Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Products of "Howl", The Fans of Facebook

I've discovered that the two top movies on my viewing docket, The Social Network and Howl, have a lot in common: they both involve creative geniuses often misunderstood (or, some might argue, perfectly understood and "found out") by their collaborators and creative peers. Both involve massive legal action taken over questions that remain enormously important in today's society: creative license, right to free speech, the definition of obscenity, and intellectual property. And the central creations in both these films--Facebook, and the 1955 poem "Howl"--have been designated cultural identifiers for generations of young people. Is it possible that our generation, the twenty-somethings, owes the ascent of Facebook to our parents' generation paying witness to the birth of "Howl"?

When "Howl" first emerged, it was in a form as viral as a Tweet: written in a coffee shop in Berkeley, California, Allen Ginsburg first began the poem after his psychiatrist told him to quit his day-job and dedicate himself to poetry full-time. (The contemporary publishing climate, meanwhile, is discouraging this kind of decision.) The poem came together haphazardly, its style a jumbling of thoughts and ideas emerging almost stream-of-consciousness. Ginsburg called the poem, "a lament for the Lamb in America with instances of remarkable lamb-like youths," and his poem meanders like a lost lamb, bleating out frustration and confusion, flashing with perceptiveness and social critique. He said, "Ideally each line of 'Howl' is a single breath unit. My breath is long--that's the measure, one physical-mental inspiration of thought contained in the elastic of a breath." And the poem's reception was breathless, rapturous praise, and while charges of obscenity over the poem's references to sex and drugs caused it to be brought to court, it was undeniable that what Ginsburg had written was of "redeeming social importance".

Reading it in a contemporary context, there is little that separates the subject matter of Ginsburg's rhapsody in generational angst from that of a standard blog post or Twitter feed. Of course, the difference is in the execution, and any online writer worth their salt should be able to show you the difference between good web writing and just writing on the web. But more than ever before, fledgling writers and poets are emboldened to try to put their thoughts into written form. The accessibility of Facebook, the status update, the carefully crafted profile, has replaced the poetry club and coffeehouse performance of the 1950s. Much of the hype surrounding The Social Network is its portrayal of Mark Zuckerberg as a socially inept genius whose rise to fame and power came at the expense of everyone around him--a classic tragic hero story, to be sure. But the central concept of Facebook, and the driving motivation behind David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin's take on Zuckerberg, is that this is a guy who wants to be anything but an asshole; who wants to be social, and doesn't know how to get there. As noted by Mark Harris in the movie's New York profile, "Sorkin’s version of Zuckerberg is a young man pounding on the door, driven by his desire to get in—inside the Harvard final clubs that represent power and acceptance (something Zuckerberg has denied ever wanting), inside the social and dating dynamics that seem easy for his classmates and unreachable for him . . . ." What's so unusual about Zuckerberg's invention is that, while it became his ticket to acceptance, fame, and fortune, it became a forum for millions of people across the world to redefine themselves and speak their minds. Zuckerberg went from awkward nerd to Internet tycoon, on the backs of our generation's enthusiastic signing up for reinvention and self-expression.

The thoughts behind crafting an "Interests" list, "liking" a post, choosing a picture, are as deliberate as that of the best memoirists. The beginning of the trailer for The Social Network is like a music video for "Howl": set to the tune of Radiohead's "Creep" (sung by an all-girls choir), images stream of the lives people have constructed in this online world. As people type in hellos, "poke" each other, and log on, we get a composite picture of what this program means to them: a platform, a soapbox, an open mic night. Would we ever know the value of this ability without Allen Ginsberg as its predecessor?

Zuckerberg once said of his creation, "I’m trying to make the world a more open place." Ginsberg said, "I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked . . . angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night." In the machinery of night, in the absence of stages and book deals and ready listeners, we boot up, log on, and "stand before you speechless and intelligent and shaking with shame, rejected yet confessing out the soul to conform to the rhythm of thought in his naked and endless head."

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

A Musical Tradition of Storytelling

Most of the content on this website tends to be focused on New York—a choice that makes a lot of sense, as all of the [tk]ers live and work here, and since New York is currently the heart of the publishing world.

Recently, however, Jessica flew out to San Francisco and wrote a blog post about the literary culture thriving there. This weekend, I’m headed to San Francisco myself (and for me, this more or less means going home), but it’s not to visit publishing houses or survey the magazine and journal culture there. Still, I’d like to tell myself that it’s something of a literary journey. I’m going to the tenth anniversary of Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, for what promises to be a jet-lagged and intoxicating three days of music.

