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WASPS, WITHOUT THE STING: By its literal but imprecise definition, even Elvis Presley and Bill Clinton are Wasps, as New Yorker staff writer Tad Friend notes in his memoir, “Cheerful Money: Me, My Family, and the Last Days of Wasp Splendor,” though he eventually decides he is “too cheap to spring for a new acronym.” At the book party at the Waverly Inn on Tuesday evening, a different set of “awesomely white” people (in the words of one partygoer) pondered their own identities.
“When he took me out to talk about the book, I said, ‘I’m not really a Wasp,’” said co-host Kurt Andersen. “And he said, ‘Yeah, that’s what everybody I interviewed said.’” Andersen, who was raised in Nebraska, conceded, “If the spectrum is Elvis to Tad, I guess I can be somewhere on that spectrum.” Vanity Fair editor in chief and co-host Graydon Carter, a Canadian and noted enthusiast of certain aspects of Wasp culture, said Wasps exist north of the border, but that “the Canadian version is much more maple syrup and checked shirts.”
Not everyone could relate. “For me, it’s as foreign a subject as for Margaret Mead studying Trobriand Islanders. Who lives like this?” said New Yorker editor David Remnick, also a co-host. (The fourth co-host was New Yorker articles editor Susan Morrison.) “I’m one of the Jews that Tad murmurs to, but never like this,” said Remnick, quoting from memory a line from Friend’s original New Yorker essay on his mother, about Wasps spending an awful lot of time murmuring to Jews — psychotherapists, mostly. “Nothing that he’d written before would have prepared me for this,” Remnick continued. “I didn’t know what Wasps looked like naked. At least, not since college.”
Speaking of which, though the book is mostly a sharp-eyed analysis of Wasp culture and a sensitive exploration of family relationships, some readers came away remembering one thing in particular: sex. “Someone just told me that apparently I was having way more sex than they gave me credit for,” said Friend, who is now married to New York Times food writer Amanda Hesser, over the din. Carter was also in that camp. “I never thought of him in this way, and I don’t think I’m alone in that,” he said. “I always thought he showered in a trenchcoat.”
— Irin Carmon