The Authors Guild Dinner or How on Earth Did I Snooker My Way Into This One?
You cannot choose what the world will remember you for. Arthur Conan Doyle never saw Sherlock Holmes as his most important work. Gilbert and Sullivan toiled for years on separate serious pieces that none of us could hum today. If I were to be asked what I would like to be remembered for, I’d choose something bizarre, because bizarre things stick to the grey cells more readily than the humdrum. Yes, if 100 years from now someone could say to my elderly grandchildren, “Betsy Bird? Wasn’t she the librarian who kept getting invited to places she had no reason to be?” that would be enough.
Because it keeps happening, folks. I can’t explain it. I can’t even object to it because it’s so weird. There are people in this world, foolish kind people, who will invite me to fancy shindigs. And the fanciest and silliest of these are the galas.
Anyone who goes to galas with any regularity will probably tell you how boring they are. Just a bunch of people in tuxes, the same wine, the same h’orderves, blah blah blah. Don’t you believe a word of it. Galas are great! They give you free food! They give you free wine! They usually take place somewhere with lovely architecture and lots of gold leaf. How is this ever dull?
This last Monday I was invited to The Authors Guild Dinner, benefiting The Authors Guild Foundation and The Authors League Fund. I say “benefiting” because it is written here on my program and not because I could be mistaken for anyone who was in the least bit beneficent. However, they don’t name these things Mooch Fests quite yet, so a "benefit" it remains. It was held at The Metropolitan Club, not too far from Columbus Circle, just off of Central Park.
Here is the degree to which I am not the right person to invite to these things. Earlier in the day I had a series of errands to run around Manhattan including exercising and collecting my pants from a friend (long story). My outfit consisted of skirt and blouse and I had this vague vague very vague sense that my errands might take so long that I would have to perhaps go to the gala in the outfit I was wearing. I’ve done that sort of thing before. No big whoop. At least I thought I’d done that before. As the day slowly wore on little doubts began to nibble at my ankles. Had I done it before? Couldn’t something potentially embarrassing happen if I happened to miscalculate and end up the workaholic shrub at the ball? Ah, sweet fears. How you’ve saved me countless times from myself. As it happened I had time to drop by my home, locate a summery dress with minimal amount of stains (a little yellow on the hem? Puh-leeze. Who even notices that kind of thing?) And away I went!
And thank goodness I did. Turns out, there were gowns and tuxedos milling about. I had the clear cut sense upon entering that I had no idea where I’d gotten my shoes. You know those black sandals you dig out from your closet at the end of spring and they look COMPLETELY unfamiliar to you? The ones you can’t quite figure out if you got at a clothing swap or from your mother-in-law? I had that pair on, but figured that if these lollygaggers were checking out the shoes of a librarian then there were bigger issues here than just me.
A little about the event in question. I don’t know how much you know about The Authors Guild. I knew bupkiss coming in, but thanks to the handy dandy program I’d find at my table later, that was not to be a problem. And if you look on their website you will learn that, "The Authors Guild has been the nation’s leading advocate for writers’ interests in effective copyright protection, fair contracts and free expression since it was founded as the Authors League of America in 1912. It provides legal assistance and a broad range of web services to its members."
Take a gander at the Authors Guild co-chairs and things start to fall in place. In fact, they begin to sound a little intimidating. Judy Blume, Mary Higgins Clark, Patricia Cornwell, Michael Crichton, John Grisham, Garrison Keillor, Mary Pop Osborne, James Stevenson, R.L. Stine . . . shall I go on? Amusingly enough I didn’t really think about the fact that I was mingling amongst authors. I knew to keep an eye out for Lesley M.M. Blume because it was her lovely publicist Bruce Mason who got me invited in the first place. Bruce even got a great big half-a-page thank you in the program from the Guild “for his devoted service for this evening’s 17th annual benefit gala.” By “devoted service” I’m sure they meant inviting me. Ta!
So I wandered about the reception hall for a bit, taking it in and eating as many tiny crab cakes as I could fit in my fist. The space resembled nothing so much as a very pretty room that someone went and sprayed gold all over in a madcap spree of gleeful metallic fervor. At one point I settled in along a wall next to two women who didn’t know one another but were discussing “these things” and how dull they could be. You know the drill. One was a publicist and I didn’t quite catch what the other was. I considered trying to join in on their conversation but that seemed rude and I thought better of it. Later I would regret this decision. Another woman did approach me with the line, “I thought about getting married here,” which in girl-talking-to-girl speak is code. Fortunately I don’t speak code and we had a lovely conversation where I got to mention that I got married in on a golf course in a suburb of Kalamazoo. Beat that!
Dinner was lovely, though I’ve scant memory of the food. I do happen to remember the dessert. At one point during the dinner I tried to find the bathroom, took a wrong turn at Albuquerque, and popped into a sea of desserts. Desserts as far as the eye could see. It was all I could do not to dive on top of the nearest table and start swimming. Individually they each looked like this:
And as any sane and rational soul will tell you, there is no nice way to eat a dessert with a hard chocolate covered outer layer. After we were served, all over the room people in gowns and suits were desperately trying to chop apart this delicious concoction, sending little bits of shell spraying everywhere. I like dessert and feel that anything done in the name of eating it more swiftly justifies the means, so I merrily hacked away at the creature on my plate until its shattered remains looked more like this:
Violence, as you can see, is sometimes necessary.
