I remember, some years ago, being at an utterly mobbed book launch event here in Toronto. It was for a writer friend who published a smallish book every few years. He was an older fellow, a professional as well as a writer, and a much-loved figure in several subsets of the community. When I say mobbed I mean it. Not only was the event thronged, it was almost a who’s-who gathering. Much media presence.
I joined a cluster around my friend before the event started, gave him my congratulations and murmured, ‘This is sensational, the place is packed!’ He looked at me and rasped (some people can get away with rasping), ‘Guy, you don’t get it! Tonight I am going to sell tho-thirds of my total book sales!’ He was exaggerating, but only to a degree. Essentially, by summoning everyone who knew and liked him, his publishers managed to get two or three copies per person bought by a lot of well-off people.
That’s one kind of book launch. Another is the straight ‘party time’ where the author and his or her friends just celebrate the arrival of an ideally non-bouncing baby book. ‘Friends’ can have a loose definition sometimes, of course. Jackie Mason, the great comedian, once joked about an event where his wife ‘kept it intimate, she just invited the immediate world’.
I get a little odd with launches. I’ve been upbraided (actually, harangued and aggressively shredded might be closer to the truth) by friends because I haven’t called to tell them a launch was happening. But my take has been, pretty much since I was lucky enough to start having actual readers, that launch events are for the people who have been waiting for the book. (I did alert some friends this time. Aggressive shredding with inventive profanity can have an impact.)
But tonight is about readers. I’ll do some thank you remarks off the top, because there are people to thank, and when I tell the audience I’m grateful to them, that’ll be very real. Enough people seem to want the fiction I deliver to allow me to research and work the books, and rework them, until they are ready – or as ready as I can get them. Should I make a bad joke about that old Paul Masson ad with Orson Welles and his gorgeous voice? ‘Will sell no wine before its time.’
(Actually – digression – that line always felt more an adman’s than a winemaker’s. There’s no upside to selling too soon. If the wine isn’t ready it tastes badly, you lose market share. And a good wine can be kept for a few years anyhow. Get me Don Draper, please.)
For the last few novels the first launch night for a book has been a hybrid evening. I do a short reading, but people seem to enjoy – and I know I prefer – a conversation with someone for at least part of the time. I get to be funny, or try.
There are people out there who are really good at helping on stage in this way. It is a skill, no question. And this format doesn’t always work. I attended an evening a few years back with David Cronenberg generously giving his time to interview Stephen King. It didn’t really take off. Maybe too much star-power up there, but more the discrepancy between David, who really is an intellectual, and King, who is very bright (obviously!) but just as obviously didn’t want to go that route.
Tonight I’m with Laurie Grassi, Books Editor of Chatelaine Magazine. Laurie has her own constituency and a real love of books in the widest sense. (Her all-time favourites list is online somewhere. It includes Bel Canto. Go read that.) She’s also funny. Through emails yesterday we made the shared executive decision not to tango on stage if the conversation flags. I doubt it will, just as I doubt a tango would have been especially edifying.
Event is at 7 tonight, cash bar beforehand at 6 PM. At least one bookworld acquaintance wrote me when he heard that and said, ‘No one told me! Now I’m there!’ No comment.
Free online tickets are a request from the library, which is hosting this at the main Reference Library at Yonge and Bloor, in their really gorgeous, very large atrium.
No tangos, unlikely to be any tangling (except maybe plot threads?), but it really is special, the night you bring a book to the world, or that segment of it that has been waiting.