Monday night was chockablock with
parties celebrating the opening night of this year’s BookExpo America,
a kind of trade show cum spring break for the four-eyed.
Sponsored by Electric Literature, the quarterly short-story anthology, and Flavorpill, the fete, held on the 18th floor of The Standard Hotel, was
by all appearances glittering. Cocktails in chilled glasses were
stuffed into hands while dress-slacks-covered bottoms perched on plush
leather couches. Glass tables were littered with copies of books not to
be released to those on the other side of the hotel’s phalanx of
bouncers for months.
On the roof, a DJ spun a mix of dance
music, classic be-bop and soul. A crepe stand set up in the far corner
served sweet and savory snacks to literary leviathans who found
themselves puckish. Editors, agents and bright young things devoured
their treats and sipped their drinks as they stared out at the Hudson,
pondering the larger questions of existence. The scene that night
appeared to be the genuine article, almost the perfect picture of a big
time book party. Almost.
"I can’t believe we have to pay for drinks!" said musician Marshall Winter. "What
kind of shit is that?" The books may have been free, but on the
Astroturf-covered rooftop of the glamorous West Side hotel, the hottest
question of the night was, "How much did you pay for that drink?" In
today’s tight times, parties aren’t what they once were. Freelance book
marketer Kimberly Cowser explained that having an event at all felt decadent.
I first started out in publishing, there were tons of parties. But this
is the first book party I’ve been to like this since, since the
recession. You have to pay for drinks, which kind of sucks, but this is
the first party that’s pretty much as good as they used to be."
If anyone deserved props for the evening’s success, it was Electric Literature co-founder Scott Lindenbaum. I
attempted to subtly shower Lindenbaum with praise, sharing with him the
sentiment that he’d thrown the best book party that a bunch of drunken
bookworms remembers. He shrugged and said, "We try to hold it down."
near the crepe stand, a tall young man with curly, coal-black hair and a
strong jawline caught my attention. I asked around and learned that he
was Michael Signorelli, an editor at HarperCollins; the company’s Perennial imprint was billed as the night’s "special guest."
party is as good as we could have hoped for," he said. "I don’t know
how we lucked into this venue but it’s a perfect backdrop to the kind of
energy that we’re all cooking up together."
Things wound down as clouds covered the sky and the sun disappeared. I spoke to writer Brian Joseph Davis, who
told me that a lot of changes were going to have to be made to keep
literary magazines (and the parties they throw) healthy, but that we’d
all be better off in the long run.
"It’s not that we’re in dire
circumstances, but we’re in painful circumstances. It’s much like the
industrial revolution. It was brutal, but it improved a lot of the
conditions that happened before it."
Maybe the party wasn’t
perfect, but it certainly wasn’t brutal. There was a palpable sense of
hope on the rooftop that night, or at the very least, the air seemed
thin enough that a few $10 drinks went the distance.