The Book-of-the-Month Club Turns the Page to Its 60th Birthday, and the Beaux and Belles of Letters Celebrate

updated 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

At first the throng of middle-aged tuxedoed men and tastefully attired women looked like revelers at a college faculty party. A second glance, however, revealed that this soiree was the "Night of the Living Book-Flap Photos." Famous authors drank, laughed and cavorted at the 60th anniversary party of the Book-of-the-Month Club. The company, which is owned by Time Inc., has spent three score years distributing 440 million books by more than 10,000 authors to—literally—every post office in America. The gathering lured Calvin (American Fried) Trillin, Bobbie Ann (In Country) Mason, Arthur (Robert Kennedy and His Times) Schlesinger Jr. and Betty (Last Wish) Rollin, among others, out of their garrets and into the marble splendor of the New York Public Library. Also present was William L. Shirer, 82. He had thought it was an April Fools' joke in 1960 when he was told his The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich was chosen by the club; the book went on to sell 1.5 million copies, becoming BOMC's top draw ever. Biographer David (Mornings on Horseback) McCullough acted as master of ceremonies, and three authors were selected by BOMC for praise: Lewis (Lives of a Cell) Thomas, Robert (The Power Broker) Caro and Toni (Song of Solomon) Morrison. In each name, $10,000 was presented to a literacy program.

With all the luminaries, it's difficult to imagine a more stellar literary evening, but a reporter asked about possible additions to the guest list. Miss Manners—etiquette evangelist Judith Martin—suggested including Henry James because, "You never run into him. And he hasn't had a new book out in ages. I fear the worst." E.L. (World's Fair) Doctorow said he would ask Flaubert, Tolstoy, Kafka, Dostoyevski, Twain, Melville, Hawthorne, Sophocles and Homer. Upon hearing that, Fran (Social Studies) Lebowitz hooted, "Ed, you lack self-confidence." Lebowitz wanted simply "me and six good listeners."

John (The Cider House Rules) Irving, the handsomest author-who-is-also-wrestler, insisted that although many of his friends are writers, "the idea of a literary salon has never been my idea of a party." John Kenneth (The Voice of the Poor) Galbraith would have only folks involved in the economics of publishing. "Otherwise," he said, "the noise would be too great." Bespectacled Theodore (Breach of Faith) White burbled with enough energy to terrify presidential aspirants well into the 21st century. His party list would include "the anonymous fellow who put the King James Bible to bed, Ernest Hemingway, Sir Walter Scott, Sinclair Lewis 'at the right age,' Adam Smith, Clare Boothe Luce and the Chinese poet Li Ti Po," whose verses White began to quote, "Drinking in the moonlight...."

Joseph (No Laughing Matter) Heller, recently recovered from Guillain-Barré syndrome, said, "I wobble when I walk, I chew slowly, but I've never felt better." He probably also voiced everyone's secret wish when he confessed that he'd only invite those critics who love his work. With a sheepish grin, he said, "I find book reviewers who love me fascinating—and find other novelists just so-so."

From Our Partners