"Everyone is just so... aggressively browsing." So says a slim, bespectacled man over my right shoulder as I study the fiction shelf at Williamsburg bookstore Spoonbill and Sugartown, in the middle of the n+1 release party for What Was the Hipster? Behind me browse a dozen other twenty- and thirty-something Brooklynites, each locked in a paroxysm of performative connoisseurship, trying to figure out what to pick up: "Is Coetzee too obvious?" "Is Yannick Murphy too McSweeney's?" "Do hipsters like Miranda July?" "Am I a hipster?" "Is that Tao Lin?" "Zizek, Lipsyte, Zizek, Lipsyte? Zizek. No. Yes?" Or maybe I'm projecting.
To my left, a trio of attractive post-collegiate hipsters discusses the relative merits of Brooklyn, Prague and Portland, following an articulate and thoughtful script repeated around those cities at least once a night, every night, forever. Coffee is mentioned, as is cost of living.
Standing far too close to me, a German couple wonders aloud if it's a party or just a busy Friday night (why are they speaking English to each other?). I move away as they pick up Roth (Joseph) and E.B. White, respectively.
I drink three beers and approach n+1 Managing Editor Carla Blumenkranz, a kind and serious woman who calls to mind the prettier photographs of a young Virginia Woolf. Ms. Blumenkranz seems pleased if not a little bemused by the party and asks me if there are real hipsters here. I look around, briefly lock eyes with the bookstore cat, and stammer something about demographics and gentrification. Ms. Blumenkranz notes my non-answer and glides off to make sure the metal tub near the Moleskins is filled with Brooklyn pilsner.
Mark Greif, n+1 cofounder and editor/organizer/curator of What Was the Hipster? (which consists of transcripts of a discussion on the subject, buttressed with essays), has been surrounded by well-wishers for most of the night; I spot a brief gap in his circle and fill it, introducing myself. Greif comes across as amiable and teacherly (he's holding an empty to-go coffee cup) and appears very comfortable in his own skin. I say something about hipsters and Greif responds, but the exchange is more about respect for the evening's theme than any desire to talk even more about hipsters. Keith Gessen shows up and joins the conversation, which has moved on to magazine publishing (its frustrations, its future). A few minutes pass and Mr. Gessen asks who drank all the beer, at which point I feel it best that I leave.
Back out on Bedford Avenue, beset by actual hipsters, I reflect that the party was much like the book: a series of intelligent, loosely linked conversations, some more self-conscious than others, a little nervous at first but, ultimately, a pretty good way to spend a Friday night.