At the doorway of Housing Works bookstore last night around 7 p.m., an older gentleman was being gently shooed back onto the street by one of the store's volunteer staffers. "I'm sorry, sir, we're usually open at this time, but this is sort of our biggest event of the year?" she said, gesturing with her head to the growing crowd behind her in the store. The place had been festively strung with white Christmas lights for the occasion. The man huffed off into the cold night. Little did he know, he could have stayed and had some gin and book conversation for only a $10 "suggested donation." People without cash to donate were being directed to the nearest ATM by the volunteer door-bitches. Nobody takes their jobs more seriously than volunteers! Nikola Tamindzic captured the preening literati.
"All of us here are in the book business," announced 'Eat, Pray, Love' author Elizabeth Gilbert in her remarks to the crowd. She wore a cardigan and the kind of glowing, beamy expression often seen on people who have either found enlightenment or sold several hundred thousand copies of a book about doing so. "From editors to agents to publishers to critics—"
"Booksellers!" someone in the audience yelled.
You'd think she'd remember them! But the material world is not her specialty. Then she made a joke about "people who ask authors in creepy ways for their signatures" and no one laughed.
"But we here all realized at some point the power of books to heal us, teach us, and to elevate us, and the special thing about Housing Works is that here, that metaphor of books as medicine becomes literal," Elizabeth said.
It was exactly the kind of new-agey koan that made 'Eat, Pray, Love' so successful, and like those deep thots, it was true (Housing Works helps the homeless AIDS people). Then John Hodgman, who in spite of his bestselling and funny book of esoterica will always be best known as "the PC guy," lightened the mood by pointing out that another way Housing Works is different from other bookstores is "because the authors whose books are sold here don't get royalties."
The crowd was full of men with dark hair and glasses and, in many instances, actual corduroy blazers. They chatted loudly to more glamorously dressed women, including founding Gawker editor Elizabeth Spiers in a sequined minidress, and her agent Kate Lee, who refused to remove her coat, saying she was on her way out. Debut novelist Porochista Khakpour, babyfaced new Knopf editor Andrew Miller, and a slew of agents and scouts ate slivers of cantaloupe that looked and, oddly, tasted like cheese.
In the balcony, a duo of DJs played what they described as "quiet, bookish" music: remixes of "folk music" by "Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen." They introduced themselves at first as Cole and Scooby, but later clarified that their professional names were "Cousin Cole and Pocketknife."
As the evening wound down, most of the party could be found smoking on the sidewalk outside the party. The man who'd been trying to buy a book earlier in the evening chatted with the smokers, and it began to seem that he was more in the "people who Housing Works is trying to help" rather than the "people who are trying to help Housing Works" demographic. No one would give him a cigarette.