Over at the New York Times, Rachel Donadio has a witty obituary for the era of book-publishing parties. It's certainly true that the lavish affairs of yesteryear have fallen victim to budget cutbacks. And, if one were to form impressions based solely on the folks interviewed for the article, the erstwhile hosts are simply getting way too old to kick up their heels any higher than the level of their electric foot massagers.
Not mentioned in the article, however, is the plain fact that the parties were rarely ever much fun.
Most book bashes during the 80s and early 90s suffered from the twin purposes of obligation (one schmoozed in the hope of finding a better job or a new editor) and desperation (there was nothing else better to do that night). A quick look around the room revealed that most of the attendees had little in common other than a love of the book business, an often sycophantic relationship with certain authors, and the depressing knowledge that, even on an off night, they stood no chance of making it past the velvet rope at Area. After the requisite number of drinks, a few folks would try to liven things up a bit by reliving, in their own minds, their college fraternity and sorority parties. One book club executive would famously begin drinking champagne out of her shoe--and that was usually the signal for young staff members to escape to an after-party until the wee hours of the morning.
I remember one event hosted by Ira Silverberg (who is quoted in the Times article). I'm sure it's a party Ira would just as soon forget. During the Modern Language Association convention in Chicago, Grove Press hosted a gathering at, of all places, the then-new, Peter Gatien-owned Limelight. Armed with suede elbow patches and glistening plastic name badges, a few dozen MLA wine-sippers braved a December snowstorm, arrived two hours too early to an empty night club, and tried awkwardly to mingle with a growing crowd of club kids and drag queens. Mortified, a few of us (shepherded by Ira, as I recall) eventually escaped to another club.
Ah, yes, those were the days.