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Ask the Washingtonologist: Do You Have to Buy the Book at a Book Party?

Illustration by Jenny Rosenberg.

Dear Washingtonologist:

Now that we’re kinda sorta maybe coming out of quarantine, it looks like the social calendar might get going again. Which means I’ll start receiving invitations to that ultimate Beltway event—the book party. But here’s a thing I’ve always wondered: If I go to a book party, do I have to buy the book?


Dear Puzzled:

As someone who makes his meager living writing things, I say the answer is yes, you stinking cheapskate. Do you think they invited you for your scintillating personality? The whole reason someone else is paying for you to consume canapés and Pinot Grigio is because they’re trying to sell books, both to guests and to the people who might read about said guests on the chance the party gets written up the next morning in Playbook.

But because you asked, your old pal the Washingtonologist has an idea for one way you could avoid shelling out $24.95 for an acquaintance’s new tome about foreign policy in the Gerald Ford era: Get yourself invited to a higher class of book party. In our experience, these events come in two varieties. The basic model, often sponsored by authors themselves, might feature a card table stacked with fresh copies and staffed by a representative from a local bookstore who will ring up your purchase. A truly elite party, though, will have an artfully arrayed display and no checkout person, because the books are free. Free to you, that is. Most likely, your deep-pocketed host has paid for a carton of books, or at least billed the purchase to whoever has hired them to influence the city’s influencer class. If you’re inclined to be ethically squeamish about such things, don’t ask too many questions.

Either way, you need to sing for your not-quite-supper: Pipe down while the author delivers a spiel, think about asking a question during the Q&A, and by all means leave the event with a book under your arm—even if you’re planning to deposit it at the nearest Little Free Library. (Just don’t do that last bit if you’ve gotten the author to make the inscription out to you by name.)

Some other time, we’ll get into just how the humble book party came to be a station on the social circuit. Or maybe you can write a book about that. We promise to buy it if you invite us to a party.

Have a question only a true-blue Washingtonian can answer? Send it to washingtonologist@washingtonian.com.