Sunday, October 14, 2012

My Crime Against the Seward Park NYPL Branch

Date: March 15, 2010
Author: David Rakoff
Venue: KGB
Neighborhood: East Village
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- yes
UE Check Number -- 890765

(David Rakoff died in August 2012)

 As my readings project went on, I got more and more broke. In 2008 when I was still relatively flush, I sometimes bought authors' hardcover books. I couldn't get them all because I was going to three or four readings a week, but sometimes, I splurged. When I did buy a hardcover, I sometimes got the author to sign it.
When my re-entry into the job market didn't happen, I switched to buying galleys. Galleys are like pre-books that publishers put out in advance of the real book's publication so reviewers and others can sample them. They fit nicely with my readings project because their distribution and readings are both usually part of a book's launch. I found that by knowing which authors were scheduled to read at local venues, I could often pick up their galleys at the Housing Works bookstore or the Strand in advance of their readings.

At first I was a little hesitant about asking authors to sign their galleys. An author could look at it like I'd gypped them out of some of their income by buying a three-dollar galley instead of a full-price hardback. One author, Brando Skyhorse, who I'd gotten to know a little, signed the galley of his brilliant book "The Madonnas of Echo Park" "To Brent, quit being a cheap bastard." I think he was joking.
What I did next with David Rakoff really pushed the boundaries of author-event propriety. I asked him to sign one of the New York Public Library’s copies of his latest book, the Thurber Prize winning “Half-Empty.” I had seen the copy of "Half-Empty" in the Seward Park branch on the day I was planning to go to Rakoff's reading. I checked it out. As I did, I thought that unless I chickened out, I could ask him to sign the library copy.

It always amazes me how much chance and the layout of a room can affect who you meet at readings. I had the Seward Park branch's copy of "Half-Empty" with me, but if somebody other than Sarah had been sitting next to me at the bar, I might not have pulled off the sign the library book move. Sarah, affectionately nicknamed "Blind Justice," at the bar because she is legally blind and is a lawyer, was sitting to my right at the bar during Rakoff's reading. After he finished, she told me she was a big fan of his and said she'd love to meet him.
I said, "Oh, I'll introduce you to him."

As we made our way through the crowd toward Rakoff, she asked me, "Do you know him?"
I said, "Well, not personally."

Fortunately, and again this is the kind of thing that depends totally on luck, Rakoff was between well-wishers when we reached him. After double checking that Sarah's name was Sarah, I introduced her to Rakoff. Then I introduced myself. I might have been chicken to thrust myself on Rakoff alone, but under the guise of doing Sarah a favor, it worked.

Toward the end of our conversation with Rakoff, I told him that I wanted to make a slight addition to literary history by having him sign a library copy of his book. He hesitated and said, "But won't you get in trouble?" I said, "No, it will be OK, because I've taped an index card into the front of the book. I'll just take it out when I return it."
Rakoff was game and he signed my copy of his book, adding, "Good Luck. Brent." I took the book back when it was due after I peeled the index card out of it. If you check the right copy the book out, you’ll notice the slight mark left by the scotch tape.

When I talked to Rakoff about this at a later reading, he said he didn't remember anything that happened the night he read at KGB because he'd had an MRI earlier that day. Apparently, they'd given him a drug that caused him to not be able to remember what happened the evening of the procedure.
But after I filled him in on his part in my project he said the signing of library books thing sounded like familiar. He asked me if I knew who Joe Orton was?

I replied, "The British playwright?" He said, "Yeah," and told me that Orton and his lover had gotten a first brush of public notice when they were arrested for defacing library books.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Dates With Hannah Tinti

Date: February 22, 2011
Author: Hannah Tinti
Venue: The Stone
Neighborhood: East Village
Celebs Present: Lou Reed, Laurie Anderson, Amy Hempel, A.M. Homes
Free Drinks -- none
Q & A -- none
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

I met Hannah Tinti about three years ago when she sat down next to me at the KGB bar. I asked her if she was a writer and she said she was. She told me her first name and I told her mine. We started chatting. Because of her youth and because on a given night, the fourteen-seat bar at KGB may well have eight or nine writers in the chairs, I figured she was some MFA student with maybe a half-finished novel on her computer. So I breezily started pontificating on some writing related topic or another. She had come to hear her friend Said Sayrafiezadeh read, so we probably talked about how great his "When Skateboards Will Be Free" is.
But then the reading started and a writer, not Said, took the podium.  I remembered hearing Hannah read from her novel "The Good Thief" at McNally Jackson a few weeks before. I was talking to Ren's mom!
At the next intermission, I tapped her on the shoulder and said, "I know your last name."
"No, you don't," she said.
"Yes, I do."
"What is it then?"
"Look, we're two people who've just met in a bar. No sense dragging our resumes into it," I said.
Hannah was fine with that and we talked a little more before she excused herself to go say hello to Said.
Meeting Hannah was like I'd sat down at a bar next to a young, black man with a bandana around his head and upon learning we were both guitar players, started telling him how I like to play my solos. But then I realize, half-way into the conversation, that I'm talking to Jimmy Hendrix.
I've gone to a lot of Hannah's readings since that first meeting when I'd just started this going to readings project and she's always been pleasant and gracious. Well, I am a One Story subscriber, but even beyond that, it is fitting that as this "In the Front Row, On the Dole" thing winds down, I do a post about Hannah.
She's probably been wondering why I haven't. I've got the "My Date with Jonathan Galassi" and the "My Date with Andre Aciman" posts so Hannah's is overdue. Maybe it took a while, Hannah, but your post is the first with a poem. 