The first time I went to the festival was in 2005, when I was beginning my junior year of college. It was five years old then, and I mostly went to see Gillian Welch. I remember her performance clearly—or was it the next year’s?—and the moment when she looked out at the foggy meadow in Golden Gate Park and declared it “gothic.” What I don’t remember are any of the other performances, and that’s embarrassing. Looking at the archived schedule now, it’s a knockout: Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, Joan Baez, Robert Earl Keen, Ralph Stanley, Emmylou Harris, Dolly Parton, Rosanne Cash. Some people I’m excited about—Tim O’Brien—and others my boyfriend is excited about, like Laura Cantrell. (At the time, he was just a friend on whom I had a miserable crush.) Anyway, I’m pretty sure we skipped the second day of the festival and spent the first camped on Gillian Welch’s field for hours and hours, missing some great music, and fine storytelling, along the way.

We went again the next year, this time as a couple, and this time for both days. My sister joined us one day; on another, my boyfriend and I quarrelled, leaving me pouting near the entrance to the meadow while he, wisely, watched a performance by Earl Scruggs. Never again—I hope.

Since then, I’ve learned more about folk music, although I’m still more ignorant than some, and more about concertgoing as well. This weekend, I’ll still gravitate toward bigger names, but this time "bigger names" means not missing out on Doc Watson or Ralph Stanley, both legends. Most of the people who performed in 2005 will be there this weekend, along with some new names—the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings—and some musicians who are indeed “hardly strictly bluegrass,” MC Hammer among them. Patti Smith will be there; so will Elvis Costello; so will Conor Oberst. I’ll try to attend some smaller concerts when I can, mostly in the morning, by bands I haven’t heard of. I won’t bring a blanket, which, to me, only brings frustration as the meadow grows increasingly crowded. I’ll travel light, moving quickly from concert to concert and grabbing five minutes of extra music in the intervals between staggered shows. I’ll look forward to dinners in the Mission at night. I’ll see friends—and it’s funny that friends from college and high school are planning to go independently, signalling just how much the festival has exploded in the last five years (as it had, apparently, in the five years before that)—and hopefully family too, but I won’t let their tastes keep me from seeing the performers I choose.

That’s what I’ve learned about (happy) concertgoing in the last five years. In that time, I’ve seen Welch (and her reversed band with Dave Rawlings, the Dave Rawlings Machine) perform at least five times. I remedied my missed Scruggs show by going to see him in New York. I’ve seen Oberst (with or without the Monsters of Folk) twice; Fountains of Wayne twice; Sarah Lee Guthrie twice; Trombone Shorty once; Baez once; Martin Sexton once; Sharon Jones once. This for someone who had never been to a concert before college—and now I’m flying across the country to see them all again.

Why? Because their concerts are always great. Chances are that this will be my last chance to see Doc Watson, and possibly also Ralph Stanley. This weekend, I’ll hear the stories they have to tell. But with these younger musicians, the concerts themselves become the stories. Like the time we saw Fountains of Wayne in New Jersey, in a crowd composed almost entirely of middle-aged businessmen and prepubescent girls, a crowd that exploded when the band played “Stacy’s Mom.” (One teenager near me: “Finally, a song I know!”) Or when fourteen members of the Guthrie family, if I remember correctly, played the Berkshires on Valentine’s Day weekend. Or when Oberst forgot the lyrics of a song in Berkeley’s Greek Theatre, and his band played to mumbling and then silence for an unbearably long time.

Bluegrass—even when it’s hardly strictly so—is a musical tradition of storytelling. It's music to be shared, and this weekend, it will be, likely with a very large crowd. So this weekend promises to be exhausting, overcrowded, overstimulating . . . and terrifically fun. When I come back from San Francisco, I think I’ll have some stories of my own to share.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Barack's Books

These days, there are all kinds of honors an author can dream about and strive for—a starred prepub review, the cover of The New York Times Book Review, and, every ten years or so, the cover of Time magazine. None of these, however, approaches the magic of the ultimate nod: the president of the United States reading your book. I still vividly remember the excitement that permeated our hallways two years ago when Barack mentioned in an interview that he was reading a book one of my bosses edited. It was like Christmas come early. I’ve seen other houses endorse their books with “as read by Barack Obama” stickers.

