Cape Town’s literary community was rocked to its foundations last week when beer was offered for the first time ever at a book launch.
Guests who attended the launch of Incognito – The Memoirs of Ben Trovato at Kalk Bay Books on Wednesday evening were shocked to discover cans of lager standing alongside the ubiquitous bottles of red and white wine.
“We go to launches all the time and have never seen anything quite like it,” said Judith Bentley-Smythe. The 98-year-old former librarian said she was in two minds about staying for the event.
“Many of us look forward to enjoying half a glass of warm Cabernet Sauvignon at literary soirees, and I wasn’t the only one to be taken aback by the sight of beer on the drinks table.” Bentley-Smythe said her main concern was that the presence of beer would lower the tone of the event and attract the “wrong element”.
“Beer is unfortunately the tipple of ruffians. I was afraid that a brawl would erupt. At my age I cannot afford to break a hip.”
But not everyone shared her concern. Vincent Terblanche, a retired snoek fisherman, said it was the first time he had attended a book launch. “There was some oke dressed all in black, like Zorro, and he was speaking a lot of kak about some book he wrote. I only stayed for the free beer.”
A ripple of consternation swept the packed room when guest speaker, Roger Lucey, opened the floor to questions and Trovato produced a bottle of Jameson’s. The writer told the crowd that anyone wishing to ask a question must first have a shot of whiskey. Witnesses report that the bottle was empty within twenty minutes.
A man who would only give his name as ‘Jack’ said he was asleep in his bunk across the road at the Haven night shelter when the commotion woke him. He said he got dressed and walked over to the bookshop. “It took a bit of time to work out what was happening, and then I started asking questions. I asked if anyone knew what time the trains start running and I got a shot of whiskey. Then I asked what day it was, and the same thing happened. It was like I died and went to heaven.”
An employee of Kalk Bay Books said it was a launch unlike any other. “While most people certainly seemed to enjoy themselves, it is not something we would like to encourage. We are, after all, talking about books and need to show respect for the creative process,” she said.
Approached for comment once he had finished signing dozens of books for people who were no longer sure what event they were attending, Trovato said, “Fuck off. I’m drinking now.”