Yesterday Is Today at Housingworks Publishing Party

Housingworks bookstore served gin and carrots last night; they were having a party and a lot of people who work in publishing were there. You could tell it was 2007 because it was a benefit for people living with AIDS and the DJ was playing some really recent Sonic Youth. But in some ways, it felt like a throwback to the days when people came to events like these to actually have fun.

Really though: none of the big publishing execs were there and neither was Jonathan Safran Foer, and that meant all the nice editors who came—silvery haired ones like Paul Slovak from Viking as well as young ones like Matthew Weiland from the Paris Review and Jamison Stoltz from Grove/Atlantic—could just talk about the books they liked, and it was okay.

Some of these people brought books with them, even, and donated them to the store. Dwight Garner, an editor at The New York Times Book Review, said he brought a copy of Pierre Bayard’s How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, "a party trick," he said in an e-mail this morning, that "most people in literary Manhattan seem to have mastered."

"The Housing Works party is always one of the year’s great ones because Bayard’s advice isn’t required," Mr. Garner said. "Everyone there seems to have read everything."

National Book Critics Circle president John Freeman said that Housingworks is one of the few places in town where such a crowd can still gather. At first he mentioned something about the "downtown literary scene," but after looking around he conceded that almost everyone he saw lived in Brooklyn.

A young writer named Julian Tepper talked about a book he’d just finished writing, about a man who finds eight unpublished Chekhov stories in Central Park and publishes them under his own name. Taking the old and making it new: In this way, Mr. Tepper was a metaphor.

The humorist John Hodgman, meanwhile, who hosted the evening alongside Eat Pray Love lady Elizabeth Gilbert, said something during his speech about how Housingworks was like a chapel for books. He said he wanted to stay there forever and set up a little home for himself on the second floor. In this way, he also was a metaphor.

Neoclassicism, not nostalgia, was the point. Why? Because for all the tall tales, working in the publishing business was probably never much better than it is right now, and parties can still be pretty good, even though things fall apart.