Recently, when I discovered that Barack Obama was reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom it occurred to me that, in the two years that I had been following his reading list, I haven’t come across a single mention of a book written by a woman. In googling the issue to see if this was in fact the case, I came across a comprehensive list the Daily Beast put together of the books that he had been spotted with, or had announced he was reading, and in which publications each had been reported. I have to say, he has good taste, and a nice range of interest—Dave Eggers’s What Is The What to keep in tune with the younger generation of writers and literary fiction, Hot Flat and Crowded for a bit of nonfiction, and Richard Price’s Lush Life for a good old fashioned fast-paced, plot-driven tale. Alarmingly, though, out of eighteen titles only one of them—Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin—boasted a female author. Thinking maybe he was just going through a phase, I was happy to find a article that covered his favorite authors over the years. Here, too, there was a nice range of material. Everyone from Nietzsche to E.L. Doctorow, Shakespeare to Roth is mentioned. Only one woman, though, gets a shout out: Toni Morrison.

To be fair, Barack isn’t the only literature enthusiast in our country to skew toward tales penned by men. Oprah’s book club picks notoriously enjoy smashing, record breaking sales. Between 2005 and 2010 Oprah has selected fourteen books and not a single one of them was written by a woman. Her last female pick was in 2004—The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Colleges, too, have syllabi that boast far more classics by men than women. I had the great pleasure of attending a college that had a huge variety of English literature seminars to choose from despite how small it is, and took several with very narrow focuses: twentieth century Irish literature, the jazz age, modernism. My favorite seminars became those dedicated to only one or two authors: the Melville and Hawthorne combo, Shakespeare, and even a class that covered only one poem: Dante’s Divine Comedy. In all my time there, however, I was only able to take one seminar dedicated wholly to the fiction of a woman, and that was George Eliot, who notoriously wrote under a pen name meant to disguise her as a male.

With its overwhelmingly male dominated history, perhaps it is unfair to expect Barack to gravitate toward female authors when it comes to literature. But as a president associated with fostering change, perhaps he more there anyone is capable of leading the charge in that direction? Barack, may I humbly suggest Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From the Goon Squad, or Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth? Tara French’s In the Woods will have you at the edge of your seat, I guarantee it, and Elizabeth Bowen’s The Last September still stays with me even though it’s been a good seven years since I read it. Annie Proulx has won just about every award that exists for fiction, and with good reason. ZZ Packer and Lydia Peelle are two writers that the National Book Award has recognized at their 5 under 35 event whose careers I look forward to following. All of these women have been monumental successes in their time, and have shaped the way we think about events that color our world. They’ve indirectly commented on everything from large, profound issues like war and race and class to smaller, cultural phenomenons like electronic networking and the things that give us a good, fun scare.

Happy reading.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Baby's Day Out

You know it’s fall when Bob Woodward is getting ready to drop another headline-making tome. Yes, fall is here. Publishing’s best season.

We publish all year long but the heaviest books—literally the heaviest—come out in the fall. Biographies, current affairs, and big-name authors take center stage in the season leading up to the buying holidays.

After weeks of anxious emails from authors, the fall books begin to arrive in the office, fresh off the printer’s truck. But opening the box can be a little nerve-wracking.

A year of planning and production (from word documents, to copyediting, to galleys), leads up to the moment when the books are done. The book is born and any mistakes still left in the pages are here to stay—unless, maybe, hopefully, the book is reprinted due to great demand.

Like a parent counts their newborn’s fingers and toes, we check for mistakes as we unpack the boxes. And then, after we've sent the book to the author, we wait for them to call. What will they say? Will they find something we overlooked?

The problem with an error in a finished book is that no matter how small it may be, the error overshadows the rest of the book. If an author is unhappy with a bio, for example, that incorrectly states where they received their Ph.D., well, it doesn’t matter how great the rest of the book looks. The book might as well be stamped with the word: faulty. It’s a bad feeling.

Last week, an author called and said he was thrilled with the way his book turned out. Phew. It had been a complicated book with illustrations and color inserts, typical of a fall book. He was so happy, he said, he was taking the book out to dinner. I didn’t think much of it, but the next day he sent me a picture of the book propped up on a table at a fancy restaurant next to a glass of wine. Looks like it was good, well-deserved night out.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Fruit of the Young

Over the last few years, a short story collection I fell in love with has been following me around. I read it in the spring of 2009 in manuscript form before it had a home and, unable to shake its lyrical prose and memorable characters, kept wondering which lucky publishing house would grab it. A little less then a year later, I discovered on a job interview (for a position that wasn’t ultimately the right fit) that the woman I would be replacing had bought the book and, should I take over the position, I would be its editor. A few months later, upon its publication, I discovered that one of my all time favorite short story writers (and one of the writers my boss edits) had offered the collection a glowing blurb that graced its cover. When the teacher of my writing class announced last week that he would be reading with this writer, I knew I had to attend the event.

