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Posts Tagged ‘new york city

Charlie Chaplin in New York

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Born in London in 1889, legendary comic actor Charlie Chaplin grew up poor. He was the son of a singer who often found herself out of work due to poor health. Together with his older brother, Sydney, he found ways to make ends meet by following in the family’s entertaining footsteps. The two Chaplins were successful both on stage and on screen, each signing million dollar contracts at some point in their career.

Charlie Chaplin’s autobiography, simply titled My Autobiography, recently published as part of Melville House’s Neversink Library series, is a fascinating life story. Not only is it a portrait of the film industry from the early 1920s to the 60s, it’s a look at how a mixture of luck, talent, and business savvy created one of the era’s top performers.

Around 1910, Chaplin landed in New York for the first time. Here is his first impression:

At ten o’clock on a Sunday morning we at last arrived in New York. When we got off the street-car at Times Square, it was somewhat of a let-down. Newspapers were blowing about the road and pavement, and Broadway looked seedy, like a slovenly woman just out of bed. …

However, this was New York, adventurous, bewildering, a little frightening. Paris, on the other hand, had been friendlier. Even though I could not speak the language, Paris had welcomed me on every street corner with its bistros and outside cafes. But New York was essentially a place of big business. The tall skyscrapers seemd ruthlessly arrogant and to care little for the convenience of ordinary people; even the saloon bars had no place for the customers to sit, only a long brass rail to rest a foot on, and the popular eating places, though clean and done in white marble, looked cold and clinical.

I took a back room in one of the brownstone houses off Forty-third Street, where the Times building now stands. It was dismal and dirty and made me homesick for London and our little flat. In the basement was a cleaning and pressing establishment and during the week the fetid odour of clothes being pressed and steam wafted up and added to my discomfort.

That first day I felt quite inadequate. It was an ordeal to go into a restaurant and order something because of my English accent — and the fact that I spoke slowly. So many spoke in a rapid, clipped way that I felt uncomfortable for fear I might stutter and waste their time.

I was alien to the slick tempo. In New York even the owner of the smallest enterprise acts with alacrity. The shoe-black flips his polishing rag with alacrity, the bartender serves beer with alacrity, sliding it up to you along the polished surface of the bar. The soda clerk, when serving egg malted milk, performs like a hopped-up juggler. In a fury of speed he snatches up a glass, attacking everything he puts into it, vanilla flavour, blob of ice cream, two spoonfuls of malt, a raw egg which he deposits with one crack, then adding milk, all of which he shakes in a container and delivers in less than a minute.

On the Avenue that first day many looked as I felt, lone and isolated; others swaggered along as though they owned the place. The behaviour of many people seemed dour and metallic as if to be agreeable or polite would prove a weakness. But in the evening as I walked along Broadway with the crowd dressed in their summer clothes, I became reassured. We had left England in the middle of a bitter cold September and arrived in New York in an Indian summer with a temperature of eighty degrees; and as I walked along Broadway it began to light up with myriads of coloured electric bulbs and sparkled like a brilliant jewel. And in the warm night my attitude changed and the meaning of America came to me: the tall skyscrapers, the brilliant, gay lights, the thrilling display of advertisements stirred me with hope and a sense of adventure. ‘That is it!’ I said to myself. ‘This is where I belong!’

Written by Gabrielle

November 20, 2013 at 7:20 am

New York State of Mind: A Meaningful Life by L.J. Davis

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A Meaningful LifePublished in 1971, A Meaningful Life by Brooklyn writer L.J. Davis is a dark comedy and cautionary tale.

Lowell Lake, thirty years old, wakes up one morning to find himself in personal crisis, disinterested in his job and living in Manhattan, a city where he never intended to be. Suddenly, he’s aware of his surroundings and questions the direction his life has taken, retracing his steps to figure out how he came to be where he is.

Sophomore year at Stanford, while earning a degree in English (“It had always been his best subject and it didn’t commit him to do anything specific later in life”), he met Betty, a Jewish girl from Flatbush, Brooklyn. They liked each other well enough and although he began to have doubts as the day got closer they were married two days after graduation. The plan was to move to Berkeley where Lowell was to attend a university on scholarship but after he plays a joke on his wife everything goes terribly wrong.

”I thought we were going to Berkeley,” his wife had said nine years ago, her voice coming to him down the corridor of years as clearly as if she had spoken to him only a moment before. It was the instant his life had suddenly poised itself on an idle remark, and the hinge of fate had opened—a small moment, an utterly insignificant fragment of time that could have passed as swiftly as turning a page in a book, but instead it had changed his life forever. “Didn’t you say we were going to Berkeley?” she asked anxiously. …

He could still hear the voice, he could still see the room, he could still smell the old green overstuffed chair he’d been sitting in. “Maybe not,” he said. He was only teasing. Berkeley was definitely the place they were going, and the idea of going to New York instead had just sort of wandered into his mind a moment ago like a stray insect. No doubt it would have perished there at once if he hadn’t spoken it aloud. Now it was out in the open, and God help them all.

And so, they sealed their future plans on his poor judgment and her spite. “You’re going to hate it there,” his wife warned. After goodbyes to their classmates the two drove cross-country to begin their new life, settling into a small apartment on the Upper West Side. Lowell, after a failed attempt at writing a novel, decided to take a position as Managing Eaditor at a “second-rate plumbing-trade weekly.”

Now thirty, feeling as if his life were meaningless, Lowell recalls reading about young creative types buying and fixing up houses in Brooklyn slums, areas that were once home to wealthy government officials but are now in the midst of decay.

With urban renewal in mind and their entire savings on the table, Lowell sets out to buy a house in the outer borough. What he finds, and ultimately winds up with, is a comically dilapidated townhouse. The current residents are questionable, no doubt a few squatters in the bunch. As Lowell tours the building, the descriptions are so vivid that any reader with the slightest knowledge of city life will be able to conjure the smells.

A door was thrown open at the foot of the stairs, a dim rectangle of light in the impenetrable tissue of the darkness, and although Lowell was still unable to see where to put his feet, he could now see where he was going. The knowledge made him feel better, but not for long. A great warm wave of new horrible odors, both different in degree and intensity from the old horrible odors that he’d almost gotten used to, rolled up over him and nearly knocked him flat. It was like the first whiff of the atmosphere of some alien planet: heavy, warm, barely breathable, seemingly compounded of urine and stale oatmeal in equal measure.

After throwing himself into renovating the newly purchased and swiftly vacated house, deciding to do a bulk of the work himself, Lowell experiences a sense of renewal as well.

He was suddenly famous. In a building where he had labored five days a week for nine years without a single person asking him what he did, he suddenly found himself cloaked in a highly conspicuous new identity: he became known as the Guy Who Moved to Bedford-Stuyvesant.

He hadn’t moved yet and it wasn’t Bedford-Stuyvesant but that didn’t matter. He was finally doing something with his life, he was industrious.

While A Meaningful Life raises interesting and important questions about city life—gentrification, poverty, and the rise of Brooklyn’s prominence and formidability over the years—Lowell’s story offers a reminder to live deliberately and make good decisions, a powerful message that often bears repeating.

::[Links]::
Buy A Meaningful Life from your local bookstore

Written by Gabrielle

July 9, 2013 at 6:56 am

A Tour of Literary New York

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Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail was curious to know about New York City literary life. They were kind enough to ask me a few questions about bookstores, bars, and readings. You can read the feature in their travel section. Here are my answers in full.

What are your three favourite bookstores in NYC – please give a brief reason for each.

McNally JacksonThe best part about being a bookworm and living in New York City, and the surrounding area, is that there are so many independent bookstores, each with their own personality. Since I have so many favorites, depending on my mood–or current location–I’ll say that when visiting New York one should make sure to check out the iconic stores: McNally Jackson in SoHo, Strand near Union Square, and St. Marks Bookshop in the East Village.

One of the first things you’ll notice about McNally Jackson is that their fiction titles are shelved by region based on the nationality of the author. It makes for interesting perusing since you might not always know where a certain writer was born. The store also has a cafe where you can sit and read the books you’ve purchased or have brought with you. As one of the largest independents in the city, they host excellent events almost every night in the downstairs space. One of the liveliest stores in New York, it’s a great place to visit day or night.

