Thursday, November 25, 2010


A tale of two readings in two nights in the same part of Brooklyn that one might think would appeal to the same crowd:

Tuesday night: The Best American Music Writing, guest edited by Ann Powers
The name Ann Powers has appeared in this blog before; I read her memoir Weird Like Us almost two years ago and on whole quite enjoyed it. So when I saw she was going to be part of a free reading in Brooklyn on a night where I had no particular plans, I couldn't think of a reason not to go. Next time, I will have plenty.
Ms. Powers had a generally likable demeanor (she just hosted, didn't read her own work) and the writing presented was fine. But the venue made the experience a none too pleasant one. It was way too dark, but with harsh lighting on the stage so you had to shield your eyes or squint to look at whoever was talking. Before the reading, which started late, a DJ (who turned out to be one of the writers) played loud, bad hip hop music to a crowd of largely 30-something white people who think they're still cool because they can wear jeans to work -- because they're writers and they work from home. I hate listening to all-hip hop playlists in 95% white crowds, especially white people with money like this bunch. These people would never consider going to an actual hip hop club for fun (going to a black neighborhood at night at all might be pushing it), but they can stand around with each other and nod their heads and pretend to be badass for liking music with swears in this specially created little safe environment. Bleah.
Pretty much everyone there had a hand in the book or was friends with someone who did, giving other audience members the feeling of being an uninvited guest at a party. A bad party.

Wednesday night: The Talent Show presents Cranksgiving
Once again, I took the C train to Fort Greene then hiked down to the same general area of Park Slope (technically Gowanus due to being west of 4th Avenue). Once again, I walked into the bar area of a concert venue filled largely with nerdy white people. But this time, a Talking Heads cover played at a reasonable volume, the lighting was pleasant, the crowd convivial and excited, arriving in twos and threes. I was able to order a beer at the bar and read until the seats started to fill up and I felt like I should go take one; at the other end of the bar, another woman by herself paged through a magazine.
I had scored a ticket to this event because I am Facebook friends or whatever with This American Life. They posted a link like "This American Life contributers performing in Brooklyn. Tickets are 5 dollars, here's the link!" and I jumped on it. So though I'm sure the performers had many friends in the audience, it's safe to assume that a lot of us were just public radio fans. The theme of the evening was "complaints and rants" or some such and they let audience members get up on stage and do 30-second rants between acts. One guy totally stole the show. His rant went something like this:
"So I get an email from my dad the other day, saying my mom had been in a car accident. She hit a light pole, and the light pole fell on her car. The car was totaled. She broke her sternum and had to be rushed to the hospital."
At this point the crowd is silent, cursing the questionable choice to encourage audience participation.
"And the subject line of this email is 'Say goodbye to the Prius'." Happy Thanksgiving Mom and Dad!" *raises drink* *leaves stage*
Thanks for that, guy, whoever you are.
I had had a terrible day and could only think of rants that were not funny in the slightest. It was only when I sat down to write about Tuesday night that I realized I had plenty of material.
Other highlights: Jonathan Hodgman did a really funny bit where he mediated a dispute between a woman and her boyfriend who criticized her writing because parentheses should not be used in fiction. This was an audience with opinions about punctuation.
Also I saw Ira Glass! After taking a seat I went back to the bar to get a beer and he was just standing around talking to someone like a normal person. Later Jonathan Hodgman made a joke about him babysitting his kids and like gestured toward him in the audience so it was definitely him. OMG. That's the only New York celebrity sighting I really wanted. Of course, it was a TAL-approved event and therefore possibly not a true celebrity sighting, like when Elizabeth Wurtzel was next to me in a crowd at a panel discussion, when she had been part of a different panel discussion as part of the same event earlier that day. Seeing Ira Glass in the grocery store or like walking his dog, that would be amazing.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

There's a Road to Everywhere, Except Where You Came From

I must have been feeling a little self-indulgent tonight, because I visited what has to be one of the world's greatest bookstores and walked out with a memoir about moving from the Rust Belt to New York City. I'm maybe 65 pages in and already the author has twice referenced going to the store where I bought the book.

The store in question is St. Mark's Bookshop. I gather it is something of a famous landmark, but I had never heard of it or been to it before today. While my beloved Greenlight specializes in what I would call mainstream literary fiction, St. Mark's devotes a lot more shelf space to academic disciplines, art, architecture, and design. They also have a lot of cool magazines. Like Greenlight, it's a great place to walk in not looking for anything in particular and walk out with a book by an author you had never heard of. After my visit, I walked to Tompkins Square Park and called my uncle, who is a librarian and former bookseller. "There's an art criticism SECTION!" I said.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

It makes me happy that someone found this Web site by searching for "the book and the bowl." Michael Lewis is awesome.

more on freedom

If I had tried, I couldn't have picked a better novel that followed themes I described a couple of posts ago than The Namesake. It's about a family that leaves Calcutta for the United States, where their lives are both much easier and much harder than they would have been had they stayed. Unlike the characters in Freedom, Ashoke and Ashmina don't spend a lot of time under the delusion that they can escape the parts of the past they don't like. Ashoke wants to come to America to expand his horizons and build a better life, but he never pretends or tries very much to be different than he was brought up to be. They enter into an arranged marriage, seek Bengali friends, eat mainly Indian food, keep as many of their customs as they can.

For their children, though, compromises are made, and in many ways as time progresses the family adopts a more "normal" suburban life. It's up to the children, then, to figure out how and whether to shake the past and become someone new.

For long stretches, the book oddly had almost no plot. Things just happened, one after the next, with no suspense and no twists. Toward the end though, it had me close to tears in a dentist's office waiting room.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Buy local, read local

I spent some of my 31st birthday cash on The Namesake, a novel by Jhumpa Lahiri. Lahiri lives around the corner from the bookstore where I purchased the book. Jennifer Egan lives in the neighborhood as well and her A Visit From The Goon Squad is high on my to-read list. And, I also finally bought Super Sad True Love Story by Gary Shtyngart. He doesn't live in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, but he used to.

Having a local bookstore in Fort Greene, a couple of miles from my apartment, has introduced me to several very very local authors I might never have learned about in my life before New York City. I'm not always good about taking advantage of the city's cultural opportunities -- I visit museums rarely, have never been to the theater -- but I do think that when it comes to reading at least, my horizons have been broadened.