Hannah Writes All Night

Hannah writes all night.
At the Stone
the new kid, shot in the back.
Oh, for testosterone’s tumult
she has the knack.

Hannah writes all night.
Sure, we were getting bored
us boys, stuck with a dick.
Filling bottles at crazy angles,
changing size like an accordion’s
a neat enough trick,
but Ren makes it fun
to have a prick.

Watch out, Lou Reed.
Step back, Laurie Anderson.
Hannah’s breaking out the uke.
The loveliest thing in a gal
makes Hannah the best kind of pal
before we perish in a ring of desire
Hannah writes all night
and her boys take us higher.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Upswing in Police Beatings Key to New Optimism in Ukraine

Date: June 28, 2012
Authors: "Voices of the Financial Times" featuring Simon Kuper and Emily Stokes
Venue: Book Thug Nation
Neighborhood: Williamsburg
Free Drinks -- Six-Point in cans
Q & A -- none
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

"A good way to get despondent is to look at Ukrainian statistics."

"It's an excellent sign that Ukrainians continue to report police beatings."  

 --- Financial Times, Simon Kuper's "Opening Shot" column, June 23/24

Was feeling blue again. Tossed newpaper with report on grain output into trash. Headed to bar to get loaded. Saw cop beating old lady. Saw cop steal old lady's loaf of black bread. Drank two quick vodka shots. Found dime in dust under bar. Dropped dime into Soviet-era pay phone to report attack. Lost dime. Drank two more vodka shots. Stumbled out of bar to go to police station to report beating of old lady.

Cop car pulled over as I crossed Taras Shevchenko Square. Cops broke four of my fingers in attack. Other injuries.

Pulled myself up out of gutter. Spirits soared. Had second attack to report. Stopped at next bar. Used bar coasters to staunch bleeding from head. Didn't use newspaper lying on bar because feature story was about increased productivity of Black Sea fisheries. Must keep spirits up. 

Left bar to drag ass to police station. Saw police attack neo-Nazi skateboarders with trucheons. Be still my joyous heart.

Cops saw me, beat me. Ambulence medics said to leave bar coasters on head. Important not to rip off scabs from first atttack to ensure quicker healing from second beating.

Saw Hordiy at next bar. Hordiy said coasters imbedded in my head will make excellent resting place for his Baltica beer bottle once he has a few vodka shots. Buys two for me.

Half-crawled out of bar with three police attacks to report, two on me and old lady's. Between free vodka shots, Hordiy's half-full Baltica beer bottle sticking to my head on coasters with drying blood from second attack, if sober, would have jumped for joy. Staggered, instead. Am estatic to have Hordiy's Baltica bottle stuck in head as evidence of second police atttack. Broken fingers will prove first attack. Missing loaf of black bread, wounds, will prove attack on crone, probably lived through Great Patriotic War.

Difficulty walking, but heart swollen with happiness. Head swollen, too. Glad Hordiy's Baltica bottle not sticking out of heart. Plan to burst into police station just as cops are eating old lady's loaf of black bread. Will immediately issue drunken denunciation of police for stealing old lady's bread. Will not forget to report attack on her.

Excellent opportuntiy to witness, and report, likely third police attack as result of reporting other attacks. Picture vodka shots to be consumed upon release from hospital after wounds heal from third (police station) attack. Though recent Ukraine law requires hospitals to post mortality rates at each bedside, plan to not read them. Must keep spirits up.

Wondered about stats citing high rates of despondency among fellow citizens despite having so many attacks to report.  Will ask hospital to save Hroidy's beer bottle and contents in case new tractor factory report issued or police attacks decline. Must keep spirits up.

Plan to maintain good mood even when government releases latest reported police attack totals. Proud to have contributed to likely upswing, as repeat beating victim and witness. Surviving Great Patriotic War no joke. Won't sweat police report stats. Won't sweat coaster residue in hair. Hospital will probably lose Hordiy's Baltica bottle and contents. Must keep spirits up.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Gideon's Mom Has Got It Goin' On

Keith Gessen Preps For Artic Trip, Scribe to Forego Sauna, Gym, Locally Sourced Produce: Former Slum Goddess of the Lower East Side, Marco's cousin, Emily Carter, now in New Haven.