If you’re looking to get lost in stacks of books, The Strand is the place for you. Started in 1927, Strand has 18 miles of new, used, and rare books. They also host many interesting events in their rare book room. Admission is the cost of the book or a $10 gift card. Definitely worth it.

St. Mark’s Bookshop, not actually on St. Mark’s Place but very close to it, opened in 1977. They’re known for a great collection of political and cultural studies books that are hard to find elsewhere. They also have a wide selection of poetry, literary journals, and zines.

Where are the best places for author readings, poetry slams or other similar literary events/performances (and what’s the best online resource where people can check for listings?)

WordNow you’ve tapped into one of the hardest parts about being a bookworm in New York City. As the evening approaches one is faced with a nearly unsolvable dilemma: which reading should I go to?

For this one, we’ll branch out to Brooklyn, which is a quick subway ride from Manhattan. WORD in Greenpoint devotes their entire basement to events; powerHouse Arena in DUMBO is known for hosting parties, not just readings; Housing Works is doing some creative programming and the crowd is usually packed with people in literary industry, whether it’s publishing or criticism; the Franklin Park Reading Series in Crown Heights is a monthly series that hosts a lineup of local and visiting authors; Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene not only brings in top authors but the storefront is a big glass window, which makes it an excellent place for those who like open spaces; Bluestockings on the Lower East Side is known for it’s LGBT events; and Community Bookstore has really ramped up their readings over the past few months since bringing the tireless Michele Filgate on board.

Two other places of note are the Bowery Poetry Club where you can find poetry slams and KGB Bar on West 4th where you can see rising literary talent, established local authors, and magazine launches.

Community Bookstore

As for finding out about events, my friend David Gutowski of Largehearted Boy and I started an online calendar, Book Boroughing, a little over a year ago. While it’s far from exhaustive we do include the major indie bookstore readings and some of the larger series around town. Before starting the calendar, I relied heavily on Slice Magazine’s (and still do). Time Out New York is also a great place to check for local happenings and can be found on newsstands.

Are there a couple of bars/coffeeshops where you’re likely to run into writers and other literary types  please give a brief description of each.

That’s a tough one. I think the nice part about the New York literary scene is that many local authors come out to events, so you can often run into them there. However, if you’re looking for some iconic bars, there’s the Blue Bar at the Algonquin Hotel, the White Horse Tavern and the Kettle of Fish in the West Village, and The Half King in Chelsea, which is owned by Sebastian Junger, Nanette Burstein and Scott Anderson.

Any other tips for bookish visitors to NYC  festivals, events, tours etc.  anything you can think of really that a travelling bookworm might enjoy.

Library HotelMy first piece of advice is to explore Brooklyn. It really is very close and the literary scene there is thriving. Nothing makes that more apparent than the growing success of the annual Brooklyn Book Festival that takes place at the end of September. Although the festival itself is on a Sunday, the events leading up to the day are staggering. There are a ton of readings and parties that take place all around the borough.

There are two annual Lit Crawls, one for New York City and one for Brooklyn. During the one-day event multiple readings, panels, and literary games take place around a designated area. Authors, publishers, and literary magazines all participate.

Book Expo America is a large publishing industry convention that takes place at the Jacob Javits Center. They’ve just opened it up to the public but, in true New York fashion, there are tons of parties and readings that take place after convention hours. During that week, while all sorts of literary and publishing types are in town, bookstores, publishers, and various publications use the opportunity to mingle with those they don’t have the chance to meet face-to-face during the rest of the year. Many of the parties are open to all.

While I’ve never been on a literary tour of Manhattan, I did come across one for Greenwich Village on the Fodors blog that is worth saving for your visit.

And finally, traveling bookworms might want to stay at the Library Hotel. It’s within walking distance of the New York Public Library, which is also a bookish place one should be sure to visit.

Written by Gabrielle

April 30, 2013 at 6:47 am

Brooklyn Gets Gritty in Brooklyn Noir

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The day I bought Brooklyn Noir, I got off the subway in my neighborhood and saw police posters taped along the row of poles. I walked over to get a good look at the crude pencil sketch, to see what the man, rendered, had done. Later, I would look up the full story. The night before, at 10pm, a man in his 30s looking for a fight, got into a brawl with a random 20-year-old on the train. They got off in Brooklyn and continued the senseless fight on the platform. The guy in the sketch wrestled both himself and the stranger onto the tracks but only he made it back up alive. Amidst the horror and confusion, the perpetrator fled the scene.

The weight of this incident transformed me, stuck with me for days — and still comes to mind as I stand safely behind the yellow line. It’s something that makes you think of your own family members, either as victim or survivor. It makes you consider your daily commute. I can’t imagine an adult living in New York who hasn’t worried about the possibility of being shoved onto the tracks by an unstable person, of which there seems to be no shortage. After all, even the sanest person, at the height of rush hour, has at one point or another fantasized about pushing an inconsiderate neighbor (don’t lie, New Yorkers).

Our constant vulnerability makes the Friday night incident so chilling. Randomness. It could’ve happened to any one of us. Stepping into this scene, new book in hand, you almost have to forgive me for asking, “who needs Brooklyn Noir when you have the local news?”

With the gruesome death reverberating in my bones, I tucked the book into my bag and made my way above ground.

However gruesome the news gets, New Yorkers are a resilient bunch. The morning headlines are a constant reminder that we live in a city riddled with violent acts yet there’s a strong sense of pride. Those “I Love NY” shirts are not just for tourists. We carry on — and for most of us, we wouldn’t dream of doing so elsewhere. This attachment is fiercest at the borough level. To Manhattanites, Manhattan is the best; for those in Queens, it’s their corner that shines; same goes for The Bronx and Staten Island. Then there’s Brooklyn, the feistiest of them all — but, of course, I’m biased.

When Brooklyn-based indie publisher Akashic Books launched their city-specific noir series in 2004 it only made sense that they would begin at home.

Edited by Brooklyn-native crime writer Tim McLoughlin, Brooklyn Noir is divided into four parts: Old School, New School, Cops & Robbers, and Backwater Brooklyn. With each story taking place in a different neighborhood, the borough’s diversity is in full view. Pearl Abraham takes readers into the exclusive Hasidic community in Williamsburg — a group who still fights the bike lane that passes through their housing complexes for fear of exposed flesh — while McLoughlin’s “When All This Was Bay Ridge” is a sketch of a once-Irish neighborhood where the original population clings to its roots by way of a local bar.

From the inside looking out: Picture an embassy in a foreign country. A truly foreign country. Not a Western European ally, but a fundamentalist state perennially on the precipice of war. A fill-the-sandbags-and-wait-for-the-airstrike enclave. That was Olsen’s, home to the last of the donkeys, the white dinosaurs of Sunset Park. A jukebox filled with Kristy McColl and the Clancy Brothers, and flyers tacked to the flaking walls advertising step-dancing classes, Gaelic lessons, and the memorial run to raise money for a scholarship in the name of a recently slain cop. Within three blocks of the front door you could attend a cockfight, buy crack, or pick up a streetwalker, but in Olsen’s, it was always 1965

In “New School,” Adam Mansbach takes us to Crown Heights where Abraham Lazarus, a white, weed-slinging Rasta, sets out on a revenge mission against the unknown thug who robbed him of his pounds of drugs that morning.

Tap tap BOOM. Birds ain’t even got their warble on, and my shit’s shaking off the hinges. I don’t even bother with the peephole. It has to be Abraham Lazarus, the Jewish Rasta, playing that dub bassline on my door.

BOOM. I swung it open and Laz barged in like he was expecting to find the answer to life itself inside. A gust of Egyptian Musk oil and Nature’s Blessing dread-balm hit two seconds after he flew by: Laz stayed haloed in that shit like it was some kind of armor. He did a U-turn around my couch, ran his palm across his forehead, wiped the sweat onto his jeans, and came back to the hall.

“I just got fuckin’ robbed, bro.”