So, last night I ventured out to the depths of the east village for this reading at KGB bar. Nestled on the second floor of a cozy brownstone and rich with antiquated details like red velvety looking drapes and cloudy mirrors (and an old antennaed TV at the end of the bar), the heavy, elegant feel of my surroundings made my proximity to this writer feel all the more important an occasion. Though I tried my best to listen to the event’s first reader, my eyes kept wandering the room wondering which fashionably disheveled hipster in the audience would prove to be my literary idol.

When she finally strode—or meandered, really—to the microphone my jaw must have dropped just a little. Dressed in crunchy, collegiate looking clothing with a shy smile and delightfully tangled hair, she looked like someone I might run into at a house party, or meet through a friend of a friend. Her timid, slightly squeaky voice and friendly address of the audience only furthered the feeling that this woman was more my peer—a relatable figure—than anything else. As editorial assistants we all experience that moment of meeting an author who looks remarkably different than he or she does on their back flap photo, but it wasn’t that I was expecting someone more glamorous in this case, just someone older, more distinguished, or more together than me.

Seeing this could-be friend read her beautiful prose was all the more enjoyable on account of her youth and her approachability. Much has been made in print and in the depiction of my generation in pop culture of how loathe we are to grow up and make something of ourselves. (Jess quite eloquently blogged a response to a New York Times article that expounded on the ways that we twenty-somethings are stunted.) On the flip side, the handful of people who do make it big before the age of twenty eight do it on so grand a scale that they seem almost like prodigies who were born to do just that, a fluke or an act of God or nature not to be emulated through effort or hard work. (The New Yorker’s profile of Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg marveled at the fact that he had been designing computer programs since childhood and for fun, but on a personal level he came across as a bit of an odd duck. Some of his idiosyncrasies and personality traits made him seem like a lone wolf not ready or suitable to be the poster child for any generation. )

Seeing an every gal in whom it was easy to see not only myself but my brightest and warmest friends accomplish so much and unleash it upon the world with so few airs or barriers between her and her audience was endlessly inspiring. It has long been my suspicion that for every twenty four year old living in their parents’ basement there’s at least one inspired young individual with a pipe dream and a plan to execute it. Encountering people like this young writer makes it easier to continue to put faith in this claim. Here’s to the fruit of the young proving contagious.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Morning After The Night Before

A suprising number of important things happened in January, 2004: NASA landed a Mars rover, Britney Spears had her Vegas wedding annulled in less than 24 hours, the U.N. called America's bluff on the invasion of Iraq. I, however, remember that January for one thing -- the very last episode of Friends.

I freely confess to being a total Friends fiend. Moments from the show are imbedded in my brain, taking up valuable space; I often forget how to transfer calls on my phone at work, but I certainly remember the episode in which Marcel swallows a Scrabble tile (it was a K, if you're wondering). So, when grey clouds began rolling across the sky yesterday afternoon, I immediately thought of the beginning of the seventh season, when Monica and Chandler celebrate their engagement at the Plaza. Everyone is celebrating and having a great time; that is, until Monica catches Rachel hooking up with Ross. She furiously confronts them, accusing them of "stealing her thunder."

I felt a certain sympathy for Monica as I sat at my desk on the 19th floor, watching lightning bolts splinter the sky and the Twitterverse explode with furious tweets of "TORNADO!"; "OMG tornado wtf"; "Quetzalcoatl came early!" Seriously, a tornado on the night of much-anticipated [tk] reviews event? We had cake! We had raffle prizes! We had homemade guacamole! But, with this kind of weather, who would turn up? Damn mother nature, up in here stealing all our thunder!

The subway ride was rather morose, as we cradled the cake and contemplated a damp evening alone together, stuffing ourselves with cupcakes and making up silly imaginary names to enter into the raffle. (Mike Ock, anyone?) However, as soon as we got off the subway in Brooklyn we ran into some colleagues, intrepidly rubber-booted, and a thin ray of sunshine began to show itself over the horizon.

