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  • Writer's pictureBella Ve

Reading Books at Book Launch Parties: a Very New York Story

“New York is a small town,” my Uncle Lenny was constantly telling me growing up. 

New York is, obviously, the most populous city in the country. Inhabited by 8 million people on any given day, Manhattan island alone swells by the millions during business hours from out of state, upstate, or Long Island commuters. 

Uncle Lenny was referring not to numbers, but to networks. The subcultures and communities that we claim membership to, the bars and book shops that we frequent, the people that we know and that we meet: this is what he meant. There’s millions of us crammed into 300 square miles of land, so of course our respectively oscillating social circles are going to crash into an explosion of mutual friends and acquaintances. 

It’s this same phenomenon that led my dad to be friendly with my mom’s cousin Lenny years before the two of them ever met. My dad has spent his life trying to carve out a career for himself as a writer while chumming around with the punks of the late ‘70s and ‘80s, and Lenny worked in the music business before its death-by-streaming, which is how they got to know each other. 

The furthest extent of the story I’ve ever gotten of my parents’ meeting is that Dad was a bartender and Mom was a cocktail waitress, and the rest is history. They had their first date at the Jules jazz club on St. Marks Place. Oh, lost New York, how I long for you.

So there’s my secret, uncorked for all to know: my dad is a writer, but I’m not a nepo baby (and trust that if I was, I’d be honest about it). I say that knowing full well that’s exactly what a nepo baby would say, but allow me to put some things into context. 

Last week at dinner, over Michelin star rated gin and tonics, Hailo asked me how I felt about pursuing a career in art. My opinion was reliably colored by cynicism. Watching my father click away at his keyboard by day, and tend bar by night, has not made me the most optimistic in the idea of “writing for a living,” and I told her so. My father’s relative success (clout money fame) or lack thereof is not for his lack of talent, or lack of trying, or even lack of getting published. It’s because the industry is so damn hard to break into. And that's the way it is. But this is supposed to be a positive piece, and it’s supposed to be about me. 

Hailo had invited us to a book launch event. Despite the abysmal, yet equally amusing, time I had at the last Book Launch Party, I told her to RSVP for me. It’s a (Re)Cognition Summer of yes, so to speak. 

I had the pleasure of meeting our two New York based interns, Aileen and Matias, and darling angel princess Hailey Cognetti outside of the venue, where we all wondered aloud about what this place actually was. Hailo is running late (I’ve learned by now to give her at least fifteen minutes of buffer time for arrival, and we love her for it), but I can hear her in my head urging us to “go in!” so we do. 

We give our names at the door and are checked off the list because we are very, very important. As we enter I am not overwhelmed, nor intimated, but exceedingly aware of the people we are surrounded by. 

I keep saying over and over again how everybody looks expensive. It’s totally Hollywood, totally California (or at least, it’s totally my idea of what Hollywood people look like). God, I can’t tell you how gorgeous everyone was. I suspect they plucked the wait staff from a modeling agency. It is a party for people in the industry, by people in the industry, and it’s vulgar in the way that it is so plainly honest about itself. I am obsessed with all of it. And it makes more sense, the more I’m learning about what the event is, as we choose seats in the third row from the stage. 

Failing to do any due diligence myself, I’m schooled by Hailey Cognetti who did. The book is a memoir by the nephew of a certain iconic literary figure who wrote about Hollywood and New York during the ‘60s and ‘70s. The woman leading the question portion of the Q&A is the author of a biography about a certain other writer of ‘60s and ‘70s Hollywood who had fallen into obscurity until the biography was published, the writer skyrocketed out of oblivion, and her work was reprinted. She is now frequently compared to the famous aunt. Do you follow? Isn’t it fun to play guessing games?

It begins with a reading from an excerpt of the book that is told to us with first-rate recitation. The biographer introduces the memoirist as the type of person who has the ease of someone who has been good looking for his whole life. It is funny, and it is dark, and I am exhilerated, and once it ends I whisper for Hailey to grab me the nearest copy of the book because I must read it immediately.


We’re thrown back into the throngs of gorgeous, expensive, industry people. There’s a woman who is so familiar that she has to be an actress but I don’t know her name (she looked halfway between Lisa Rinna and Courtney Cox. Does this conjure an image for anybody? Can someone help me out? It’s been bothering me ever since). They are so much the physical embodiment of the book, and I marvel in it. But I dare not intervene. 

It’s hard to be young, and it’s really hard to be the youngest person in the room. We Little Literatis stood in a circle, commiserating with each other over the fact that we probably should talk to somebody, but we don’t want to, we don’t know how to, and so we keep to ourselves. I am eternally grateful to be a part of this community. I am relentlessly awestruck by this thing Hailo has built. At the same time, we are a newly established, digitally existing team of 20-somethings, in this room of apparent hotshots. 

I’m basking in it. I reference the pool of gorgeous faces and expensive clothes and hold up my utilitarian workbackpack and hand-me-down skirt. I brush shoulders with one of the greats (the author slips by me in the tight and crowded space. Later, Hailo tells me she was technically only granted one guest to the party, but somehow she knew we’d have no trouble showing up with five). I’m getting ready to leave, because we’ve already established we’re not talking to anyone, and I’m hungry for more than a canapé, when Hailey and I ask Hailo what the story is with the venue. It’s a storefront in the West Village with some kind of kitchen, and also knick kacks, and also bookshelves, and also a stage (thankfully unlike Big 5 Publisher’s party, there’s no junk merch, just free wine and a free copy of the book). 

Hailo turns around to tap on the shoulder of yet another beautiful and impeccably dressed gentleman who works for the space. He works, in fact, for the magazine. The venue is something of a newsstand. I ask for more details and he obliges, handing me a rare print edition of the digital-first magazine. I take it home not knowing if I’m allowed to. 

It’s the new project of a certain iconic New York (he’s Canadian, but ostensibly New York) editor of a certain iconic magazine, who happens to own a nearby restaurant, “if you know of it,” the gentleman says.


I give an emphatic “YES!” 

I explain, yes, of course I know it. My father worked there for my whole life. I grew up in the place. 

“What did he do there?” the gentleman asks. 

“He is a bartender,” I say with the same incendiary pride in my voice that I use when I tell people I went to a SUNY school for college, and that all I am is a scrappy kid from the city born to two scrappy parents. 

I come home and I tell Mom and Dad about the night; I’m not in the position to pass up living in the city rent free, even if it means writing in a room where the walls are painted middle school blue. I tell them how I got to exist around greatness, how I got to talk about the restaurant, and how the woman who was asking the questions wrote the biography of the formerly forgotten-about writer. 

“You’re kidding,” my dad says, and he racks his sexagenarian brain searching for the biographer’s name. Turns out they’ve known each other for years. 

Small town. 

I hand him the rare printed copy of the magazine, which I am only now able to look at and comprehend the words as I’m reading them. A name catches my eye, and it’s not the certain iconic mid 20th century pop artist the cover story is about. It’s the byline, denoting the author as my estranged godfather who Dad was running around with in the punk scene during those earliest of his days in New York (he says they’ve since “buried the hatchet”). 

Even smaller. 


My dad often complains that our world is growing ever more homogenous. There’s nothing to differentiate one city from the next. But that party, that kind of story-- that could only have ever happened here. 

And it reminds me that I still love you, New York. 

1 Comment

Jun 09

This is literary tea + I love it

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