The stories in Brooklyn Noir are dark, gritty, and realistic with a “ripped from the headlines” type feel: conversations started in chatrooms taken offline, crooked cops covering their tracks, the revenge of an abused woman. It’s almost odd to call this collection is enjoyable, yet it’s one of those rarities where you think you’ve found your favorite story until you move onto the next. It’s not surprising that Akashic published two more Brooklyn-themed noir collections or that they invited McLoughlin back to edit them.

Whether you’re a born-and-raised Brooklynite, a transplant, or have never stepped foot inside this glorious corner of the world, Brooklyn Noir is an absolute must-read for noir-aficionados and the crime-curious alike.

[Links]
Buy Brooklyn Noir at IndieBound or your local Indie bookstore
Buy Brooklyn Noir 2: The Classics
Buy Brooklyn Noir 3: Nothing But the Truth
Buy Heart of the Old Country by Tim McLoughlin
Check out the entire series at Akashic

Written by Gabrielle

May 22, 2012 at 7:05 am

Spying on CoverSpy: A Conversation with the Site’s Founders

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In October 2009, after the opening of Greenlight Books, the idea for CoverSpy was hatched. Soon “a team of publishing nerds” were running around New York, chronicling the city’s public reading habits.

For a little over 3 years now, everyday this group goes incognito onto subways, through streets, and in parks and bars to get a read on the our literary thermometer. Using Tumblr, Facebook, and Twitter, they deliver the results almost in real time.

I speak with two of CoverSpy’s founders about the project’s origins, who’s reading what on which subway, and the best books they’ve ever spied.

Here are some highlights, you can read the rest at Book Boroughing.

How would you describe CoverSpy at a party?
A: CoverSpy is a project where we spy what people are reading on subways and around the city and report what we see on our website. Sometimes, especially at publishing events or hanging with fellow book nerds, we mention CoverSpy and people already know about us or maybe even follow us on Tumblr, which is an awesome feeling.

You’ve been doing this for a few years now, you must see trends. What are a few you’ve noticed?
A: When a book is on the NY Times Best Seller’s List we often see it being read around the city for months following. From Colum McCann’s Let the Great World Spin to Stieg Larsson’s novels, they are very popular for a time and then are read less and less, replaced by the next big hit. People on the Q train love Malcolm Gladwell, people on the F train love Jonathan Lethem and are usually carrying either an NPR or Strand tote bag. There are more self-help books on the L train.

T: People love it when we post a children’s book. They love it even more when it’s an adult reading one–like Sweet Valley Twins. That got a lot of comments.

Do you have a favorite train for cover spying?
T: Everyone’s reading on the F train, so that makes it easy.

A: The covers on the L train tend to be the prettiest, most highly designed which I appreciate. But I think the G train is my favorite because of the range of books read on it. I’m often introduced to authors I never knew existed on that line more than others.

Best book you’ve ever spied?
T: It was some steamy romance novel being read by an off-duty MTA worker—can’t remember the title.Or maybe the guy who was holding one sunflower and ten pink balloons. Again, I don’t remember which book it was. Sometimes it’s the people that stand out.

A: I get a lot of joy out of spying kids reading on the subway, so pretty much put a kid in front of me with Beverly Cleary or Harry Potter and that’s my favorite.

Written by Gabrielle

February 21, 2012 at 7:12 am

What to Listen To: Bookrageous

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Bookrageous is one of my favorite book-themed podcasts. Hosted by bookseller and Brews and Books blogger Josh Christie; event coordinator Jenn Northington; and Rebecca Schinsky, the blogger behind The Book Lady’s Blog, the show is a relaxed conversation between friends.Every other week the three run through what they’ve just read and what they’re reading now. Each time, they put my own list to shame — both in quality and quantity. While they have similar tastes — all gravitate towards highbrow, conceptual titles (without becoming pretentious) — I’ve come to look to Josh for graphic novels, Jenn for genre, and Rebecca for literary fiction.

For a while now I’ve had some form of contact with the three, to a varying degree, and talks of me being a guest on the podcast had been casually batted around; but this week it actually happened. David Gutowski of Largehearted Boy and I sat in to discuss “Book Touring”. Together we run Book Boroughing, a literary site for New York City and surrounding area.

As frequent event-goers and hardcore evangelists for the cause, we were called upon to discuss literary events at home and book-inspired travel. On the show the five of us discuss author readings, bookstores in other cities, book festivals, and literary adventurism.

I won’t say anymore; you can listen to  it here.

On this shelf this week:

Here are just a few books mentioned at the top of the podcast:

Josh
Raylan by Elmore Leonard
“As a novel, Raylan is a casual endeavor, Leonard having fun with a character who’s gained a measure of popularity. It’s also a pisser. Leonard has come up with some doozies for the plot: the dimwit sons of a backwoods pot grower joining in a scheme to swipe kidneys and then ransom them back for replacement in the victims’ bodies; a female coal company exec who, annoyed with a local’s complaints about the pollution caused by strip mining, picks up a rifle and shoots the old man. The violence here has the swift kick of a good, mean joke. It makes you wince and grin at the same time.” [via Barnes & Noble Review]

You can hear Elmore on NPR’s Fresh Air discuss his crime writing secrets

Rebecca
Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston
“Contents May Have Shifted is Pam Houston’s new novel. Except I’m not really sure you can call it a novel, even though that’s what the cover says, and even though I don’t have any helpful suggestions for what you should call it instead. About a globetrotting writer named Pam who has a part-time residence in Creede, Colorado (all things that are true of Houston as well), it is comprised of short vignettes that present Pam’s story in non-linear narrative and a borderline stream-of-consciousness style that makes it read like a memoir. No, like a diary–a very beautifully written diary.” [via Rebecca’s review]

Jenn
Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler (words) and Maira Kalman (illustrations)
“Ed Slaterton is part of the “grunty jock crowd,” a high school basketball hero who, in his über-popularity, is like “some movie everyone sees growing up.” Min Green is a wry, thoughtful, film-obsessed junior who manages for one miraculous stretch of time to get Ed to stop using the word “gay” as a catch-all pejorative.

It is this miraculous stretch of time – the one month and seven days after the pair shock their classmates by falling in love – that is chronicled in the delightful “Why We Broke Up,” a novel by Daniel Handler, with illustrations by Maira Kalman. Told in the form of a confessional letter by the heartbroken Min, the book is so good at capturing what it feels like to be a jilted 16-year-old girl that it seems almost wasted on its young-adult audience.” [via San Francisco Chronicle]

You can share your break up story with Maira and Daniel on their Tumblr page

Gabrielle (I plan to review the books I mention in the opening so here’s one I talk about later on)
The Basketball Diaries by Jim Carroll
“The Basketball Diaries is a 1978 memoir written by author and musician Jim Carroll. It is an edited collection of the diaries he kept between the ages of twelve and sixteen. Set in New York City, they detail his daily life, sexual experiences, high school basketball career, Cold War paranoia, the counter-culture movement, and, especially, his addiction to heroin, which began when he was 13. The book is considered a classic piece of adolescent literature.” [via Wikipedia]

David
Stay Awake: Stories by Dan Chaon
“While Stay Awake does not abandon Chaon’s signature themes of identity and isolation, disappearance and memory, it flirts even more openly with the line between the supernatural and the rationalistic – and indeed two of the stories, “The Bees” and “The Farm. The Gold. The Lily-White Hands,” have overtly supernatural elements. The situations have grown even more extreme: a couple has a two-headed baby, a woman drowns several of her children, a father comes into his young daughters’ bedroom intending to kill them in their sleep. Two men in two completely different stories fall off of ladders, severing a finger – a coincidence that I must admit I found distracting. Characters desperately want to or do escape their homes, their towns, the marriages they’ve made; they think they’re free of the past until memory or something even more sinister catches up with them. One character watches Soylent Green on late-night TV, and an actor in that horror movie is described as “running through the future, screaming.” The phrase could easily be an alternate title for this book.” [via The Millions]

You can read Dan’s Book Notes piece at Largehearted Boy

Written by Gabrielle

February 9, 2012 at 7:10 am

Elf Girl: A Hilarious Memoir by Art Star Reverend Jen

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“Our mission: . . . humiliate ourselves in the name of art.”

