presses -- offbeat novels, noir story collections, journals, poetry and alternative comics that don't get promoted with big ad budgets or displays at corporate bookstores. I picked up a few that piqued my curiosity, including Dzanc Books' "Best of the Web 2008," a collection billed as the year's best writing from online literary sites. It is an interesting idea, curating all those millions of online words into something manageable.

Many of the tables at the show are staffed by the editors or publishers themselves, and sometimes the authors. You can sometimes sense waves of eagerness and anxiety as you peruse their wares, which are mostly labors of love not likely to grace best-seller lists. It was hard not to muse on the technological and economic changes faces print publishers and creators. (Notably, one of the fair's sponsors was Sony, which had a table promoting the latest model of its digital book reader.)

These small publishers will probably fare a lot better than the big ones in the webby future. Even so, the digital revolution and the country's economic problems are a subtext of the book fair's lectures, readings and other presentations on topics like memoir writing, getting an agent, comics and "the next digital age."

One of Sunday's main events is a 1 p.m. "debate" between Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and the cartoonist David Rees ("Get Your War On") . The topic: "How Doomed Is America?"

That is to be followed at 2 p.m. by a panel on the future of independent publishing. The description reads:

As new technologies once again turn the publishing world on its ear, small presses are surviving -- and thriving -- by embracing alternative publishing models, from limited editions that treat books as collectible objects, to innovative multimedia that make digital books more fluid, interactive and open source.

The final event of the day is a 4 p.m. trivia smackdown pitting representatives of PEN versus a team of literary bloggers, billed jokingly (I think) as "a showdown between new media and the old guard."