For book lovers, there may be no better place to party than among books. The walls of spines are comforting - conversation starters for some, refuge for others. Even non-book lovers are happy to kick back next to Jane Austen and Marcel Proust - the propinquity gives them some literary cache.
Most of the crowd nuzzling up to the shelves at the Housing Works Used Book Cafe on Thursday night were the genuine article, among them the editor of the Paris Review, Philip Gourevitch, and the bestselling author and commentator for NPR's "This American Life," Sarah Vowell. The room reverberated with the conversation of creative minds who had spent the day in confinement, line editing or grappling with that blank computer screen. (Photographs from the event can be viewed at www.nysun.com/photogallery.)
The occasion: the bookstore's Gin Mingle, a fund-raiser geared toward the low-paying publishing profession, with a suggested admission of $10 and a book. Folks behind the event included the bookstore board's bookstore's chairmen, political presswoman Jen Bluestein, music writer Alan Light, and members such as authors Melissa Bank, Jonathan Lethem, and Mike Albo; magazine editors Alison Brower and Minna Proctor, and Housing Works's senior vice president for health care, Errol Chin-Loy.
The Gin Mingle is annual, but social events take place often at the mahogany-paneled bookstore with 20-foot ceilings. There are the de rigueur readings - tomorrow brings two authors of books about Iraq, Christian Parenti and John Crawford - as well as a monthly concert series, "Live From Home," programmed by Mr. Light. The best seats in the house are on the classic spiral staircase, but good luck getting one. Last month Tracy Chapman packed the house. Jon Spencer's punk-rock harmonica and heavy guitars will dust off the 45,000 books on the shelves Friday.
The bookstore, which offers used, rare, and new books at its Crosby Street location and also over the Internet, is doing well, said its president, Jason Shure. He has expansion in mind, having just opened a cafe at the Puck Building. The idea is to provide more job opportunities for Housing Works clients.
Those clients are New Yorkers with AIDS, many of whom also struggle with chemical dependency and mental illness. For more than 10 years, they have turned to Housing Works for housing, medical care, counseling, and job training. The Housing Works Used Book Cafe grew out of the thrift shops the organization is known for around town.
Book lovers belonging to a slightly more rarified stratum gather tonight at the New York Public Library for its annual Library Lions gala, which honors standouts in various disciplines. This year's Library Lions, who will be easily identified during cocktails by the imposing medals dangling from their necks, are literary critic Harold Bloom, New York Times op-ed columnist Thomas Friedman, award-winning author Shirley Hazzard, provocative hit moviemaker Mike Nichols, and jazz pianist Billy Taylor. The opera singer Jessye Norman, a library board member, serves as master of ceremonies.
With 85 branches in Staten Island, Manhattan, and the Bronx, and its flagship research library on 42nd Street, the public library serves nearly 14 million people a year, earning it the right to bill itself "The People's University" on its Web site. The institution is vital to the city's ideals of civilization and democracy, and it costs an awful lot of money to run, about $285 million annually. The city and state chip in a good chunk, but private contributions help close the gap.
So wish those library supporters well as they celebrate their generosity in a fantasy version of autumn created by board member Gayfryd Steinberg and event designer David Monn (no, the man never rests).
The event's primary underwriters are its chairmen, including Oscar and Annette de la Renta, Elizabeth and Felix Rohatyn, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas Lee. They, along with the trustees and other guests, honor one of the city's most important calls to philanthropy.
Gala events are usually easy on the ego, but tonight, humorist Andy Borowitz plans to be bruised.
"I have the potential of getting my ass kicked twice in three hours," Mr. Borowitz told me over lunch Thursday at Quartino.
The first humbling is early this evening at the Algonquin Hotel, when the James Thurber House announces the winner of its 2005 Thurber Prize for American Humor. The prize, a $5,000 award, honors the legacy of the author, humorist, and New Yorker cartoonist born in Columbus, Ohio. His home there is now a literary center and museum open to the public.
Mr. Borowitz also grew up in Ohio, but doesn't think being an Ohioan will give him an edge. Rather, he expects his book, "The Big Book of Shockers" (Simon & Schuster), a compilation of his daily Internet column, the Borowitz Report, to lose to Jon Stewart's best seller about this country's political process, "America (The Book)" (Warner Books). His pessimism derives from his experience the last time he was nominated for the prize, when his book "The Trillionaire Next Door" lost out to another best seller, "Me Talk Pretty One Day" by David Sedaris (Little, Brown).
Whatever the outcome, Mr. Borowitz won't be mingling long with the author Adam Gopnik and the other judges. He is due at the Moth's fund-raising gala to participate in a "Storyslam Showdown" against the novelist Jonathan Ames.
Again, he doesn't have high hopes about winning.
"I'll probably be talking about my encounter with Jon Stewart," Mr. Borowitz said. "I'll be timely, at least. But Jonathan's story is going to be dirty. He's made a career of perversion."
He is, however, happy to be supporting the Moth, a nonprofit that produces storytelling events for the public and teaches storytelling in classrooms throughout the city.
"It's retro and low-tech but not overly quaint," Mr. Borowitz said. "The Moth has no gimmicks except for having a girl with a violin on stage."
The violinist, Katy Cox, sounds a note when storytellers are running low on time. Tonight at Capitale, she'll be keeping time during the slam as well as for two other storytellers, author Gay Talese and actress Lili Taylor.
"It's not like stand-up at all. It's a complete meal," Mr. Borowitz said. "People come away feeling like they've been on a journey."
The under-40 crowd seems more keen on literature than classical music, but that may change with the efforts of the classical music advocacy group Ten O'Clock Classics. The group draws rock stars, models, and run-of-the-mill professionals to classical music concerts at nontraditional venues, such as the Cutting Room and the Knitting Factory, apartment buildings, and even Crunch gyms.
The founder and leader of the enterprise is Ronen Segev, a graduate of Juilliard who shows a talent for administration as well as the piano. He proves that it's never too late to discover a love for Chopin and Mozart - he came to the piano relatively late for a serious concert pianist, in middle school. At Juilliard, he lobbied the administration for better career counseling. Waking up to the reality of the profession can be a traumatizing experience.
One of Mr. Segev's goals for Ten O'Clock Classics is to provide jobs to musicians so they won't abandon their music careers. The group pays musicians to teach in the classroom and helps them find private tutoring positions. Mr. Segev is himself a multi-tasker, managing to run Ten O'- Clock Classics, tutor privately, and perform professionally, most recently in Israel and at the Melbourne International Arts Festival.
Most impressive, however, is the soft-spoken musician's knack for creating concerts that seem to instantly win over young people. It's a combination of quick pacing, music selections that are short, and introductions that aren't pedantic. He doesn't water down the music, either. The delivery is pure, without devices like sampling or video screens.
The formula will be on display tomorrow night at the Ten O'Clock Classics annual gala at Splashlight Studios. The host is actor Andre Royo, best known for his role on HBO's "The Wire." The main act is "The 5 Browns," five sibling pianists who all went to Juilliard, performing on five grand pianos. Their album has been the no. 1 selling album in classical and classical crossover for the last year.