Row, Dole covers N+1 Lollapalooza like a pilgrim on his knees except for bike part and #6 train ride.

Date: June 26, 2012
Authors: Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Marco Roth, N+1 lauch event for the summer issue #14, "The Arkward Age" with Dushan Petrovich,Yelena Akhtiorskaaya and editor Keith Gessen.
Venues: 192 Books, KGB
Neighborhoods: Chelsea, East Village
Free Drinks -- beers distributed to friends and family by Marco, but not enough for entire audiece. One Baltica buy-back from Lou at KGB.
Q & A -- no, mill-around substituted by 192 Books event authors
Book signed -- no  
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

"Jews and culture,
Jews and culture,
Any time or weather,
You can't have one
without the other."

-- tune of "Love and Marriage"

At 192 Books last Tuesday night, after I'd been talking with Ellen Lewis, the mother of one of the authors, Gideon Lewis-KrausS, I introduced myself to her son and said, "I'm hitting on your mom."
"Go for it," he said. "She's single."

It was all glib, of course, but I'd always wanted to chat with someone who knew where Elberon, N.J. is. Ellen's grandparents lived there.

I joked that after I'd been hanging out at her house in Bernardsville, N.J., Gideon would walk through the living room and say, "Mom, who's that guy that's been sleeping on the couch the last few months?"
"I thought he was a friend of yours?" Ellen would say. 

So many threads of my going to readings project combined Tuesday night that I felt like my head was going to explode. Way back, say 6 pm, before the 35 instances of kismet occurred, I just wanted to run into the novelist Josh Cohen at Gideon's reading at 192 Books. I'd met both young writers when Josh read at KGB a few months ago.

Josh and I are both from cities in New Jersey with boardwalks and have family members who were in the Shoah. Me, by marriage, Josh, by parentage. He was a great audience for my stories about being a gentile son-in-law in a family of surviors.

Example One:  "Selling communications devices to survivors and their families is like selling candy-flavored liquour to kids. Both tap into primordial urges."

Example Two:  "I told the writer Andre Aciman, author of the brillant memoir, "Out of Egypt," how handy this book of his is in maintaining my status as the preferred gentile son-in-law. Maybe preferred is too strong, let's say equally tolerated. My competition, my brother-in-law, is younger, richer and better-looking. The only way I can keep up  with this guy is by repeating a performance based on the final chapter of Andre's memoir, "The Last Seder." 
This bit, if  slightly scripted by now, repeats what happened the first time I read the first few paragraphs of the section. I cried. Andre's book is about his family's expulsion from Alexandria in the early 1960s. Anti-semitism had something to do with it. My brother-in-law is a Harvard law grad. I also started bawling when the father in Andre's novel "Call Me By Your Name" discusses his son's gayness with him. If Raun gets appointed to the Supreme Court, I'll have to add the part from the novel to my reportiore. 

I'd enjoyed talking with Ellen before the reading. After Gideon's hilarious and profound 12-minute recitation from his new book, "A Sense of Direction," I wanted to talk to her even more. Gay husband, gifted writer son, Elberon, the UK, the Ukraine, that is, this is a lady I could dig a chin wag with.

Beyond that, although Josh was absent, the whole audience at 192 Books, made up mostly of friends and family members of the authors was just the kind of listeners and readers I'm trying to reach. I felt like I'd been invited to Ellen's house for Thansgiving dinner and it had been a good party.  

There are two things you need to grow and to mature as an artist. People who expose you to works of art and people who are an appropriate audience for your own work, who get your jokes. The people who have performed both of these vital roles in my life have always been predominently, though not exclusively, Jewish. I want to say thank you.

When I was sixteen and hanging out at my doubles partner's house in Elberon, I asked his friend, a jazz flute player, "Who should I listen to if I want to get into jazz?"  He said, "There's this trumpet player, Miles Davis. Check out this record of his "Kind of Blue." Thank you, Nathan.

I don't mean to idealize the 192 Books audience. They did scarf up all the beers, but Marco was giving them out so I can't blame the audience members.

I'm not bitter about Marco overlooking me in the beer distribution part of his reading. I'm sure if he could have, he would have done a "loaves and fishes" thing, but he couldn't turn two six-packs into a case.

If Josh had been there, Marco would probably have given him a beer. But that would have been OK with me. Talent has its prerogatives. I would as much object to Marco giving Josh a beer instead of me as I would have raised a fuss that time Susan Sontag cut the line to get into the Mary McCathy memorial.