The joy I felt while reading Reverend Jen’s memoir, Elf Girl, can not be expressed in words. Instead, it should be expressed by devoting one’s life to performance art — dignity forsaken, shame stricken from the lexicon. One should stock up on foam core, cardboard, dollar store instruments, hot glue guns, and whatever else it takes to live a life by Rev Jen’s example. This would be the appropriate response after reading Elf Girl. A lesser, although still respectable, response would be to fall absolutely in love with this woman, a woman who played a formative role in shaping the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 90s.

Elf Girl begins with Jen’s stint as a Christmas elf at Bloomingdale’s. As a longtime fan of elves, often considering herself one, Jen, disappointed by the department store’s idea of what the fantastical creature would wear (“Dresses!”), counteracted the inauthenticity with her own beloved elf ears, which, oddly enough, did not go over well with the management. This incident offers shades of what’s to come: fierce individualism and unintentional anti-social behavior, all at the expense of self-preservation.

Throughout the book you get the sense that Jen isn’t merely “doing” performance art, she is performance art, as if outrageous and absurd are Jen’s default modes.

At an early age Jen was a creative force, starting with her elementary school endeavor, Jen Magazine. Taking her art seriously even then, she recruited classmates to serve on the editorial team. At 15 she was accepted to a free art program. Under the instruction of “the most maniacal art teacher in the western hemisphere,” who taught his students to “sacrifice sleep, sanity, and any semblance of a normal life,” she learned “that being an artist wasn’t a way to coast through life. It required discipline.”

When she later left her hometown in Maryland for the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, living in a Salvation Army run residency on Gramercy Park South, she teamed up with her newfound friend Julia and formed Pop Rox, a band outfitted with a $2 toy guitar and snow-leopard-print unitards. At first they played covers of Guns-n-Roses, Metallica, and Alice Cooper but soon moved onto originals, which included one about their love for Woolworth’s, an inexpensive department store. They played to captive audiences of art students — locking their fellow classmates in a room — and crashed parties where they soldiered on through the jeers.

You would think that at SVA, an art school based in New York City, a quirky girl like Jen would at least be embraced by, if not hoisted on the shoulders of, fellow students. However, Jen was shunned by both the student body and the faculty. Eventually, however, Jen found her place and began to make a name for herself on the Lower East Side.

It was there that she came into contact with open mic nights; in particular, one run by an actor and producer known as “Faceboy”. Together, in the mid 90s, they formed a tongue-in-cheek group called the Art Stars, a term first coined by Andy Warhol. There are thirteen steps to becoming an Art Star, all listed and explained in Elf Girl. Just a few, to give you an idea, are:

1. Eliminate Hobbies: Everything an Art Star does should be done with obsessive/compulsive zeal. . .

3. Avoid self-improvement: . . . Self-improvement is for people with time on their hands, and Art Stars have no time on their hands.

6. Only take jobs that offer no room for advancement: The last thing you want is to get roped into a job that will prohibit you from staying out until four in the morning five nights a week. . .

One of the main components of being an Art Star is aversion to competition. Four years out of art school and turned off by all forms of art criticism, Jen was horrified that artists and performers, would willingly subject themselves to the spectacle of judgement. In direct reaction to an ongoing poetry slam at the time, the Anti-Slam was born — a place where performers could go on stage without leaving with a number pinned to their act.

Around the same time, John Ennis, the director of Toolz of the New School, a show that aired on the cable access station Manhattan Neighborhood Network, contacted Jen to see if he could borrow her elf costume for their Christmas special. Just before filming he asked if she wanted to be in the episode; and so began Jen’s televised career in sketch comedy. Nearly every episode, whether Jen showed up at NYU orientation as a student forced into prostitute in order to pay her tuition or at FAO Schwarz as Doo-Doo, the hard-drinking Teletubby forced into exile, ended with someone threatening to call the cops.

As someone who enjoys quirky social history, especially when it’s about New York City, I found the chapters involving Rudy Giuliani’s mayoral years some of the most interesting. Not only were they hilarious, as he often butted heads with local artists, they served as a reminder of the political climate during that time. In 1994, when Giuliani first assumed the role of mayor of New York City, I wasn’t yet old enough to understand the implications his tactics had on artists in the area. I do, however, remember that he ramped up the police presence as part of an aggressive campaign against crime. Before Giuliani my parents warned me against walking east of 1st avenue while later, in my 20s, I was getting overpriced, chic haircuts on Avenue C. However, it is disputable whether Giuliani had much to do with this decline in violence or whether the city had been part of a coinciding nationwide trend.

One of the more notable offenses was when Giuliani, in 1999, threatened to cut off funding to the Brooklyn Museum if they went ahead with an exhibition featuring controversial British artists. I won’t ruin Jen’s stories for you but one I can’t help mentioning took place in response to Giuliani’s enforcement of the cabaret laws as part of his “quality of life” campaign. The previously unenforced law, one that prohibits dancing in bars and clubs when the owner doesn’t have the proper license, led to a two day closing of friend Robert Prichard’s club, Surf Reality, the home of Faceboy’s open mic. Swiftly, Prichard and Jen formed the Dance Liberation Front and organized a guerrilla-style, agitprop protest: a conga line down Houston Street to Tompkins Square Park on Avenue A. The action, which Jen eloquently called it “social commentary disguised as comedy,” brought hundreds out onto the streets and received write-ups in local newspapers.

Since the start of her time in New York, many of Jen’s cohorts have moved to Los Angeles, but Jen remains a fixture of the Lower East Side, hosting her Anti-Slam every last Wednesday of the month at the Bowery Poetry Club and co-running the Art Star Scene Studios, an independent film production company, and writing a regular column for Artnet. New York is a better place for retaining this elfin wonder and once you read Elf Girl, you’ll think so, too.

::[Links]::
Buy Elf Girl at IndieBound
Reverend Jen’s website
Bowery Poetry Club
Diary of an Art Star column at Artnet.com
Jen’s Troll Museum Reviewed in The Village Voice
An interview with friend John Ennis (with photos)
Toolz of the New School videos

Written by Gabrielle

January 24, 2012 at 6:37 am

Posted in books, reviews

Tagged with , , , , ,

Dispatches: Sharing Moments with SMITH Magazine

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SMITH Magazine is best known for its Six-Word Memoir project. In 2006, with the belief that everyone has a story to tell, Editor-in-Chief Larry Smith, Tim Barko, and Contributing Editor Rachel Fershleiser, came up with an online challenge: “Can you tell your life story in six words?”. This idea has since spawned six books and a robust online writing community.Interested in giving writers more space to flesh out their ideas, SMITH Magazine asked storytellers to write about a moment that changed their lives; and so, The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure came to fruition.

Contributors, ranging in experience — some with multiple, award-winning and best-selling books to those who have never had a letter-to-the-editor published — sent in their personal stories. The Moment, going beyond the normal essay collection, features written narratives, photographs, comics, illustrations, and handwritten letters. Contributors include household names such as Jennifer Egan, Dave Eggers, Elizabeth Gilbert, and Gregory Maguire as well as up-and-coming writers such as Tao Lin and Said Sayrafiezadeh.

This week at McNally Jackson, contributors gathered to read their work to a standing-room only crowd. Kicking off the evening was experimental journalist A.J. Jacobs with his short story, “Chalk Face,” about the time he realized grown-ups are “not flawless authority figures”. Mira Ptacin, founder and executive director of the New York City-based monthly reading series and storytelling collective Freerange Nonfiction, read her story about the moment she, literally, hit the ground running and shook off the grief from the loss of an unexpected pregnancy.

There were visuals as well: a slideshow about the moment a father fell in love with his infant son, a video montage from photojournalist Gillian Laub about her grandparents’ inspiring relationship, Matt Dojny’s handwritten and illustrated story about his experience with a homeless man on the subway, and Jerry Ma’s comic panels about the time he quit his job in finance to pursue a life in art.

Now in its sixth year, SMITH Magazine continues to celebrate “the explosion of personal media and the personal stories that celebrate the brilliance in the ordinary”. Go on over and contribute your six-word memoir or, if you’re feeling particularly verbose, share your life-changing moment.

