Last Friday, Square Books was one of 20 indie bookstores to host authors Anderson Cooper and Katherine Howe via Zoom to discuss their new book, “Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty.” This event consisted of Howe and Cooper discussing the book, and opening questions up to the virtual audience.
The event is a part of a collaboration with Books & Books, a chain of bookstores in the Miami, Fla. area, and multiple indie bookstores across the nation. Christina Nosti, the communications director for Books & Books opened the event with some words about the authors.
“Anderson and Katherine are both fans of small businesses, especially small bookstores,” Christina Nosti, the communications director for Books & Books, said.
Cooper, who despite being openly close with his mother, is also historically not one to talk about his maternal family history. So, the first question that his co-author Howe asked was “Why now?”
“I started going through boxes in her apartment [after she passed]… and sort of finding these letters and and just hearing the voices of my mom’s aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, or my mom’s mom, people I didn’t know and had never met,” Cooper said.
Cooper described finding boxes of Vanderbilt artifacts in his mother’s apartment, and finding an overflow of emotion through old letters, journals and even wills. This is what sparked him to want to open up to his past, and tell a story of the family that was more narrative driven than the focuses of many other books written about the family.
“A lot of the Vanderbilts were world famous, they were, you know, insanely wealthy. But what was actually going on in their lives that other people didn’t know about? And I think that’s what makes it [the book] so interesting to me,” Cooper said about his early research on the book.
Howe also describes her input on the narrative of the book and where she stepped in to help. She talked mainly of Gloria Vanderbilt’s custody trial, and a way that she could frame the event differently than other forms of media. She also discussed the almost strange relationship she forged with Cooper, since she was the one writing about events that directly affected him.
“I have to give you a lot of credit because, you know, it must be beyond surreal to have someone who you know as a colleague, but not super well write about your own life. I mean I can only imagine how surreal that must have felt. And so I give you a lot of credit for kind of letting me tinker with it a little bit,” Howe said to Cooper about her process when writing about Vanderbilt’s trial.
Despite still openly proclaiming that he is not a Vanderbilt, Cooper still mentioned the familial importance that this book had for him. Not only did he partially write this book for his son to assist in his understanding of the family, he believes that his mother would enjoy the book.
“I fully believe my mom would love this book. [Since] In large part because this was all new to her. I don’t think she knew this about her grandfather. I don’t think about who he had debts to,” Cooper said.
Katelyn O’Brien, a senior bookseller at Square Books said that the event was a collective effort among bookstores to bring an author as big as Anderson Cooper to their readers.
“One of the really nice things about virtual events is that we can do this kind of partnership with other indies around the country,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien said that with the bookstore’s collective efforts, they were able to bring a notable author to their audiences and readers through a virtual event like this.
“Anderson Cooper is an extremely busy man, but we all pitched in to get him to have this conversation,” O’Brien said. “So we can share this really special event with all of our readers that otherwise, you know, alone we couldn’t have done.”
“I think we’re just really happy that we can bring an author like Anderson Cooper, to our readers and our audience,” O’Brien said.
Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty is now available at bookstores everywhere, including Square Books. Square Book’s next event will be Tuesday at 5:00 p.m. at Off Square Books with poet Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball for her poetry collection, ‘Vulnerable AF.’ For more information on how to purchase a book or attend an event, please visit the Square Books website.