A weekend of pop history, the American Booksellers Association convention coming to the wasteland, the forces of literary imperialism conquering the provincial barbarians. Miami, the endlessly entertaining if vaguely embarrassing tropic of pointless pleasure, awash in the relentless march of American lite culture, becoming the epicenter of civilization for a brief shining moment. The surrealistic candy store of diversions encompassing everything from scraggly-ass Romanian critics spouting off about deconstructionist pornography to the reigning glamour queens of the universe A Ann-Margret, Oprah Winfrey, Margaret Thatcher A flogging their memoirs. A frenzied whirl of hype and hustle, the celebrated and the anonymous jockeying for position in the food chain of fabulousness, working an endless series of parties, the modern theater of ambition.
Off to a glitter-clogged start with the Putnam cocktail reception for Ann-Margret at the Fontainebleau Hilton, the ultimate celebrity survivor making a grand entrance, accompanied by film projections of her oeuvre, from old Elvis movies to the Vegas years. Margret chatting with besotted fans ("The book's called My Story and, well, it's about my life"), managing to remain professional and amiable, the only two personality traits that really matter at a certain point.
The social rush kicking in, mistaking a publisher for a local socialite and planting a fervent kiss on rather startled lips, resolving to scale back the fabulati routine and stop calling strangers "darling." In tow with Faith Sale of W.W. Norton, trolling down to the New Yorker party at the Marlin, executive editor Hendrik Hertzberg standing in as host. Bizarre encounters ("I'd like you to meet my close personal friend A and hairdresser") and trade talk with Random House editor David Rosenthal, working on two widely varied projects, Frank Gifford's The Whole Ten Years and Hunter S. Thompson's Confessions of a Political Junkie. On to dinner at Van Dome, Sonny Mehta of Knopf accompanied by novelist wife Gita Mehta, bracing for the first day of business: "There's a rich degree of guilt with my fun tonight; life is going to get serious tomorrow."
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A cameo at the actual convention the following day, an overwhelming array of books, reading seeming somehow beside the point of the weekend. Cocktails at the Villard Books/Jason Rubell gallery party for David Halberstam's The Fifties, Halberstam on target with a sound bite: "We were economically confident then, but politically anxious. Democracy is more complex and participatory now A look at the situation here in Miami." The evening commencing with the Knopf-sponsored Oprah Winfrey party at International Place, social beast/novelist Brian Antoni and Patrick McMullan of Interview joining the fun brigade. A flurry of trouble at the door, someone suggesting the old trick of reading the guest list upside-down and picking a name at random. The usual party pinball A a woman hawking the novel Smurfs, an introduction to Gary Fisketjon of Knopf, glued to a cellular phone A but staying on course for the incredibly focused Oprah. Ms. Winfrey standing in front of a cheese platter with an oblivious aide and conducting eight conversations simultaneously, beaming in briefly for the press hit: "If you ask me, the book is too candid. But it was the only way to make sense of a very busy life. After this I don't need therapy." Having met the most important person in the room, the compulsive/obsessive caravan moving on to the Sweet Honey in the Rock party at the Biltmore, the guests transfixed by unbelievably transcendent music. The rat pack too antsy to stay rooted anywhere for long, lost in a maze of options: so many celebrities and parties, so many permutations of optimum entrances and exits.
McMullan, the patron saint of social seismography, guiding the faithful back to the Beach for the Harcourt Brace/Larry King dinner at Club Cabana, King celebrating the publication of Voters on the Line: The New Road to the White House. The television legend forgetting the name of his book, remaining reluctant to discuss the early days of professional ignominy in Miami, and none-too-subtly taking credit for transforming the American electoral process. The panegyric of a passing guest ("Larry, I want to thank you for single-handedly changing the course of this country") only fueling an already rampaging ego: "I hear that kind of stuff all the time." The troops mustering for another exit, Morgan Entrekin of Grove/Atlantic Press, the work-hard/play-hard publisher immortalized in Bright Lights, Big City, ready to roll: "The fun is not used up tonight. I always have an uncanny sense for this."
Entrekin off into the night, the edgy jag ending at a strange Polynesian-theme party hosted by a local novelist, a handful of girls in teenage-runaway panties absorbed in porno movies and the Twin Peaks soundtrack. Up at the crack of noon for brunch at The Foundlings with an all-star Vintage Books party, the regionalism of our own third-rate celebrity status hitting home: a laryngitis-stricken William Styron; Daniel Boorstin; Rita Dove, the new poet laureate of the U.S.; Amy Tan coming out with The Year of No Flood shortly; and the perfectly buoyant John Guare, author of Moon Over Miami. Guare's Six Degrees of Separation about to become a movie with Will Smith of Fresh Prince, playwrights in general entering the mainstream of literature: "We're not stuck on the shelf next to sensitive poetry any more." Wrapping up Day Three with a popping Grove/Atlantic party at the Antoni family house, Cock & Bull author Will Self ("My books form a kind of creative triangle with the work of David Cronenberg and William S. Burroughs") working on a neo-Faustian novel called My Idea of Fun.
Monday night, our own idea of fun approximating the marathon dancers in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? The New Republic cocktail party at the Raleigh, editors Andrew Sullivan and Leon Wieseltier on hand, an oddly energizing Indian organist adding a camp tone. Harry Evans of Random House hosting a dinner at Van Dome for the still-speechless William Styron, mouthing a toast to great applause. On to clubland with Swedish publisher Albert Bonnier and the two graces of publishing, Liz Fried and Jenny Mueller, sublime beyond measure, the long revel winding down. Flat, dispirited, confronting the spector of ordinary life like a hooker waving farewell to the fleet, taking a curious comfort in a loss of innocence. The gang moaning about "publishing being just another business, as disgusting as everything else now." But there is an undeniable liberation in the vast hustle of modern life. And in the end, it's a great big wide-open world, all possibility and promise, hopelessly flawed, and yet forever beautiful.