If you’re in New York and you missed this week’s reading, you have another chance to catch The Moment contributors at Greenlight Bookstore in Brooklyn on Thursday, January 26th.

What’s on the shelf:
The Moment: Wild, Poignant, Life-Changing Stories from 125 Writers and Artists Famous & Obscure
“ The Moment is a collection of and moving personal pieces about key instances – a moment of opportunity, serendipity, calamity, or chaos – that have had profound consequences on our lives.” [via website]

Six-Word Memoir collections
“When Hemingway famously wrote, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn,” he proved that an entire story can be told using a half dozen words. When the online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs, they proved a whole, real life can be told this way too. The results are fascinating, hilarious, shocking, and moving.” [via IndieBound]

And from the readers:

My Life as an Experiment: One Man’s Humble Quest to Improve Himself by Living as a Woman, Becoming George Washington, Telling No by A.J. Jacobs
“Bestselling author and human guinea pig A. J. Jacobs puts his life to the test and reports on the surprising and entertaining results. He goes undercover as a woman, lives by George Washington’s moral code, and impersonates a movie star. He practices “radical honesty,” brushes his teeth with the world’s most rational toothpaste, and outsources every part of his life to India—including reading bedtime stories to his kids.

And in a new adventure, Jacobs undergoes scientific testing to determine how he can put his wife through these and other life-altering experiments—one of which involves public nudity.
Filled with humor and wisdom, My Life as an Experiment will immerse you in eye-opening situations and change the way you think about the big issues of our time—from love and work to national politics and breakfast cereal.” [via IndieBound]

Secret Identities: The Asian American Superhero Anthology edited by Jerry Ma
This pioneering collection brings together 66 top Asian American writers, artists and comics professionals to create 26 original stories centered around Asian American superheroes – stories set in a shadow history of our country, from the opening of the West to the election of the first minority president, and exploring ordinary Asian American life from a decidedly extraordinary perspective.

Black Elephants: A Memoir by Karol Nielsen
“An aspiring writer and reporter, Karol Nielsen went trekking through the Peruvian Andes at the height of the Shining Path terror, looking for adventure and a good story. She found Aviv, an Israeli traveler fresh out of his mandatory military service—a war-weary veteran of the first intifada—dreaming about peace. Black Elephants follows this idealistic pair as they explore the Americas, until Aviv, inexorably drawn to his homeland, asks Karol to come with him to Israel. There, the couple’s lovingly laid plans—for Aviv to attend university, and for Karol to work on a kibbutz, study Hebrew, and get to know his family—are suddenly tested by the eruption of the first Gulf War. Nielsen’s memoir paints a poignant and harrowing picture of love during wartime. Against a backdrop of bursting bombs and air-raid sirens, gas masks and sealed rooms, relationships are frayed, and romance becomes a distant memory. This story, so candidly and clearly told, powerfully illustrates the terror, loneliness, and absurdity of war and its invisible casualties.” [via IndieBound]

Mary Elizabeth Williams is a staff writer for Salon. She’s written for The New York Times, Time Out, The New York Observer, and more, and is the author of “Gimme Shelter: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.”

The Festival of Earthly Delights (forthcoming May 2012) by Matt Dojny
“The Festival of Earthly Delights is a humorous bildungsroman set in the fictional Southeast Asian country of Puchai. The protagonist, Boyd Darrow, has recently moved there with his unfaithful girlfriend to give their relationship a second chance. His adventures, and misadventures, are relayed in a series of letters to a mysterious recipient.” [via IndieBound]

Written by Gabrielle

January 12, 2012 at 6:55 am

Spaceman Blues by Brian Francis Slattery

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In 2007 Tor published Brian Francis Slattery’s debut novel, Spaceman Blues: A Love Song. Set in New York City and its surrounding boroughs, Spaceman Blues is the story of Manuel Rodriguez de Guzman Gonzalez, a Latino immigrant who one day goes missing.

The book starts off with just another day in Manuel’s life: a whirlwind tour through the city’s various neighborhoods. He’s one of those guys who knows everyone, who, throughout his time in New York, has moved effortlessly between diverse communities, making acquaintances, and taking on a near-mythic persona. Visual and well-crafted, the telling of Manuel’s day is possibly one of the most brilliant opening paragraphs I’ve read all year:

It is his last day, and by six in the morning he is already drinking, drinking and shot up, eyes frantic, limbs flailing like he’s ready to explode. At seven he is on the wasted docks across from Manhattan starting fights with the winos and the mechanics; by eight thirty he’s up in the Washington Heights playing dominoes on a fire hydrant some kids are getting ready to crack open with a sledgehammer because it’s so damn hot and the Hudson’s so dirty and the ocean is too far away. By noon he’s been thrown out of thirteen bars. He gets hit by a bus, gets drunk again with some boys in Spanish Harlem bobbing to bachata out of a static-ridden radio. The afternoon he spends smoking sweet tobacco and watching old movies in Arabic with Egyptians in Astoria. He kisses Daoud’s hand in Egypt’s Cafe, whispers something in his ear; then he rides the G back to Brooklyn, hops the train to Brighton Beach, where it’s getting dark and the families are getting ready to go home. The men on the boardwalk totter with vodka, chase women, and eat boiled eggs, and he goes from club to club to tell the Russian Mafia he’s leaving, he won’t bother them anymore. By dark he’s face-up on the pier at Coney Island, watching the fire suns flare in the sky, the first stars of summer, out for that rare time when the humidity breaks and all is quiet, like the city is taking a breath, swelling the land under it, diverting water in the river and the bay to places farther out, deeper places; then it exhales, and all that was displaced returns, all that was disturbed tilts back into place, settles, grows quiet. And then, Manuel Rodrigo de Guzman Gonzalez vanishes. Poof

Because Manuel is the type of person to take off without telling people where he’s going, his disappearance remains unnoticed for twenty-six hours. It’s not until his apartment explodes that those around him begin to speculate. Many think he’s dead — a reasonable conclusion — and soon people gather to mourn. Quickly, the atmosphere takes on an air of nihilistic celebration, another glimpse into Manuel’s temperament and choice of friends. There are three people, however, who take his absence seriously, inspectors Lenny Salmon and Henry Trout, and Manuel’s lover Wendell.

Most striking about Spaceman Blues is the inclusion of minorities — both ethnic and sexual. It’s not often that a protagonist in a science fiction novel is gay; Slattery’s inclusion feels unforced and without stereotype. Similarly, the portrayal of New York City’s immigrant population never feels gimmicky or politicized.

Much has been made of the subtitle: A Love Song. The interpretations are varied, all accompanied by solid arguments; Spaceman Blues, while it houses many stories — lost love and an impending alien invasion — often feels like a love song for multiculturalism, specifically in and around Manhattan. While “melting pot” might not be an accurate description of this city, as it’s a term that assumes a level of mixing and blending we have not yet achieved, New York is a place where those who come from other countries retain pieces of their former life and share them with others. The immigrant experience, a theme often overlooked in everyday life, is certainly long overdue for a spotlight in genre fiction.

On the topic of themes, Slattery consistently merges his various areas of expertise with his novels. A violinist, fiddler, and banjo player, his passion for music manifests itself in Spaceman Blues. Much of it is subtle and flows naturally within the sentences. Other times, it’s overt, like when he describes the relationship between the two inspectors, Salmon and Trout: “Once, they were jazz musicians, riffing on each other’s half-formed thoughts until they arrived through improvisation at a new place”.

His second novel, Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America, taps into Slattery’s career as an editor specializing in economics and public-policy publications. The novel, eerily published in October of 2008, is a “speculation on life in near-future America after the country suffers an economic cataclysm that leads to the resurgence of ghosts of its past”.

The first half of Spaceman Blues is the strongest part of the book with the plot weakening in the middle, however, it should be noted that Slattery’s writing style is enjoyable throughout. In their review of Liberation, BoingBoing called his prose “complex, poetic, visionary and reeling, a cross between Kerouac and Bradbury, salted with Steinbeck.”

In April, Tor will publish Slattery’s third novel, Lost Everything, a “story of a man who takes a boat trip up the Susquehanna River, through a version of America that’s been torn apart by a mysterious war, in order to find and rescue his lost wife and son”. Brian’s now moving into publishing-veteran territory — I’m curious to see what he comes up with next.

