"So who says that book people don't know how to throw a great party!" crowed Nancy Bass Wyden, the glamorous blonde lady who, improbably, is the third-generation owner of New York's most beloved and endearingly crappy used book store. 'Everyone,' said the crowd with their eyes and wan applause. No offense to Nancy or the Strand! But by the time (8:00ish on Saturday night) she made her dramatic declaration, the book people were nearing the end of their annual spate of book people parties, and the Strand's valiant but sweltering contribution to the glut wasn't making much of an impact. There were cold cuts, though, and pickles, and photos by Nikola Tamnindzic and Ed Koch's reliable wackiness, and little Adam Gopnik!
As anyone who has entered the Strand's recently refurbished but still reassuringly musty digs on Broadway in the summertime knows, it's not so well-ventilated or cooled. Beads of sweat pooled on the necks of the mostly middle-aged revelers who crammed into the Strand's 2nd-floor event space (heat rises!), many of them still wearing their nametag badges from the BEA floor. Others accessorized with plastic party hats. There was also party-style candy available (Swedish fish and Mary Janes). The revelers munched on the candy but mostly avoided the once-cold, now disturbingly warm, cuts while a parade of famous literary New Yorkers took to the podium to sing the Strand's praises.
His Honor the very Honorable Ed Koch introduced each speaker. He even introduced speakers who had promised to speak but who had, for whatever reason, ultimately been unable to attend. "Liz Smith, everyone knows Liz Smith!" he said. "Liz Smith can't make it tonight." Everyone clapped anyway. Other bailouts included Malcolm Gladwell ("in Canada") and Nora Ephron, who was actually only running late. She rushed the stage fifteen minutes after all the other tributes had ended, grabbed the mic, and said, "I'm here! I just wanted to redeem myself." Okay!
Art Spiegelman spoke fondly of the "Strand stupor" that afflicts the store's compulsive browsers, while Frank McCourt pined for the good old days when "lurkers" prowled the aisles, in search of "all the possible deviancies of sex." Fran Lebowitz got off a good line about wishing the Strand was her apartment, and how New York is divided into two groups of people: "people with five thousand books and people with the space for them." Poignant and becoming ever truer! Kurt Andersen, who probably has plenty of room for his books, discussed the strange feeling of mixed joy and sadness that fills an author when he sees his own book for sale there: "Who the fuck sold their review copy to the Strand?"
The New Yorker's Adam Gopnik, all in beige and very small, discussed the Strand's contributions to his own growth as a writer and an intellectual, listing books and authors he'd discovered there whose work had shaped him. He described prowling the stacks in a state of "fervent solitude," "unshaven, with my gym bag slung over my arm." Despite this, the Strand is still an important cultural institution, worthy of being celebrated. Perhaps by its 90th birthday celebration, someone will have figured out how to open the windows.