This is all a long way of saying that, despite the Doppler Radar-registering chaos , we had a fantastic evening and a terrific turn out. The High Dive folks were wonderful, and we took over the back with our tables of food and [tk] reviews paraphernalia. Claire made beautiful cupcakes, Jess brought delicious flat-bread pizza, Carmen baked fresh chocolate chip cookies, and Joey mashed up a wicked guacamole. Nearly everyone entered the free raffle for two prizes: we gave away a "wild card" bundle of funny and crazy books, as well as a grand prize stack of every book reviewed in Issue V! We also got to wish ourselves a happy quinquennial by blowing out the candles on Caroline's amazing cake.

We're so grateful to all the people who came, hell or high-water. Friends, colleagues, significant others: we couldn't do this without you. As NPR recently pointed out, word-of-mouth is still the most effective way to sell books -- and the best way to let everybody know about start-up online book review websites. Thank you so much for your support, and for sharing our site with the people you know. We can't wait to throw another party and have an equally fantastic evening. There are rumors of literary trivia in the air...but we'll keep you posted.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Quinquennial Mayhem (a celebration of our 5th issue!)

September is a magical month. The first crispness of autumn descends; we get a three-day weekend; and the world is full of children, with their innocent shining faces, galloping happily back to school. This year, however, we love September for another reason: it brings with it the FIFTH ISSUE of [tk] reviews!

To that end, please join us to celebrate our small but mighty milestone at Park Slope's High Dive bar tonight, at 7pm. For those that speak the password -- [tk]reviews -- there will be $2 High Life drafts, $3 Yuengling drafts, and a dollar off all other drinks from 7 p.m. 'til 10 p.m. We'll have reserved tables, and the more culinarily adept among us will even be bringing food.

And as a last-minute feature, we'll be raffling off a very special treat: the chance to win the books we reviewed! That's right, you could potentially go home with Rebecca Traister, Craig Childs, Nicole Krauss, Lynn Shepherd, Emma Rathbone, Jonathan Franzen, and Neela Vaswani... or perhaps even a few special guests. Not only will we celebrate the books we've read, but we'll pay it forward right onto you!

We really hope you'll stop by, if only for a cheap drink and some witty banter, and quite possibly a great read for the weekend...


[tk] reviews

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Call me Ishmael

You lose credibility when explaining the plot of this great book you’re reading but you fail to remember the name of the main character. Was it Amanda? Ashley? Alison? And what was the last name? Williams? Walker? You must not be paying attention. Or maybe the hero has a forgettable name.

I understand authors writing about contemporary America feel the need to give their characters reasonable names. The name needs to make sense. Mike, John, Chris, Matt—all perfectly reasonable first names for twenty-something American male characters. But oh, so boring. I remember reading Elizabeth Strout’s Amy and Isabelle in college and feeling let down by the title characters’ names. Both beautiful names but something about them felt a little stale.

Call me old fashioned but I wish all characters could be crowned with names like, Ebenezer Scrooge, Huckleberry Finn, Miss Havisham or ‘Boo’ Radley. I never forgot those names. Or maybe I’m just nostalgic for children’s books. Isn’t Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh perfectly suited?

I’m not suggesting well chosen names have to be quirky. Charlie or Brown isn’t strange, but put them together and it clicks. Great names evoke the character without needing a description. Harry Potter: The name calls to mind a British bespectacled boy. Sometimes it seems the choice of great names must have been divine intervention. Edgar Rice Burroughs was going to name his most famous branch swinging character Zantar or Tublat-Zan until he stumbled upon the name Tarzan. Truman Capote was going to name his beloved character Connie Gustafson but then decided on Holly Golightly. Good thing.

You could argue that at the heart of a good character name is just a good character. True. But it makes me wonder, what if Moby Dick had just been called whale.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Politics of Fiction

On a recent date night my beau and I took in a showing of Jennifer Aniston’s new movie, The Switch. Anticipating lighter fare, I was shocked when, during the opening credits, the line “Based on the short story ‘Baster’ by Jeffrey Eugenides” flashed across the screen. I’m a big fan of both Eugenides and Aniston, but somehow seeing them in the same pop cultural arena was jarring.