You have four months to get ready. Let the countdown begin.

::[Links]::
Spaceman Blues: A Love Story at IndieBound
Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America at IndieBound
Lost Everything at IndieBound
Brian’s fiction page on his website where you can find excerpts and short stories
Brian on the soundtrack to steampunk
Interview with Brian on the Bat Segundo Show
Interview with Brian on WNYC’s Leonard Lopate Show
Brian’s Playlist for Liberation at Largehearted Boy
An Interview with Jeff VanderMeer
BoingBoing’s review of Liberation

Written by Gabrielle

January 3, 2012 at 6:35 am

Season’s Greetings from Literary New York

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2011 has been a great year for New York area booknerds. There are a number of thriving independent bookstores in Manhattan and Brooklyn, each with their own personality, staffed by fun, passionate readers who truly enjoy engaging with customers.

Anyone who takes a quick glance at my events page knows that during any given week there are a number of incredible author readings and launch parties vying for one’s attention. It’s a constant struggle to decide to how spend the night. There are series highlighting independent presses, literary journal parties, and authors in conversation with journalists, editors, and agents.

What follows here are the voices of just a few of the many, many hardworking people in the local community who have made this year unimaginably enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. Looking forward to the upcoming holidays, they’ve each thought of someone they’d gift a book to, said what that book would be and why; and then, because book people are impossible to buy books for, they’ve mentioned something book related they would like to get.

I hope you check out their bios and see what each of them are up to. Even if you don’t live in the area, I know that in this age of social media, you’ll benefit from their tireless creativity. Thanks to all of them and so many others.

And now, in no particular order (except for in which they were received):

Mark Asch is an editor at The L Magazine, in Brooklyn. You can follow them on Twitter at @TheLMagazine.

Who would you buy a book for? What would it be and why?
I would like to buy my 17-year-old self Jane Eyre, which I finally read this year; whenever I get around to belatedly loving a received classic I start to resent myself and my education for not getting it into my life sooner, which seems unhealthy but there you go.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
Accessorize it! with: wooden wine crates, which are great to fill with the books that start piling up on your floor once you run out of shelf space.

*****

Ron Hogan helped create the literary Internet by launching Beatrice.com in 1995. He is the author of Getting Right with Tao and The Stewardess Is Flying the Plane, and has contributed to several anthologies, including the New York Times bestseller Not Quite What I Was Planning, Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens, and Secrets of the Lost Symbol. You can find him on Twitter at @RonHogan

Who would you buy a book for?
I think books are a perfect gift for just about anybody, once you know them well enough to have some idea of what they already have.

What book would it be? Why?
This year, I’ve been eyeballing Ruhlman’s Twenty, the new cookbook from Michael Ruhlman, as a potential gift for at least two or three foodies on my holiday list. Heck, I’ve been considering letting people know I might want it.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
I could really go for an Eames Lounge and Ottoman set, which would instantly become my default reading environment, but at nearly $4,000 BEFORE sales tax, I’m not holding my breath.

*****

Erica Barmash is the senior marketing manager at Harper Perennial. You can find her on twitter @ericabrooke and @HarperPerennial. She loves presents.

Who would you buy a book for?
My fiance, Tom

What would it be?
The Meatball Shop Cookbook

Why?
Last year for Valentine’s Day I gave Tom the Clinton St. Baking Company Cookbook, and he proceeded to make me chili, huevos rancheros, and grits that are just as good as the ones at the restaurant. I love The Meatball Shop and so does he, and I’m hoping we can repeat that pattern. His meatballs are already amazing, but with this book he’ll be able to experiment.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
Finally, Out of Print Tees has made a v-neck tee for a book I love! I want this A Tree Grows in Brooklyn shirt

******

Max Fenton is online editor of the Believer magazine and runs community support for Readability.com. You can find him on Twitter at @maxfenton

Who would you buy a book for?
My smarter, more damaged friends.

What book would it be?
The Instructions” by Adam Levin

Why?
A fifth-grader may or may not be the messiah and definitely falls in love. At 1050 pages the comparisons to Infinite Jest are apt, but Levin succeeds on his own merits with this intense and remarkable novel.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
A better desk lamp. I learned in October that peripheral vision affects the degree of eyestrain when screen reading, so the tone of light around your screen should be about the same as the screen itself.

******

Jenn Northington is the the events manager for WORD, a bookstore in Brooklyn, co-founder of the Bookrageous podcast, and haunts the interwebs as jennIRL. You can find her on Twitter at @jennIRL

Who would you buy a book for?
I have a lot of nerdy friends (SURPRISE). They’re often hard to buy for, because they each inhabit a very particular nerd niche — some are more into sci-fi, some fantasy, some pop-culture, and you never know what they have and what they don’t. Tricky!

What book would it be?
If there’s one book that I want to give all of them this year it’s How to Speak Wookiee: A Manual for Intergalactic Communication.

Why?
Sound-bytes from Chewie, side by side with hilarious (and possibly inaccurate) translations (I mean, I don’t think they actually visit an art gallery to talk about postmodernism in the original trilogy at least, but I could be wrong) — you really cannot go wrong.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
I’m so glad you asked — I’ve been salivating over Moleskine’s USB Rechargeable Booklight. The design is gorgeous, as you might expect, and the use of an LED light is just ingenious.

******

Tobias Carroll lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York. His fiction has appeared in Joyland, THE2NDHAND, Metazen, Word Riot, and more. He can be found online at www.thescowl.org, and contributes regularly to Vol. 1 Brooklyn. You can find him on Twitter at @TobiasCarroll

Who would you buy a book for?
That friend or family member who appreciates both well-written fiction and a good political debate.

What book would it be?
The double feature of Vanessa Veselka’s Zazen and Justin Taylor’s The Gospel of Anarchy. Because, hey: why buy one book when you could buy two?

Why?
Veselka and Taylor each grapple with complex interpersonal relationships, examine esoteric left-of-center movements, and ultimately leave their readers — whether sympathetic or hostile to said movements — challenged. But the novels also contrast in distinctive ways. The Gospel of Anarchy is set in a very specific place, with roots in the Gainesville punk scene of a few years ago. Zazen‘s setting is an unnammed city in the very near future (or, alternately, in a slightly more nerve-wracking present). Taylor’s tone moves from the grittily realistic to the mystical; Veselka’s, from the satirical to the paranoid. And both are terrific novels that stay in your head long after you’ve turned the last page.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
Some sort of logic-defying bookshelves that can fit twice as many books as the ones currently in my apartment. We’re only a few years from the bold defiance of spatial laws in the name of bibliophilia, right?

******

Michele Filgate is Events Coordinator at McNally Jackson Books, and a freelance writer and critic. You can find her on Twitter: @readandbreathe

Who would you buy a book for?
My grandmother Mimo. One of my favorite stories to tell is how she was fired from her first job when she was a teenager because she was caught behind the clothing racks reading a book. Mimo was the person who turned me into a voracious reader. We used to go to the library sales and buy bags of books.

What book would it be?
I’m buying her a signed copy of A CHRISTMAS BLIZZARD by Garrison Keillor.

Why?
She’s a big fan and was excited to hear that he was signing at McNally Jackson.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
I REALLY want someone to buy me an Ideal Bookshelf painting by Jane Mount. I just found out about this artist via Emma Straub, and I think it’s the perfect gift!

******

David Gutowski is the writer behind the music and literature blog Largehearted Boy. He also hosts a monthly music and author reading series at WORD in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. You can follow him on Twitter at @largeheartedboy.

Who would you buy a book for?
The young or old fan of supernatural commercial fiction.

What book would it be?
Martin Millar’s Lonely Werewolf Girl and Curse of the Wolf Girl.

Why?
Martin Millar transcends the supernatural genre with his smart writing; multiple, credible plotlines; well-drawn characters; and healthy doses of pop culture references.

These supernatural novels will appeal to both adult and young adult readers, and just might be the perfect opportunity to sneak something literary into the reading of Twilight fans.

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
A gift certificate to my local indie bookstore.

