At East Hampton Authors’ Night, Baldwin Says Literary Theme of His Life is ‘Something Dickensian’

On Saturday, Aug. 8, East Hampton’s Main Street was packed with people making their way to the Fifth Annual Authors Night at the East Hampton Library. So long was the line of parked cars that one of the presenting authors, Allen Planz, an elderly poet and charter captain, sprawled himself out on the sidewalk, shoe in hand, taking a rest before continuing on to the event. The library party was comprised of a large tent about 50 yards in length with two long rows of white covered tables, behind which authors sat, signing their books. It was crowded thick with shoppers and spectators. 

Just outside the tent, holding a cane and wearing a blue shirt adorned with cartoons was Inside the Actor’s Studio host James Lipton, sitting alone.

Mr. Lipton said that this summer he’s read a biography of French poet Arthur Rimbaud by Graham Robb. “I think it’s the finest book ever written on the subject. Rimbaud is one of my favorite poets, and I’ve spent the summer immersed in that book, by Robb and also the poetry itself. Just reading and reading and reading the Rimbaud poems.”
I asked him from a literary perspective what the grand theme of his life would be. “I’m damned if I know.” Mr. Lipton said. “I began my life in poverty, and that’s one of the themes of it. Emerging from that and surviving the trials of whatever, something.” 
Inside the tent was the actor Alec Baldwin, signing whatever he is handed and yakking with Anne Heche, who was making her way down the line of writers. He’s currently reading a book called Hunting Eichmann, and said that the literary theme that best represents his life is “It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. No, that’s a movie, actually. I wouldn’t know what to say. Something Dickensian.” 
Barbara Walters tapped him on the shoulder from behind and they said hello as a large crowd surrounded them. Ms. Walters said she was reading Crime and Punishment for the first time since she “was a kid, a hundred years ago. It’s not exactly summer reading, but I’m going to try.” 
When I ask her what literary theme might be represented in her life, she said: “No, I can’t play these games. My life was a book and I wrote an autobiography.”
I shrank away to where Candace Bushnell was sitting and signing. 
Her favorite book of the summer was The Old Man and Me, by Elaine Dundy. “It’s from the ’60s. It’s hilarious,” Ms. Bushnell said. Her literary theme? “Hard work,” she said with great certainty. Jay Mcinerney, who was sitting next to her, heard her answer and nodded in approval.
“I’ve been reading stuff like Edith Wharton’s Custom of the Country and Jane Austen, so I’m in a retro mode at the moment,” he said. When I asked him about the grand theme of his life he replied:
“From a literary standpoint? People change. I think that’s the basic premise of fiction.” 
Walking down the line I overheard science writer Neil deGrasse Tyson telling a baffled couple about bacteria’s domination over the planet. For summer reading he has chosen “old science books from centuries ago that track our understanding of the natural world at the time.” He claimed “the theme of my life will be what I’ve already planned to have on my tombstone; a quote from Horace Mann which says, “Be ashamed to die until you have scored some victory for humanity.’” 
With that the loudspeaker intoned “all good things must come to an end,” and everyone was directed to hurry along with their purchases and make their way out.