"Will Kevin be there?" my friend Jodi asked when I invited her to my upcoming book party at Dutton's.
Oh, no, I thought. Not again.
It used to be that literary launch parties were about books, not boys. They were a chance for like-minded lit lovers to commune amid dusty bookshelves, to meet the author and -- in the benighted days before signed editions sold for big bucks on eBay -- snag a personalized copy for posterity.
But at the Dutton's gathering for my first book, "Stick Figure: A Diary of My Former Self," I watched with amazement as junior high gender jockeying took centerstage: awkward flirtations, too-loud laughter, spats over who'd spotted the buxom brunette "first." Could my book's subject matter -- my adolescent diaries -- have somehow inspired this regressive behavior?
After all, at an event reputed to be a bastion of bohemia, my normally low-key gal pals were suddenly sporting glossy lipstick and push-up bras, while my cool-as-a-cucumber guy friends frantically tossed out paper scraps, like pieces of confetti, scrawled with phone numbers. Two weeks later, when "Stick Figure" made the Los Angeles Times best-seller list, four pairs of friends called to say -- squeal! -- congratulations before reporting that they'd begun -- squeal! squeal! -- dating.
At the time, I believed both the best-seller status and the hookups had been a fluke.
Then I started telling folks about this month's Dutton's party for my latest book, "Inside the Cult of Kibu." It wasn't just Jodi who inquired about Kevin's attendance. It was Kevin who pressed me about Lisa's R.S.V.P., and Lisa who coyly asked if David would be "in town" that evening. David, in turn, wanted to know if Amy planned to show up sans "the ornery boyfriend she'd been on the rocks with" while Amy more tactfully wondered whether Michael had "bought the book yet."
Finally, I confronted my friends. "This is a publishing party!" I reminded them. "If you want me to set you up, I'm happy to play yenta. You two can grab a latte. Alone."
Not so, they insisted. Between work and Whole Foods, Tae Bo and tennis night, no one seems able to program a Palm with individual coffee dates. In our time-compressed lives, we've reduced reading to Internet hyperlinks and compacted chemistry into quickie first-second impressions.
Embodying the cliche about judging a book by its cover, we've bought into the nifty online profile, the book party as gawking event. But maybe we're overlooking the "book" itself.
I tried this logic on my friends. Unimpressed, they replied with two words: speed dating.
"All your eligible single friends will be in the same room for an hour -- and they're prescreened by you!"
Before I could utter, "Oy vey," the suggestions came pouring in: "You should send out an Evite so we can see who's coming." "Maybe you should get JDate to sponsor the event." And the perennial Jewish girl's lament: "Are you sure you want to have it in the courtyard? Our hair might frizz in the humid nighttime air."
The more I insisted that this wasn't a meat market, the more people became noncommittal about attending. "We're marking the occasion of my publication! This isn't a primping-fest!" I whined before announcing that I wouldn't stand for a "literati meets glitterati" party.
Predictably, the number of takers dwindled. Soon my earnestness turned to shameless self-promotion: Hoping that the book's merits would serve as incentive, I quoted reviews calling it "hilarious" and "gossipy" and recited the blurb declaring that it "deserves a place on the bookshelf right next to that other classic of digital bubble-popping, Michael Lewis' 'The New New Thing.'"
But by week's end, many had deleted "Lori's Reading" from their Outlook and replaced it with "Yoga Works." As my friend, Mike, put it, "Where else can you find so many beautiful bodies in one place?"
Then came the missive from my editor. Despite my radio appearances, he admonished, "No one can get more bodies into the room than the author!!!!" His desperation was apparent in those four consecutive exclamation marks, a punctuation faux pas he'd never have allowed in my manuscript.
I remembered that ubiquitous childhood nightmare of having no one show up at your birthday party. The adult version felt equally mortifying: reading in a huge public space to a mere four people, two of whom are deaf, two of whom are your parents.
In the service of preserving both my self-esteem and the good graces of my publishing house, I decided to cut a Faustian bargain: I would steal those beautiful bodies from Yoga Works.
Out went an e-mail titled, "Multitasking With Menshes." I touted Dutton's as the hottest venue for meeting attractive, quality, like-minded mates. I name-dropped hipper-than-thou hunky young writers who'd read at the celebrated book venue, capitalized the phrase "speed dating" and even admitted that I'd met Mitch, a cute chemist I dated several years ago for nine months, at another friend's Dutton's signing. (So what if Mitch turned out to be gay?)
Part of me feels a tinge of disappointment that some will buy my book as no more than a soulmate lottery ticket. The other part is grateful that people will come to my party at all. Then again, I now have far more pressing problems to deal with. Like, what the heck should I wear?