*****

Penina Roth is the curator of the Franklin Park Reading Series in Crown Heights, Brooklyn and a freelance journalist. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, the New York Post, the Forward and other publications. You can find her on Twitter at @PeninaRoth

Who would you buy a book for? What would it be and why?
I’d like to give my pulp romance-reading friend – let’s call her Susie – a copy of Simon Van Booy’s latest novel, Everything Beautiful Began After (in fact, it’s sitting on a shelf in my living room but I keep forgetting to drop it off). I’d like to steer her away from Danielle Steele and Nora Roberts and into more literary reading material, and I think Van Booy’s lush and tender novel, with its gorgeous language and imagery, would appeal to her. The romantic triangle subject doesn’t interest me (I avoid love stories), but I appreciate how Van Booy uses Athens, a complex city of bustling streets and crumbling ruins, as a lens for his rootless protagonists’ shifting moods. The characters cycle through loneliness, love and heartbreak amidst stray dogs, menacing shadows, pink sunsets, gleaming white buildings and broken statues. And the striking language makes mundane life sound exotic: a flight attendant is described as “a mechanical swan, wrapped in blue cotton” and a small French village is seen as “an open mouth of crooked houses.”

Any book related accessories you’d love to get this year?
As far as book accessories, I’d be happy with a compact reading lamp that won’t fall off my tiny nightstand.

Who would you buy a book for? What would it be and why? And what book-related accessory would you like to get? Comments are open.

Written by Gabrielle

December 15, 2011 at 6:01 am

On the Shelf: Fangirl about Town, Insomnia in Paradise Edition

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Blake Butler at BookCourt

On Sunday night at BookCourt, Atlanta-based HTMLGIANT editor and novelist Blake Butler read from his latest book, Nothing: A Portrait of Insomnia, his first work of nonfiction. Stemming from his own long battle with insomnia, which he owes in part to his racing mind, Blake set out to explore the many aspects of the subject, not just his own experience.

For the book, he researched insomnia’s “role in history, art, and science through its unexpected consequences on [his] personal imagination, creative process, and perspective on reality. . . . Invoking scientific data, historical anecdote, Internet obsession, and figures as diverse as Andy Warhol, Gilles Deleuze, John Cage, Anton LaVey, Jorge Luis Borges, Brian Eno, and Stephen King, Butler traces the tension between sleeping and conscious life.” For anyone familiar with the website he created, Blake’s mad-intelligence will not come as a surprise—he’s one of the most intimidating minds out there today.

I’d seen Blake read from his debut full-length novel, There is No Year, this past April and while that was fiction and this one is nonfiction, his reading style is the same for both: manic, driving, machine gun-intense, which one can assume is how he hears it in his head. It’s an infectious intonation and once listen to, his voice is forever with you as you read his words.

HTMLGIANT is a frenetic blog, now with many contributors, and has the feel of an ongoing experiement in boundary-pushing. On a daily basis it features literary and film criticism, behind-the-scenes looks at writing and writing programs, author interviews, and occasional matters of highly-structured irrelevance. When visiting the site, you’re bound to learn about something you didn’t know existed, possibly stumble onto smart commentary regarding an otherwise mundane topic, and a bookmark a bunch of posts worthy of quiet contemplation.

Butler is someone you should know about if you don’t already. He’s an original, mind-blowing voice with a trustworthy sense for talented, contemporary thinkers.

You can listen to an hour-long interview with Blake about insomnia, writing fiction vs. nonfiction, and David Foster Wallace on the Other People podcast with Brad Listi. You can follow him and HTMLGIANT on Twitter at @blakebutler and @htmlgiant.

A Night at McNally Jackson

On Monday night, three ladies of the literary world took to the floor of McNally Jackson for an intimate conversation about the writing life. Diana Abu-Jaber, author of four novels, her most recent Birds of Paradise, was joined by her editor Alane Mason and agent Joy Harris, both of nearly 20 years.

Diana began with a short reading from the book described by the publisher as, “the story of a runaway daughter, Felice, and the effect of her absence on her mother, father, and brother.” And, in the broader sense, one that “illuminates the silent crosscurrents of guilt, anger, blame, and grief that can plague a family,” which promises to “resonate with all those who have sought adolescent independence and then yearned to reconnect with their families once they are grown up.”

When Alane and Joy claimed the seats next to Diana, the mutual admiration and respect was palpable. You could feel their years together in the air. The three launched into what a touching reflection on their triangular relationship, a behind-the-scenes look inside the writing and editorial process. The night drove home the notion that a book is not always a solo act, that editors and agents matter: Alane and Joy allow Diana to indulge her “fugue state,” as they called it, and Diana knows that she has those two to ground her work in reality when the first draft is done.

As is the intention with these multi-person events, Diana was not the only draw. Her editor, Alane, is the founder and president of Words Without Borders, a groundbreaking website founded in 1999—with its first publication in 2003—dedicated to publishing, translating, and promoting contemporary international literature. You can watch Alane discuss her motivation and mission in a 2009 interview at the Big Think. You can also follow Diana on Twitter at @dabujaber.

What’s on the shelf?

The Innovator’s Cookbook: Essentials for Inventing What’s Next by Steven Johnson
Steven Johnson’s books are quickly becoming popular with help in part to the fun videos that go along with them. His last book, Where Good Ideas Come From had this awesome trailer that’s now been viewed over a million times. His latest book’s video shows the creation of the 3-D letters used for the cover image.

The Innovator’s Cookbook “features a number of conversations with creative minds from technology, business, education and the arts, talking about their methods.” In Steven’s own words, the book is an “anthology of classic essays on innovation” with “many important essays by some of [his] heroes” includig Stewart Brand, John Seely Brown, and Erik Von Hippel. Aside from the essays, it’s also a collection of conversations he’d had with innovators. Some of the innovators interviewed are “Ray Ozzie on software; Brian Eno on music and art; Beth Noveck on government innovation.”

You can check out Steven’s website here and follow him on Twitter @stevenbjohnson.

The Best American Comics 2011 edited by Alison Bechdel
The Best American Comics is a collection of work from both new and established artists. Cult comic artist Alison Bechdel, creator of “Dykes to Watch Out For” and author of the biographical graphic novel Fun Home, is the editor of this series’ latest edition. In compiling the book, Alison grabbed from graphic novels, pamplet comics, newspapers, magazines, mini-comics and webcomics. Some of the artists featured are Joe Sacco, Jeff Smith, and Dash Shaw. You can read an Interview with Alison with the AV Club where she talks about the selection process, past projects she’s worked on, and the importance of zines.

What’s on your shelf this week? Comments are open. 

Written by Gabrielle

October 13, 2011 at 5:18 am

On the Shelf: Fangirl About Town

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Largehearted Lit at WORD
Last Sunday at WORD in Greenpoint, Largehearted Boy hosted his monthly Largehearted Lit series where every month he brings together two authors and a musician to bring fuse his two loves: words and music.

September’s theme, as each reading has a theme, was the modern golden age of young adult fiction. Brooklyn writers Libba Bray and Steve Brezenoff, came out to read their work and discuss music. Steve read from his book The Absolute Value of -1, a coming-of-age love story, and his latest, Brooklyn Burning, “a love letter to Brooklyn, a love letter to music booming from the basement, and most of all, a love letter to every kind of love (but especially the punk rock kind).”

Alicia Jo Rabins, a classically trained violinist of Girls in Trouble, along with bassist Aaron Hartman, played an incredible short set of songs based on stories of women in the Old Testament. They were at once highly original, dark, and whimsical. You can find their music on their Myspace page.

Libba, author of Going Bovine and most recently Beauty Queens, read an original humor essay, an “aural biography,” about growing up in rural Texas, using music as an escape, and the role bands played in the relationship between her and her brother throughout the years. She then ended the night by serenading the crowd with Tom Petty’s American Girl.

As if the authors and music wasn’t enough, Kiesha, “The Brooklyn Baker,” provided amazing cupcakes.

The McSweeney’s Crew at McNally Jackson
John Warner, who was, up until recently, the editor of McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, celebrated the release of his latest novel, The Funny Man, with McSweeney’s writers Ben Greenman, Teddy Wayne, and Sarah Walker at McNally Jackson in SoHo.

