Robin Sloan’s 24 Hour Book Party Pow-Wow
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1. Author Robin Sloan. 2. Party People, Exhibit A.
If you’re trying to sell hot dogs, precedent proves that throwing a foam frankfurter on some poor teen and having him dance on the street corner for $8 an hour is shrewd business. If you’re Robin Sloan, and it’s time to promote your first book — Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore — you do the equivalent, and hole up for a full earthly rotation in a bookstore in the shadow of the metropolis. Sloan’s 24 hours were spent at The Center for Fiction, as distant from the dusty and cabalistic titular bookstore as New York is from San Francisco, where Sloan lives and where he set his book.
1. Revelers chat beneath classy chandeliers and a mirrored bust. 2. Robin Sloan and a fan peek their heads among the crowd.
With mostly tomes and marble busts for company, how does a person spend a Wednesday night’s wee small hours, when the stragglers out and about are in little condition to read a book, much less buy one? Sloan’s fictional shop shares a wall with a strip club, suggesting one possible diversion, but in the spirit of Mr. Penumbra, which features both Google and a secret society as hoary as the next literary secret society, Sloan pow-wowed — with writers, artists, and a DJ, plus assorted tech people — on books, media, technology, and the spaces where they meet, and he streamed it all live. Then he archived the whole thing: 16 guests and a whole bunch of YouTube.
1. Robin Sloan, left, caps his autographing pen and listens attentively with the party roaring behind him. 2. Party People Exhibit B.
Smart people talking about smart things, these conversations — Wednesday night and much of Thursday, with a snatch of sleep between them. All of which was a preamble to Thursday night’s release party. The soiree was held on The Center for Fiction’s second floor, and it had more likenesses of luminaries than any party I’d ever been to, easily, and besides the portraits, the busts, and the classy, ceiling-hung light fixtures, each end of the room had a ceremoniously-large ruffled red drape and an open bar. Within a half a hour, the place was bumping. Sloan gave a short reading, but the night was really about hobnobbing and celebrating the kind of fiction (and the kind of reader) that is entertaining and serious, contemporary and rooted in long-held tradition. The union of new and old found an apt symbol at what was, besides maybe the bars, the party’s cynosure: a DIY bookscanner, which is a sort of industrial-age-looking contraption mounted with a couple digital cameras. That thing is very cool.
1. The DIY Bookscanner and its Yale Law School guardians. 2. Party!
Robin Sloan hails from the far-off west coast, but from the size and enthusiasm of the crowd, you could be forgiven for assuming his work home-grown. And it makes sense, because Sloan and his book are very much about the community behind technology, and physical distance, on the internet’s terms, is not so much a barrier as a thrill. I kept approaching people who were looking to get their book signed, and while we scouted out potential paths toward the mobbed author, three or four of them told me they had never before met Sloan in person, but had followed his work for years. Each had some kind of relationship with him through digital channels; there was a definite kind of solidarity to the atmosphere. As one person told me: “It feels like the good guys are winning.”
— Garon Scott lives, writes and sleeps uneasily in Brooklyn.