The waiters wore white George Washington wigs. Theatrical lighting, rigged up under the massive ovoid dome of the former bank that now houses Gotham Hall, projected esoteric Masonic symbols onto the gently curving walls. The bar was enormous, the canapés exquisite. It was the most lavish publishing cocktail party in a long while, and though its ostensible guest of honor was Dan Brown, author of The Lost Symbol (out today), what recently merged Knopf Doubleday was really celebrating was itself, and its potential climb out of an economic ditch.
"It's an extraordinary moment to be sure, not only for Doubleday, but also for the entire publishing industry," said CEO Markus Dohle, his Teutonic accent made slightly more menacing by the hall's acoustics. And when Brown eventually spoke, his subject (graciously) was not his own accomplishments but those of his publisher. During an eight-minute toast, Brown used the word "thank" 22 times, as though giving an Oscar acceptance speech without an orchestra to shoo him offstage. Just as in his writing, Brown was fond of redundant modifiers ("the ever-exuberant Markus Dohle," "the ever-enigmatic Sonny Mehta") and teaching moments: "As an author I think of my writing in book form," he said, "but my stories appear in many forms. One of them is audio, and I want to thank the audio department ... " He thanked Doubleday's crack legal team and his own personal counsel, and he had kind words for "a woman I have never met but a woman whom I love deeply, Janet Maslin of the New York Times."
Brown also made note of the 10,000 non-disclosure agreements that had been signed in the process of sending out a record 5 million embargoed books, and though the secret was out, the habit of secrecy persisted. The publishers forbade videotaping, and were reluctant to speak into any sort of recording equipment. "Not right now; let's set something up later," said Markus Dohle when we tracked him down. "Now is a time for celebration." Was he excited? "Yes, very much. It's a beautiful event. And now we just have to see if ... " he trailed off, a faraway look in his eye. Then he snapped out of it, and said with a twinkling smile, "It was nice to meet you."