Champagne may be flowing again on Wall Street, but in the publishing world, one small luxury seems gone forever: free books at book parties. It used to be that the book party was, for a certain set, the place to pick up canapés, dates, and hardcovers (the perfect regift!).
“I organized my life around going to two or three a week,” laments a Harvard grad who lives in Cobble Hill. “I’d buy less food, get plenty of girls to hit on and something to read.” When the hors d’oeuvre budget was slashed, he still went. When the girls got less glam, he hung on. But now that there are hardly ever books to take home, what, he asks, is the point?
Circuit regulars fondly recall George Plimpton’s well-stocked parties as well as hedonistic events like the 2001 affair at Next Door Nobu, where P. Diddy and Martha mingled and Nobu himself signed complimentary cookbooks for anyone who asked. “I saw one lady take five,” a publicist says with a sigh.
Now the book itself is often a no-show. “After going to Michael Stone’s at Elaine’s and Kara Swisher’s,” says an editor, “I can’t tell you what their covers looked like. Isn’t that sad?”
“They’re kind of funereal now,” says a woman who cites a peony-filled evening at Anna Wintour’s as her all-time favorite.
“Having a book in your hand, you could at least start conversations. Like, ‘Isn’t this a piece of shit?’ or ‘Why did she get $400,000 for it?’ I went to this party at Bungalow 8 recently and there were no books. Well, there must have been one or two—I found a copy in the recycling bin on the sidewalk.”
And when there are books, it can be just as awkward. Are they merely meant for display? Are they—gasp!—for sale? At Rocco DiSpirito’s Flavor fête, guests who helped themselves were chased down by assistants wielding credit-card machines.
“I went to my pal’s party,” says another editor, “and he was sheepishly keeping a bag of books under his chair and trying to casually mention that they were for sale. It’s like, ‘I like you, dude, but not 29 bucks’ worth.’ ”