Ben Greenman read his hilariously cynical piece called “Blurbs,” a piece comprised entirely of blurbs. For anyone in the book publishing business, anything related to it, or an astute reader, this is an amazingly entertaining exercise. It appeared in his short story collection, Superbad: Stories and Pieces. You can read through his McSweeney’s archive here.

Sara Walker writes an advice column for McSweeney’s called “Sarah Walker Shows You How”. That night she read “How to Cure a Hangover,” a funny piece that may or may not help if have a hangover. She also read the first piece she published in McSweeney’s, “When Dakota Fanning Travels to Spain for a Junior Semester Abroad, She Will Take Full Advantage of the Experience”, a bitingly funny sketch about what Dakota Fanning will do while studying in Spain, which was accepted by John when he was the editor. Her full archive can be found here.

Teddy Wayne is, at that time of this post, the most frequent contributor to McSweeney’s online. He’s also the author of author of Kapitoil, a novel about a young man who comes to New York from Qatar and creates a computer program named Kapitoil that predicts oil futures, earning his company record profits. Soon he begins to question its moral implications.

Teddy read his article from McSweeney’s, “Listmania!: Other Books Useful (or Not), for Americans to Read, Beyond William Blum’s Rogue State, by Osama B. L.,” which was a satricial look at the Amazon bestseller list through the eyes of the notorious terrorist. Some of the suggested books include: The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks, and The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisberger. You can read his other articles at McSweeney’s.

John closed the night by reading from his new novel which is (surprise, surprise) a satirical look at the comedic novel. A meta-fiction as only a McSweeney’s author can do. Here’s a bit of a description from IndieBound:

The funny man is a middling comic in an unnamed city. By day he takes care of his infant son, by night he performs in small clubs, sandwiched between other aspiring comics. His wife waits tables to support the family. It doesn’t sound like much, but they’re happy, more or less. Until the day he comes up with it. His thing. His gimmick. And everything changes. He’s a headliner, and the venues get bigger fast. Pretty soon it’s Hollywood and a starring role in a blockbuster, all thanks to the gimmick.

What’s on the shelf?

As someone who is perpetually early, even when trying to be late, I wind up with a lot of time to peruse the shelves of bookstores while waiting for readings to begin. Here’s what I came across this week:

The Stranger: The Labyrinth of Echo—Book One by Max Frei
The cover on this one grabbed it. The textured surface, the brown tones with the creepy typeface, and the great illustration that makes you want to know what’s going on with the boy in the picture. It’s billed as “part fantasy, part horror, part philosophy”.

Nobody Move: A Novel by Denis Johnson
I loved the pulpy artwork on the cover of this one and when I read on the back of the book that it was noir, I was sold. Denis Johnson has been getting a ton of attention among the literary crowd, giving him the air of “a safe bet”.

From IndieBound:

Jimmy Luntz is an innocent man, more or less. He’s just leaving a barbershop chorus contest in Bakersfield, California, thinking about placing a few bets at the track, when he gets picked up by a thug named Gambol and his life takes a calamitous turn. Turns out Jimmy owes Gambol’s boss significant money, and Gambol’s been known to do serious harm to his charges. Soon enough a gun comes out, and Jimmy’s on the run. While in hiding he meets up with a vengeful, often-drunk bombshell named Anita, and the two of them go on the lam together, attracting every kind of trouble.

Pirate Palooza by Erik Craddock
It’s never too early to introduce kids to the wonder of comic books. They show young readers that books can be a lot of fun and in the process maybe inspire them to create their own visual stories. My five-year-old nephew loved the graphic novel B.C. Mambo I picked up for him a few months ago. With his birthday coming up and his unwavering obsession with pirates, Pirate Palooza seemed like the perfect gift.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein
I’ve been meaning to read this classic science fiction novel for a while. Heinlein is a staple of the space-based scifi novel and Stranger is possibly his best-known work.

A description:

Stranger in a Strange Land, winner of the 1962 Hugo Award, is the story of Valentine Michael Smith, born during, and the only survivor of, the first manned mission to Mars. Michael is raised by Martians, and he arrives on Earth as a true innocent: he has never seen a woman and has no knowledge of Earth’s cultures or religions. But he brings turmoil with him, as he is the legal heir to an enormous financial empire, not to mention de facto owner of the planet Mars. With the irascible popular author Jubal Harshaw to protect him, Michael explores human morality and the meanings of love. He founds his own church, preaching free love and disseminating the psychic talents taught him by the Martians. Ultimately, he confronts the fate reserved for all messiahs.

What’s on your shelf?

Written by Gabrielle

October 6, 2011 at 5:55 am

must see :: Bill Cunningham New York

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“Using the low-key approach that shapes Cunningham’s column, Press works up a portrait that’s as raw, gentle, funny, and—in the end—irresistible as the pictures themselves.” —Slate

If you don’t follow fashion you could be forgiven for not knowing who Bill Cunningham is. Forgiven—but not off the hook. There is even less of an excuse now that a fascinating documentary has been made about his life and work. In Bill Cunningham New York (Zeitgeist Films) Director Richard Press has captured a truly charming character who could have easily been overlooked by the wider public—and what a shame that would have been.

Although famously praised by Vogue’s Anna Wintour and given front row seating to all the fashion shows in the US and abroad, Bill, the legendary New York Times fashion photographer, is not one of these ascot-donning, private car-hiring types. Instead, this octogenarian can be seen riding his bicycle through New York City traffic in a blue smock normally worn by Parisian street cleaners—both of which point to his ascetic lifestyle beautifully captured on screen.

It might be easier to think of Bill not as a fashion photographer for one of the largest newspapers in the world, but as someone he more closely resembles: a street photographer. All day he roams the city looking for themes: hats, flowers, colors, patterns, whatever appears to be trending at the moment. His photos are candid and rarely, if ever, posed.

Every Sunday in the New York Times Style Section, Bill’s thematic photos are collected and carefully arranged. The painstaking process, also given time in the film, is both humorous and endearing. Aside from the shots of ordinary, and sometimes extraordinary, people, Bill is the man behind the week’s gala event pictures. One’s heart melts when you hear Bill explain that he chooses which to go to based on the good of the organization, not on who is attending as one would assume.

This sharp divide between the notion of the fashion industry and one of its most-loved is what makes this film so compelling to those outside of this seemingly glamorous culture. Bill Cunningham is one of the most genuine characters I’ve ever seen, a humanizing force in a world viewed as vapid and materialistic. All should be grateful to Press for taking the time to capture him on film.

After you watch this documentary, you’ll never miss the Sunday Style section again.

Official Trailer

Now playing at the IFC Center  and Village Cinema East through Thursday, June 16 and coming to Symphony Space starting June 12th

::[Links]::
Official site
Slate review
Bill Cunningham’s New York Times page

Written by Gabrielle

June 7, 2011 at 8:56 am

things new yorkers like :: art school

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3RD WARD

from the mission statement:

3rd Ward is an incubator for innovation and possibility. Our members come from all walks of life to realize their potential and find additional meaning in their lives through our supportive community and top-of-the-line creative resources, including photo studios, media lab, jewelry studio, wood & metal shops, and a huge education program.

Anyone can come to 3rd Ward to work, play, learn, grow and, ultimately, transform.

195 Morgan Ave, Brooklyn, NY

:: [join in] ::

moviehouse :: every second sunday / doors.7pm . . . film.8pm / free
this series presents the best local filmmaking. music, drinks, snacks, and people to talk to.

sweatshop social :: every last monday / 7 to 10pm / $10 suggested donation
you bring fabric and 3rd Ward gives you sewing machines, more fabric, advice, beer, and music.

drink n draw :: every wednesday / 8 to 10:30pm / $15.person . . . $10.w friend . . . free for members
bring your drawing tools, they have the model and beer.

classes :: interdisciplinary courses in art, digital multimedia, photography, fabrication and craft.

3rd ward homepage

Written by Gabrielle

February 6, 2011 at 11:54 am

things new yorkers like :: natalie portman

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Written by Gabrielle

January 29, 2011 at 9:14 pm

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