I can still vividly remember the last book event I went to before It All Shut Down in March of 2020: it was a conversation between Brit Bennett and Jia Tolentino to celebrate the launch of Bennett’s novel The Vanishing Half. Rather than get up to my usual in such settings—namely, double-fisting free flutes of champagne while I listen to my favorite writers chat—I tuned in to the gossip around the room, which was of the decidedly non-publishing-industry variety. Attendees debated how the city would slow the spread of what we were still calling the “novel coronavirus”… and two days later, my offices (and countless others) were closed. This immediately prompted a question: Would we ever go to a book party again?
In the end, of course, they continued apace—Zoom book events were all the rage during the early phase of quarantine, and the world returned to something approximating normal sooner than my anxious heart had dared to dream of—but I didn’t really clock the return of the buzzy, glittery, delightfully in-person book party until I attended one for Miranda July at LA’s Wayfarer Hotel last month. It was a well-attended, dimly lit, strong-drink-pouring event of the kind I’d relished pre-COVID, but it was the sight of one key appetizer—chilled, Barbie pink shrimp, arrayed attractively on a platter next to some fancy cheese and otherworldly looking charcuterie—that truly convinced me that book parties were back. Why work in media or publishing if you’re not going to get free shrimp out of it? I reasoned as I filled my tiny plate and listened to July discuss middle-aged women’s sexuality with Michelle Tea.
“There is one day even the most cynical New York woman dreams of all her life,” Carrie Bradshaw intones in a 2002 episode of Sex and the City. “She imagines what she’ll wear, the photographers, the toasts. Everybody celebrating the fact that she finally found…a publisher. It’s her book release party.” Granted, I’ve never been to a book event that quite approximates the glamour enjoyed by Carrie’s cohort (that TV magic goes a long way!), but there is some truth to Carrie’s musing; after all, a book party exists to celebrate you, not you and a romantic partner or you and a child or you in any of your other relational incarnations. Outside of graduation and retirement parties, it’s one of the few celebrations we have for a body of work—so why not turn it into a rager?
I’m currently in the early stages of planning a book party of my own, and for guidance on how to make it a can’t-miss soiree (even if I can’t afford shrimp), I turned to journalist and author Delia Cai, whose debut novel, Central Places, came out last year. When I asked her what she thought set a contemporary book party apart from the pack, she was instantly adamant: “Flash tattoos! Such a flex [if you have] either a great party budget or, even better, friend-of-a-friend connects…plus, I think it’s savvy because it makes the party more of an event, and the tattoo artist also brings in their loyal following to the party. Allie Rowbottom offered Botox at her Aesthetica launch, which was probably the most epic thing I’ve seen.”