My table consisted of many fine people, some of whom happened to be young. There was a fellow who turned his financial blog into a book. That sort of thing. Everyone was very nice and I was able to discuss New York Public Library at length, which is a good go-to subject in these cases. I like working in a profession where there’s always something new to say. I will give Mr. Schwartzman this much; he has provided me with ample dinner conversation good for years to come.
But there were speakers to attend to as well. Ah, the speakers. You know, I’ve sat in audiences before, many of them with people under the age of 21, and I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a noisy crew than these Authors Guild and Authors League type people. My goodness they like to talk! Now admittedly the first speaker was a Sidney Offit, President of the Authors Guild Foundation, and his microphone started to slowly fade away over the course of the speech. Paul Aiken, the Executive Director of the Authors Guild, who proceeded to tell us about the life of writer Ellis Parker Butler and his smash hit short story Pigs is Pigs which originally published in 1905. It is the story of a man being charged for the delivery of pigs, when in fact he receives guinea pigs instead. While this charge is being sorted, the guinea pigs breed and hilarity ensues. Apparently this was the Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County of its day. Why did Mr. Aiken bring it up? I’m not really sure. But he was determined to give us the full history and the full history we received!
About this time I started paging through my program to see what else there was to look at. I saw that the past Authors Guild President between 1993-1997 was Mary Pope Osborne and from 1985-1987 it was Madeleine L’Engle. I saw that the current Authors League Fund President was Pat Cummings. Pat Cummings, eh?
About this time Ms. Cummings steps up to the podium to present an award to a Mr. Louis D. Rubin Jr. from the Authors League Fund. I take one look and gape. Lo and behold, there stands the woman who was next to me in the lobby, merrily chatting away with my neighbor about these sorts of functions. The very woman I had debated making an attempt at joining the conversation. Well now I just feel silly, but be honest with me. You may know quite a few authors’ names, but if they’re not wearing nametags, how many could you spot across a crowded room? Or, in this case, not five feet away? I was mightily frustrated with myself (not the least of which because we could have had something to discuss) but there’s nothing to be done about it now.
Around this point it occurred to me that my Fresh Direct order would be due upon my doorstop at 10:00. In New York City, particularly Manhattan, grocery stores are tiny affairs with body-wide aisles and a selection that could be matched, nay beaten, in any reasonably sized supermarket west of the Hudson River. As a result, many of the residents like myself prefer to order their groceries online. Now on this particular evening I’d specified that I would prefer my order between the hours of 10 and 11:30 p.m. Fresh Direct, however, likes to deliver early, if they can. I don’t live in a sketchy neighborhood, but by the way they leap from their trucks, run into my hallways, and scamper away you’d think there were armed thugs waiting around every corner. The guild event had begun at 6:30, but there was one more man I had to see before I left early. One more person worth hearing. Fresh Direct would just have to wait because that man was Roy Blount Jr., President of the Authors Guild.
Insert fuzzy picture of Roy Blount Jr. speaking here:
There he is. My husband and I are faithful listeners of the NPR quiz show Wait Wait, Don’t Tell Me, but Mr. Blount’s fame extends far beyond that sphere. As with most radio personalities it was difficult pairing the man with his voice in person, but worth it. As he was introduced as “Our President, Roy Blount,” I couldn’t help but think to myself, “I wish he were our President,” which is a lot to ask, but I’m not one to stifle these sorts of feelings. Mr. Blount was very funny, as you might expect, associating Barbara Walters and the Three Stooges in ways that I doubt anyone has ever combined them before.
However, it was 9:30 and I was sixty-some blocks south of my home. If Fresh Direct doesn’t find you at the time they arrive then they run away and foot you with the “restocking” bill, which is unpleasant and leaves me without my potato chips. And if it comes down to hearing the end of Roy Blount Jr.’s speech and eating potato chips, potato chips win. So after knocking my chair completely backwards (no one noticed, so enthralled were they) and ducking out in that bent over position that indicates either a hasty retreat or severe back pain, I double timed it out the mighty fashionable doors homeward. And JUST as I turned the corner onto my block, I saw it. The wise and almighty Fresh Direct truck pulling forward and then backing up slowly, slowly… slow enough that I could run in the door and pretend I’d been a good and obedient customer all evening long.
This has turned from a recap of an Authors Guild event into a description of the perils of ordering food online, but that is to be expected. I can’t recall fanciness without allowing normalcy to sneak in at some point. It was a lovely evening in the end, and while I can’t imagine what the advantages would be to belonging to such a guild (the website covers this question, I see), this much I can say: When invited to attend a gala at The Metropolitan Club, do bring good clothes. Do be on your best behavior. And if you happen to find yourself accidentally representing New York Public Library, don’t worry about messy desserts or knocking over chairs. Because as important as all these people are, you’re the one who’ll be stocking them on your bookshelves in the end.
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About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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