As many people are probably now aware, when promoting the movie, Jenifer Aniston came under scrutiny from conservative news anchor Bill O’Reilly for supporting her character’s decision to be artificially inseminated and raise a child without the father. Her comment that “Women are realizing more and more that you don't have to settle, [you] don't have to fiddle with a man to have that child,” was met with O’Reilly’s claim that that mindset is “destructive to our society,”—a pretty bold claim even for someone known for bold claims.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I finally dug up Eugenides original story this past weekend, to find that it paints a considerably more controversial picture. In Eugenides’s tale, the female protagonist has aborted three naturally conceived children in her early adulthood. Furthermore, the male character played by Jason Bateman in the movie here knowingly switches his sperm in for the donor’s without any intention of raising the child. The last line of this male character’s narration muses on the fact that, after imagining for years what his child would like, now that he knows “I could only wave goodbye.”

Eugenides’s story was written a full fourteen years ago and didn’t sound the alarms for naysayers like poor J.A.’s comments did. Though the story first appeared in The New Yorker, which is a fairly liberal publication (it formally endorsed John Kerry in the 2004 election and Barack Obama in 2008), with a circulation of over a million copies in 2009, it can hardly be considered a niche market, or terribly extreme in its views. Is literary fiction just expected to push the envelope in fostering progressive ideas and thus free of criticism from the political commentators of the world? Is literature a full fourteen years ahead of the mainstream Hollywood film industry in terms of the issues it’s willing to tackle or, perhaps more importantly, that its consumers will let it tackle without backlash?

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Lost in a Sea of Words

This is my first blog post in well over a month, and I feel more than a little unsteady in my hands. Every Saturday for the last five weeks, I've set down at my computer to type something--desperately, anything--to no avail. I have been at a loss for words, part of a much larger malady: I've fallen out of love with reading and with writing, and I have no idea what to do with myself. For a woman who's spent her whole conscious life buried in books, and whose character has been shaped by that engagement with the written word, losing my love has had a jarring effect. It's as if I've become a broken glass, unable to hold what was so dear before.

There's a lot of reasons for this loss, both personal and professional. A divorce and three successive moves have overwhelmed me in certain ways, but equally true are the consequences of a decade spent in publishing. Something that once was a joy has become a burden--watching books come in, be published, fade away or find new life, but in either case constantly shadowed by the limitlessness number of titles marching up behind them. I look up at the shelves above my desk and instead of being thrilled by the variety of unread books, I can only think of how many months it would take to digest even one row--and that's without turning around and facing the three double-stacked bookcases behind me, or thinking of the extensive shelves at home.

This is not all bad, realizing my own reading mortality. There's a Wordsworth poem that I think of often, which begins: "The world is too much with us; late and soon / Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers." Like a lot of people, as evidenced by the slow food and minimalist movements, I'm taking stock of my own situation in the world and trying to learn to live with "enough." For my last move, I gave away 1/3 of my books, and am trying to prune even more now. I may, as Whitman says, contain multitudes, and perhaps part of my despair is a simple mental cry for clarity and slowness, a different way of dealing with this enormous world.

But it's the lack of desire, of passion at all, that saddens me. Reading now is like taking medicine, something done believing that it will make me better, not through any joy in the act itself. It's like making my bed, which always seemed incredibly pointless to me, until I realized that there was something--a great deal--to be said for making a place tidy each day, instead of climbing into and out disorder. There are acts we do to keep ourselves whole, even when that feeling of calm completeness seems so elusive.

It will come as no surprise to you, I imagine, as it surprised me not a twit to land recently on a book that described this all to me, my feeling of being at a loss in the world and so far from the beloved home that books had always created for me. Kathleen Norris's Acedia and Me delves into her own and others' experiences with acedia, a deep apathy and indifference to the world, a kind of soul-weariness. I'm halfway done, and while it hasn't brought me out of this particular place in myself, it's a comfort to have a companion along the way, and a voice that encourages faith in the midst of confusion.

I'm relying on friends as well, trying to draw their passions to replenish my own. I posted on Facebook on Friday, looking for suggestions and was heartened by the responses from friends, relatives, coworkers, and publishing acquaintances. People who understood both _why_ it mattered to lose my way with words, and also had advice for places to look for a balm for my broken heart. And what a cornucopia! Neil Gaiman, Kay Ryan, Anna Karenina, Jennifer Egan, What is the What, P.D. Wodehouse and Waugh and Alice Munro and a host of other authors and titles.

Typing that list now, I feel the flickerings of interest and the tendrils of desire unfurling a little. I'm not entirely ungrateful for this time of dispassion in my life, as it's required me to reflect on what I want and to make my way through these questions and confusions. I am finding that path slowly, but with determination: scrubbling through the underbrush, leaning on the love of others and their own abiding love of books, and depending finally on the words themselves to save me, as they have so many times before and for so many people besides myself.

