Emmy Award-winning CNN anchor Anderson Cooper drew a packed crowd to the Book Revue in Huntington Sunday despite the short notice that he would be there to speak about his new memoir.
His book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss, debuted April 5 at No. 1 on The New York Times best-selling list. Based on correspondence between Cooper and his fashion designer mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, it was released the same week as the touching HBO documentary exploring the same theme, Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper.
“I did not want the same thing to happen with my mother (as with my father),” the host of Anderson Cooper 360 told the crowd. “She is the only person who remembers me as a child.”
Cooper’s father, Wyatt Cooper, died at age 50 when Cooper was only 10. For years to come, Cooper said that he nurtured a fantasy that he would receive a letter from his father. He later learned that his mother had a similar hope.
Although he had always considered himself to be close to this mother, Cooper wasn’t able to see her as much as he wanted given his busy schedule. When she suffered a serious illness at age 91, it was a wake-up call for Cooper.
“I didn’t want to consciously leave anything unsaid,” Cooper said. “No enigmatic moments.”
Vanderbilt, who is best known for igniting the designer jean craze, has written eight books and devotes considerable time to painting and writing. While it has always been her habit to do her writing longhand, Cooper requested that they embark on their voyage of mutual discovery via email because, he said, it allows one to put aside any embarrassment or anger.
He characterized his mother, who was married four times, as the most optimistic person in the world who still thinks that there could be an admirer in a boat (or a yacht) off the coast of Southern France, waiting to sweep her off her feet. In contrast, Cooper defines himself as more of a catastrophist, a Game of Thrones, “winter is coming” sort of guy who wants to be prepared for the worst, should it happen.
He stressed the importance of having conversations with aging parents and said he hopes that what he did with his mother will resonate with others. It took him a while to realize that he had the makings of a book since he really did not start with that in mind.
The title of the book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes, refers to the optimistic notion that there will be times when destiny smiles on us and times when we seem to fall from its good graces, but the rainbow returns when we least expect it.
Cooper said that his mother told him that she loved writing to him, “especially when it is about me.” He was surprised to learn a lot that he did not know.
“Patterns repeat from generations before and personality traits,” he noted, adding that both he and his mother have a great deal of drive and determination. His parents let him know from a very young age that, while they would pay for his college education, after that it was up to him to forge his way in the world.
That fierce determination kicked in when, as a graduate of Yale University, he struggled to secure an entry-level job in journalism. Undaunted, Cooper created his own press pass and made a name for himself by venturing into the dangerous journalistic waters of war reporting. Success would follow, making Cooper one of the most recognized news reporters currently on TV.
After describing the impetus behind his book, Cooper fielded questions from the audience. Perhaps the youngest and most unlikely Cooper admirer in the crowd was nine-year-old Violet Radgowski, accompanied by her mom, Lisa. To secure front-row seats, they arrived at 9 a.m. Sunday, before Book Revue even opened.
“It was my first book signing,” exclaimed Violet. “I am already at page 45. It is very good.”
Her mother agreed, noting that waiting three hours to see Cooper was worth it.
“The book is also so wonderful from a historical perspective,” she said.
At one point during his chat with the crowd, Cooper, who sold his home in Quiogue last year, sparked uproarious laughter when he said that he had never visited his ancestors’ Vanderbilt Museum, Mansion & Planetarium in nearby Centerport. On a serious note, he told the crowd that he considered himself lucky to have covered some of recent history’s starkest moments.
“I am blessed to learn about something new every day,” Cooper said. “Even in the midst of horror and tragedy, when you would expect to find hate and darkness, you find light; you find choice,” Cooper said, recalling his experiences covering the earthquake in Haiti and the aftermath of tsunamis.
He has seen people risk personal harm to save strangers. “These are the moments that give people hope,” he concluded.
“It is the rainbow,” someone quipped from the audience. Perhaps it was.