"As a 39-year-old fiction writer, you can imagine how much time I spend fretting about the plight of under 35-year-old fiction writers," 'Homeland' author Sam Lipsyte said in his introduction to last night's '5 Under 35' event, hosted by the National Book Foundation, which will dole out National Book Awards later this week. When the laughter died down, though, Sam backpedaled: "Actually, though, I don't think things are so good for anyone right now—except the few who don't deserve it." Of course, those few were all that any of the assembled crowd of young and young-ish editors wanted to talk about.
The smokers outside the party were all buzzing about the hot auction that's going on right now—pugnacious little literary agent David Black is selling a book called something like 'The Last Lecture,' by a professor who's dying of pancreatic cancer. Bidding is already up to $6.5 million, but no one really understands why: The book doesn't even have a dog or a cat in it!
Also, the author is going to die, and as one scout put it, "He's already done Oprah. What, the co-writer is going to get back on Oprah?"
Earlier, some decidedly under-35ish ladies had informed that swollen crowd at Tribeca Cinemas, who'd been drinking frantically as soon as the open bar began at 6:30, that the night's event was designed "to allow more people to celebrate the National Book Awards." However, many of the young editors I talked to will be attending those, too, though few seemed enthusiastic.
"They are notoriously long and excruciating," one editor said.
"I'm not, but I wish I was going to the afterparty," Norton associate editor Tom Mayer said. "My friend [New York mag books editor Boris Kachka] always goes dancing with Jonathan Lethem afterwards."
It was the kind of party where people were namedropping Boris Kachka.
Sam Lipsyte concluded his remarks by impressing the crowd that we must "con our younger writers into thinking their efforts will continue to be encouraged," and then the reading began. The crowd had no choice but to encourage the writers' efforts: The podium blocked the only exit.
Dinaw Mengestu, whose first novel was published to acclaim by Riverhead, read an excerpt that took place in a bar. It seemed appropriate to his and the audience's level of inebriation. And Asali Solomon read a laugh-out-loud funny story from her book 'Get Down,' told from the perspective of a fat boy. In introducing her, Jennifer Egan had said that reading Asali's book had reminded her that, when you really like a book, it's "almost a chemical thing." That also seemed true.