Typically flanked by barrel-chested bouncers and clamoring paparazzi, The Observer was met with a much different welcoming party as we approached Cipriani 42nd Street last week. A rambunctious klezmer band was trumpeting, squeeze-boxing and beating their instruments in a chaotic, harem-scarem cacophony. Tapping Converse All-Star-clad feet to their own beats, the merry crew bleated an infectious gypsy harmony. Guests approaching the storied venue stopped and listened to the merry troupe before entering, chuckling roundly with the passive affection of the creative class for an out-of-context spectacle.
Inside, The Paris Review’s Spring Revel was just beginning to bloom. As usual, the stage was well-set: an armada of white-tailed attendants relieved guests of their early-April outerwear, and trays upon trays of tulip-like bellinis seemed always within arms reach. It was, however, a literary crowd, and the drink of choice was decidedly whiskey. Circulating during the cocktail hour, The Observer was met with the constant smell of brown liquor on the breaths of chattering essayists (not that we’re complaining, mind. It reminded us of, well, us). “No, I haven’t yet been translated into Arabic,” a voice sighed, her acerbic exhalation adding further fuel to the warm, amber cloud of Maker’s Mark hovering over the scene.
Together, the congregation formed a tentative bouquet of vaguely bohemian finery. Zadie Smith donned a pink head-wrap and a pair of floral trousers. By and large, however, conservative dress prevailed, with fleeting accents of natty bow-ties, brightly colored shoes and thick-rimmed glasses.
Biding our time,we waited until guests were two-drinks deep before approaching. Indeed, whiskey and good company was loosening the already loquacious crew. When we asked Jeffrey Eugenides what he was drinking, however, he smiled a Cheshire smile and held his glass behind his back. “Oh, I’m not going to talk about that, because the last time I was at a party, they asked me about my drink and my whole quote was about drinking. So I’m going to pretend that I’m not drinking if that’s all right with you,” he said.
We admired his media savvy, but decided to try and get Mr. Eugenides into trouble anyway: a round of Fuck, Chuck or Marry seemed the ticket—the candidates being the book genres of self-help, autobiography and true crime. “I would probably fuck all of them, in terms of not liking them particularly, and marry whatever kind of novel I came across,” he reasoned.
When asked the same question, however, Malcolm Gladwell did not indulge. “I guess I don’t understand the game,” he said. (Really? We’d been told by a business-class seatmate once that Mr. Gladwell was a genius.) He did, however, eagerly share his recent reads. “I read all these thrillers from the seventies that I get on Amazon,” he said, admitting that despite his forays into the virtual marketplace, he prefers print to electronic media for his literature. “I’m a book book guy,” he explained.
Ben Stiller, who proudly presented himself as “extremely erudite,” (we think he was being funny) favors more philosophical works. “I’m reading a book about happiness, but I haven’t gotten to the part about how you actually get happy yet.” Making time for literature, however, has proved difficult for the comedian of late. “I should be reading more right now, but I’m working on a movie, and it seems like that takes up all the time.” he said, mentioning his upcoming projects. Despite the grueling work schedule, Mr. Stiller manages to make time for his beloved orange and blue basketballers. “The time that I should be reading I spend watching the Knicks.” The actor, however, seemed unconcerned by Jeremy Lin’s devastating knee injury. “It’s not over. He’ll rise from the ashes, or whatever.” Curious, we asked Mr. Stiller when he last cried reading a book. “Oh wow, yeah, you know those Salinger short stories always get me. My favorite is ‘For Esme, with Love and Squalor.’”
Guests soon took their seats at tables decorated with vintage typewriters. The Observer approached Amber Tamblyn at her table, and inquired about her drink. “It’s Jon Hamm’s drink. It’s called Blanton’s. He introduced this once to me at Sundance, and I never went back,” she said, describing the top-shelf spirit’s intricate equine-crested bottle. “It’s at the bar—I was shocked, but I wasn’t that shocked because its The Paris Review.” She offered us a taste, with an admission. “It had a bunch of ice cubes in it, which I very classily hoovered out of my drink on to the ground like a monkey,” she said, miming the dastardly deed. “I had to! It’s such a fine whiskey! I was horrified that someone would put ice cubes in a whiskey like this.” We took a sip, and our throat immediately burned with the ardent spirit.“To me, in a great whiskey or even a great scotch you want the peatiness,” she explained. “You want to feel like your throat is a fireplace that’s been lit for five winters in a row. A cold whiskey or scotch, to me, is incorrect. That’s great for vodka; it’s great even for gins.”
The lukewarm oak of whiskey, however, was a singular relish. “To me that is what’s important: tasting the saddle of a dirty horse,” Ms. Tamblyn concluded, as she took a liberal gulp. (Looked like Mr. Eugenidies didn’t have to worry about being the “drinking quote” person at this party. Amber won that title—and our boozy heart.)
We saw Bill Clegg—the agent-turned-memoirist-turned-agent-turned-memoirist—and asked about the lachrymose nature of some literature and what he was currently reading. “I’m beginning a book called Some Hope by Edward St. Aubyn. I’m just beginning that, and I expect to cry.”
On to more happy times! After an introduction from Zadie Smith, the group toasted New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers—one of the book world’s true greats and the evening’s honoree—for his half-century of work at “the paper,” as he calls it. We have no doubt that several sets of eyes teared up with sentiment during Mr. Silver’s acceptance speech.
Afterward, with the 200th issue of The Paris Review in hand, guests began to filter out of Cipriani. We approached Ms. Smith and asked if we could have a word. “Will it be online?” she inquired, with trepidation. Both online and in print, we answered. A true print devotée, she shrugged and said, “I think I could live without.”
April is the coolest month, indeed!