So I stopped by a free reading tonight at B&N Astor Place on a whim, having seen it in Time Out next to an enticing "FREE" flag. Never heard of the author, never heard of the book, but the title sounded amusing enough. Officespeak: The Win-Win Guide to Touching Base, Getting the Ball Rolling, and Thinking Inside the Box. The author is either David Martin, or D.W. Martin, depending on whom you ask.
I arrived in the nook that the store sets aside for readings, and was surprised to see it packed with people. Usually they schedule authors who aren't as well known to read at Astor Place. (Those with medium following/buzz go to somewhere like the Lincoln Center location, and David Sedaris and other literary celebs get to have the whole half-floor of the Union Square store for their events.) I looked around the room and realized the author or someone who likes/cares about him really spread the word and even made T-shirts for the occasion. Personalized T-shirts for a book reading! They said "Dave Martin Isn't Funny," which is supposed to be all ironic, but wasn't very amusing to me.
His writing was humorous enough. But this event, I soon learned, was not only about his writing. After a B&N employee dutifully told us to turn off our phones because the reading would start in five minutes, a guy who said he was representing "this evening's sponsor, Allied Office Supply Co." started giving out prizes (like a Rolodex and a 3-hole punch) to those who could come up with the most mundane office task they had to do today, the worst sounding boss' name, etc. Earlier, someone had asked me whether I'd received my complimentary office supply, and I said no, so she gave me a pad of those stick-ems you can use to label faxes instead of using a cover sheet.
After Mr. Office Supply left, out came a guy wearing a sombrero and sunglasses ("for Cinco de Mayo") who said he was Charles Dickens, come back from the dead to praise his friend and fellow writer, D.W. Martin. ("In heaven, there are four books," he said. "One is The Da Vinci Code. The others are Officespeak.")
By this time, it's obvious Martin's gotten his friends to liven up his 15-minutes. Other staged moments included the eventual plastic-knifing of a "bookstore patron" who kept walking up to the shelf next to Martin's podium and dropping books and laughing inappropriately, and the discovery that Martin's "long-lost biological father" was actually in the audience, asking uncomfortably correct questions during the Q&A.
It was mostly funny, but I couldn't help feeling like a dupe for showing up without actually having been invited by whatever underground publicity campaign among publishing-world types there was to drum up support for the guy. (In discussing this with the woman next to me, who knew Martin, we actually realized that she had recently sat next to a family friend of ours who works for Simon & Schuster at a work-related dinner.)
So, the crew in the T-shirts were mostly his friends and former (?) co-workers at Penguin.
I got home and did a search, learning also that at least his wife and perhaps Martin himself are still working for some other publishing company; and ... oh, wait, what does that last blog say? He's a sometime cast member of the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre? Now it was all clear to me.
I checked the UCB site. Here he is in the same shot B&N posted. And here is the guy who played his long-lost father, one Anthony Atamanuik. I'm sure I could pick out the other performers if I look hard enough at this roster.
I'm assuming that Martin and crew informed the bookstore of their planned shenanigans, but I was still sort of impressed "Barn and Nobles" (as "Dickens" called it) let it all happen.
Maybe this is the new thing: Come for the reading/signing; stay for the performance art.