Our Last Publisher Buried Us Without a Party
by Joyce Wadler
Another book party we've been meaning to tell you about: The one for "The Joy of Funerals," a collection of short stories by ALIX STRAUSS, held earlier this month at the Frank E. Campbell home on Madison Avenue. There were three funerals going on at the time of the event. At the entrance to the room there was a floral decoration in the shape of a horse-shoe, like one we had last seen at the funeral for JOHN GOTTI. One of the first entries in the guest book was "Mom and Dad Strauss." Inside, a closed coffin was flanked by a poster for the book, and guests sipped Champagne.
Ms. Strauss, a blonde in a slim black pantsuit, told us that the book came out of experience as an only child, going to funerals.
"I never got to see family members, unless it was at a funeral, so to me, a funeral's just like a big party," she said. "Of course, there's always one less family member, and it's not a catered event or anything."
And we gather she's primarily a magazine writer who has done mass-market books for teenagers — including one on BRITNEY SPEARS?
"Yeeees," Ms. Strauss said. "We don't really talk about — ." Here she interrupted herself. "You know what, though? We do the happy Britney Spears dance every time a great large check comes. So, you know, when someone says, `Here's $15,000, can you write a book in a month and a half,' you pretty much say, `O.K.,' you know?"
We give Ms. Strauss points for the month's most innovative gift bag, which included vodka, over-the-counter sleeping pills, tissues and waterproof mascara.
"Publishers are constantly looking to spot trends; but who knew funerals were hot? At least that was the feeling at Manhattan's Campbell Funeral Home, which hosted a party for Alix Strauss's The Joy of Funerals, a collection of stories about, well, funerals. The funeral director called the night "in line with a lot of innovative things Mr Campbell had done". And the author told the packed parlour: "It's a new trend - when all the other funeral books come out." What happens at such a hybrid event? Some acted as if it were a real funeral: an old man slept; a couple chatted. Others acted as if it were a book reading: people read passages from the book - over an open coffin - and the crowd sipped champagne. Who said the book business was dead? Talk about synergy.
Till Death Do We Party
For the same reason some people look forward to the backyard barbecue on the Fourth of July, author Alix Strauss likes a good funeral: It's an event that brings the whole family together. OK, maybe not the whole family. "It's a reunion, just with one less person," said Strauss, who was in town Wednesday to read from her first novel, The Joy of Funerals, at Les Zygomates, the wine bar and bistro in the Leather District. The book is a collection of stories about sharp and sexy women coping - or not - with death. To celebrate its release, Strauss recently threw a party at the trendy Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home in New York City, giving guests a "funeral survival kit" that included a bottle of vodka, Unisom, waterproof mascara, and sunglasses.
Out and About with A.L. Gordon
"This is as new for me as it is for you," said Kevin Mack, general manager of the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home at the book party last night for The Joy of Funerals, a story collection by Alix Strauss.
Harp music played as Mr. Mack welcomed guests ("soft, light, and airy — it's funereal music," he told The New York Sun). The tune was "Somewhere Over the Rainbow," which Mr. Mack said is selected quite a bit. As for the flowers, the spray of bright gerbers and daisies was also typical of Frank E. Campbell funerals. "We do things with more splash," explained Mr. Mack. Not typical was the free-flowing champagne served in glasses borrowed from the Stanhope Hotel.
Some of the guests in the press-heavy crowd were more interested in the funeral theme than others. Ilise Carter prowls the Web to find obituaries with great punchlines. "I go to Yahoo.com once or twice a week and types in the word 'dies.' My favorite obit is about the guy who wrote 'The Hokey Pokey.'" Her favorite one-liner? "'Apparently, he does answer to a higher authority,'" she recalled, about the man who founded Hebrew National.
Ms. Carter's friend Christine Allen has considered a career in the funeral industry, but is currently copy chief at Allure magazine, where yesterday she copy edited a story for the June issue on how to get photographed for the society pages. "It said to dress to the nines," said Ms. Allen, which she certainly did last evening, wearing black fishnet gloves and a veil. But she won her place in the Sun when she mentioned driving a hearse and using a casket as a coffee table.
Ms. Strauss was dressed appropriately for an Upper East Side book party or funeral, in a black Armani suit. It took some calls to people in high places to book the location for her book party, but, she said, "I wouldn't have had the party anywhere else. It had to be here. This is the society funeral home — Judy Garland had her funeral here." She added that she'd be happy to have her funeral there. "I do think about my life — have I left my mark well enough? It's a comfort to know I've made a contribution."
Ms. Strauss bid farewell to guests with Funeral Survival Kits containing sunglasses, tissues, and hand-held gravestones with the name of the book printed on them.
Book Party Kills 'Em in Funeral Home
The jokes are easy. This party—a book launch held in a funeral home—had people dying to get in. It was a real killer. It brought guests to death's door.
It was also pretty fun, and the venue was an apt choice to launch a book called The Joy of Funerals, a "darkly comic novel about funerals, sex, and loss," according to a jacket blurb. In many ways the party felt like a memorial service: a harpist played and four people read selections from the book from behind a casket. But most funerals don't have guests nibbling on hors d'oeuvres and sipping Taittinger champagne.
The venue also had a pedigree: The Frank E. Campbell funeral home is an Upper East Side institution that has handled services for everyone from Jacqueline Onassis and Judy Garland to Aaliyah and the Notorious B.I.G.
While LaForce & Stevens handled the PR, author Alix Strauss did much of the event planning work herself. She called to ask companies like Calvin Klein and Rimmel to donate products for the gift bag, and stuffed the sacks in her apartment the week before the party. Billed as a "funeral survival kit," the bag contained an assortment of mourning-appropriate gear: sunglasses, tissues, eyedrops, waterproof mascara, a scented candle, and even a piece of marble from a headstone company. A small bottle of Turi vodka came with a drink recipe from B. R. Guest restaurants for the "ObiTURIary," with ingredients like "cran-bury" juice and "com-passion" fruit puree.
– Chad Kaydo