Friday, September 10, 2010

New York Publishing Social Diary

I write today in quite a depressed state, because it's after Labor Day and our summer hours are officially over. My brain is conditioned to shut down at 1 p.m. on Fridays, and it's now 3:22 and reserves are I'm trying to distract myself by thinking of all the wonderful events that are scheduled for this weekend and next week. Thanks to Jess, we already know that it's the Brooklyn Book Festival this weekend, which is quite a highlight of the publishing year. There are events all day on Sunday, so check out their website to see when you can catch people like the Pauls (Krugman and Auster), John Ashbery, Lan Samantha Chang, Rosanne Cash, Mark Doty, Jennifer Egan , Naomi Klein, Mary Gaitskill, David Rakoff, and Gary Shteyngart (to name but just a few). And even if you don't go to an event, you can still peruse the offerings of numerous indie bookstores and presses, as well as publications, who all set up shop in Columbus Park.

There are several events tonight and tomorrow to kick off the festival, some of which Jess did mention yesterday. But, to recap:


  • The Brooklyn Indie Party at Greenlight Bookstore. It's a celebration of independent presses in Brooklyn, with everyone from Akashic to Archipegalo to Tin House to BOMB. Enjoy some free drinks and spinning by a variety of DJs while admiring the amazing creativity of this southern borough. (686 Fulton St., at S. Portland Ave. 7:30 p.m.)

  • Literary Pub Contest run by PEN America. A literary quiz night run by an admirable and worthy organization (which holds its own festival every year in the spring). There will be authors competing with you, and PEN will provide everything you need. Just bring your your (literal) book smarts and prepare for a knock-out fight. (St. Ann’s Warehouse, 38 Water St., 7–10 p.m.)


  • Litquake, New York's Third Annual Lit Crawl. Modeled on San Francisco's famous lit crawl, this is a citywide celebration. Three different phases of partying throughout the evening promise a night of enjoyable mayhem. Head to landmarks like KGB for Harper Perennial's literary trivia contest, or the White Slab Palace to see NBCC reviewers acknowledge their harsh words and grovel for forgiveness. It all ends up with a Paris Review-hosted bash and an afterparty at Fontana's on Eldridge Street. DOES IT GET ANY HIPPER THAN THIS? (Check the website,, for a complete schedule and locations for different events)

  • Genre Busters at Freebird Books. This Brooklyn institution is hosting a revue show with artists and authors who work in a genre to turn it on its head. There will be tons of readings and performances, Q&A, trivia, and food! (Freebird Books & Goods, 123 Columbia St., 8 p.m)

On Sunday you can nurse your hangover at the head hurts already. Look for us, as we'll be passing out special [tk] reviews bookmark invitations to the best party of all - our very own bash on Thursday, September 16th, at High Dive in Park Slope! (I gotta promote it again because it's going to be JUST THAT AMAZING):

Quinquennial Mayhem (a celebration of Issue V)!

September is a magical month. The first crispness of autumn descends; we get a three-day weekend; and the world is full of children, with their innocent shining faces, galloping happily back to school. This year, however, we love September for another reason: it brings with it the FIFTH ISSUE of [tk] reviews!

To that end, please join us to celebrate our small but mighty milestone at Park Slope's High Dive bar on Thursday, September 16th . For those who speak the password – [tk] reviews – there will be $2 High Life drafts, $3 Yuengling drafts, and a dollar off all other drinksfrom 7 to 10 p.m. We’ll have reserved tables, and the more culinarily adept among us will be bringing food.


Thursday, September 9, 2010

Brooklyn, The Beacon of Literature's Future

If you're in the New York area and literarily-minded, you've probably set aside part of your Sunday afternoon to attend part of the Brooklyn Book Festival, an all-day event celebrating authors, literature, and the new writing culture that has sprung up in the outer boroughs. This is far bigger than just a regional event: authors of national renown, best-sellers and critical darlings--Rosanne Cash, Michael Connelly, Jennifer Egan, Mary Gaitskill, Sam Lipsyte, to name just a few--will all be making appearances. To be brief, there's a lot of interest in this festival that goes way beyond the borough. And it’s especially worth noting if, like me, you’re not sure which neighborhood to turn to find the quintessential New York literary scene.

It seemed like all writers used to congregate on the island—prior to moving here, all the iconic images I consumed of New York had to do with the writers that lived here: Lillian Hellman, Woody Allen, Nora Ephron, J.D. Salinger, Norman Mailer, Edith Wharton, Henry James, ...even the presence of Hans Christian Andersen and the Alice in Wonderland/Romeo and Juliet/Prospero and Miranda sculptures on the literary walk in Central Park gave me the sense that all writers lived above the Bowery. Beyond that, the major long-form reporters made their mark here: sure, The New Yorker was never called The Manhattanite, but you’d never know it based on the coverage of its hey-day. There was, of course, a great deal of writing going on in Brooklyn at that time as well, but you couldn’t really call it a movement.

Then suddenly, in the past 10-15 years, the literary population of Brooklyn exploded. Famous writers brought their families to Brooklyn. Beautiful independent bookstores threw their doors open. Bars and restaurants started hosting open mike nights, sometimes to the point of incorporating libraries into their interior design. I had been warned away from Brooklyn by parents who remembered it back in the late-70s, who remembered crack vials and used condoms on the stone stoops of Park Slope. But looking into the charming windows off of Flatbush Avenue and seeing overflowing floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, it was hard to imagine what could be so scary about a borough that read so much.

In his ode to the old neighborhood, The Fortress of Solitude, Jonathan Lethem waxed nostalgic about the changes around him, saying “There were days when no kid came out of his house without looking around.” But that’s what New Yorkers have always been good at: bemoaning the thing that’s new for the thing that they remember as “good”. And it’s hard not to think that Lethem is privately pleased by the wave of gentrification that brought a wave of new people into his old neighborhood. (As a byproduct of that gentrification, he gets to be crowned the poet laureate of Brooklyn.)

Did I make a mistake when I relocated to Morningside Heights? Sure, I’ve got Book Culture nearby, but did moving away from Greenlight, Freebird, and BookCourt take away some of my cultural credibility? My apartment's not far from the literary haunts of James Baldwin, Langston Hughes, and Jean Toomer, but what're the chances that I'll bump into one of them buying groceries with their kids? Sure, Manhattan carries an incredible and unparalleled literary history, but Brooklyn is where new authors are coming from, where independent publishers are trying new methods of dispersing content, where designers and artists congregate at promotional events that feel like flash mobs compared to the cocktail launch parties of yesteryear. This goes back to the eternal conundrum of cultural consumption: do you go with the classics, or with the current? Brooklyn is definitely where it’s happening, and there’s something to be said for being just around the corner from the hot literary event of the weekend. Case in point: a fantastic kick-off party at Greenlight Bookstore tomorrow in Fort Greene, celebrating the boom of indie publishers, many of whom are based in Brooklyn. So many major names will be there, yet I hesitated ever so slightly to RSVP yes because the commute will take over half an hour. Wimpy? Yes, clearly—why bother living in New York if you’re not going to explore all that all the boroughs have to offer? And when a community emerges that proves culturally vibrant, shouldn’t we get over the problem of crossing the bridge?

So here I am, an Upper West Sider at heart, making the trek to Brooklyn to hang with all of you...after picking up five or six new lit-crushes this weekend, come join us for food, drinks, and general merriment to celebrate the FIFTH ISSUE of [tk] reviews!

To that end, please join us to celebrate our small but mighty milestone at Park Slope's High Dive bar on Thursday, September 16th. For those that speak the password--[tk]reviews-- there will be $2 High Life drafts, $3 Yuengling drafts, and a dollar off all other drinks from 7 p.m. 'til 10 p.m. We'll have reserved tables, and the more culinarily adept among us will even be bringing food.

We really hope you'll stop by, if only for a cheap drink and some witty banter. Reply to our Facebook page here, or email us at: Hope to see you there, no matter what borough you're from...

Monday, September 6, 2010

Party on Friday

All of us here at [tk] reviews are getting excited for the Brooklyn Book Fair next Sunday, and I'm particularly looking forward to the party at Greenlight Bookstore on Friday that will kick off the weekend. It's a party celebrating independent book and magazine publishers, including A Public Space, Akashic Books, Archipelago, Armchair/Shotgun, BOMB Magazine, Electric Literature, Hanging Loose Press, Ig Publishing, Melville House, One Story, powerHouse Books, and Tin House. I've recently met the people behind Armchair/Shotgun and I will be helping they do layout for their second issue. Check out how beautiful their first issue is:

Click here for more information about the event on Facebook.

See you there!