At the 192 Books reading, Marco said that instead of an arkward question and answer session, people could just hang out after he read (he went second) and ask the authors whatever they wanted. The excerpt from his soon-to-be-published memoir, "Misimpressions," like Gideon's, was partially about a trip and having a dad who might have been gay. Both writers killed.

I don't remember the last line Marco read, but it was a perfect conclusion. Patti Smith said a rock concert should be like a prizefight; it should end with a knockout. That's a good rule for readings, too. Whatever that last line of Marco's was, it rang in the momentary silence of the bookstore like a perfect last note.

Ditching the questions and answers at readings isn't a bad idea though when I went to Marco's cousin's reading at Word bookstore a few months ago, I asked a good one. Marco's cousin is the writer Emily Carter, who read that night from her reissued classic "Glory Goes and  Gets Some."
I loved Emily's fictional stories of Lower East Side depravity, so familiar a mise en scene as to be practically Currier & Ives. Who hasn't stolen tips off the bar to buy drugs? Anybody ever heard of punk rock? "Why don't you learn to dance, you limey bastards" and so on. I wonder if Johnny Thunders was Jewish?

I asked Emily in her post-reading questions and answers period if she was sad about the Mars Bar closing. She said she was, though I think  she added that most of the Mars Bar era was after her down and out on the Lower East Side period.

We chatted in front of the store when she went out for a smoke. I was going to try to stay in touch with her, but she was living in Minneapolis and even though the St. Paul writer Trish Hampl is my artistic goddess, the Twin Cities seem far away. Well, if I can't get adopted by Gideon's family, I can always try Marco's. Maybe I'll even get a beer at Marco's next reading when his book comes out in the fall. It will probably be at Housing Works or McNally Jackson. If I sit next to Emily, I bet I could get one.

N+1 Lollapalooza Tour Stop #2 -- KGB

After I left 192, I went to KGB to catch the tail end of the other N+1 event that night, the launch of its latest issue. I got there too late for the reading itself, but I did run into Keith Gessen, like Marco, an N+1 founder.

The coincidences, or cosmic concurrences, continued at KGB because I first met Keith at Emily's reading. Of course, I pitched him about my Row, Dole thing to no particular avail. You don't ever want to have a conversation with an editor in which it seems you want something. I used to do that, before I met Ellen, my new Trojan Horse. 

The only time I ever got this right was with my acquaintance, Cheston, the managing editor at Tin House. I told him about a story I wrote, "Passing for 62" that is about a topic of mutal interest (tennis, sort of). I said it was already published on somebody else's site (Mr. Beller's Neighborhood) and that he should check it out.

This is the way to go, as opposed to groveling and begging, because the story is already published so whatever editor you're blabbing about it to, doesn't have to do anything. He can just check it out or not. It is a much easier email to send saying, "looked at it, liked it" than "pretty good, not right for us." Plus, the editor doesn't even have to send the first email, though he might feel sending the second one is the least he can do for the poor schmuck with the going to readings project.

Keith told me about his upcoming trip across the lower, recently melted, Artic. He pointed out that his trip would be less work than Ian Frazier's trip across Russia by a lot.

The funny thing that happened when I was talking to Keith was
I quoted the story about Joseph Brodsky's poem addressed to Ukrainians on the eve of their independence to him without realizing that I learned it from a New Yorker story he wrote.

Well, I hope you were flattered, bro, because Lore Segal (see earlier post) told me I was a good reader. And even though my main connection to Russia and the Ukraine is that my paunch is from drinking Baltica at KGB, it was a good story and I remembered it.

Incidentally, Segal is a writer who escaped Hitler in the kinder transport thing. She played AAA hockey in Massachusetts and said "If Gessen could skate better, he could be more than an enforcer." She is a special lady, a gifted writer, and was a pal of  the writer Alfred Kazin, who, like Ellen's kid, Gideon, was one of these writer-walker dudes.

Not too many people know it, but Segal also played drums on the early Heartbreakers' records so Emily's "Glory Goes and Gets Some" milieu is familiar to her, too.

Last Tuesday night I was "In the Front Row, On the Dole" and things just clicked. Sorry you missed it, Josh. And I hope KEITH GESSEN  ticks off your Google Alert, bro.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Genre or Respectable?

Date: May 31, 2012
Authors: “Laughter in the Dark: The Comedy of Noir” with Brian Evenson, Tim Horvath and Bradford Morrow
Venue: McNally Jackson
Neighborhood: Soho
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A --  yes
Book signed -- yes, albeit a galley
UE Check Number -- benefits long gone, how you supposed to monetize these blog things?

While the extremely gracious Brian Evenson was signing my galley after this reading, I asked him and the other two authors as well because they were in earshot, whether their stuff, this comic noir category, was genre or was it respectable?
"Neither" answered Tim Horvath right away and I was happy to have amused the authors because, in a way, they are a key audience for my going to readings project.
I'll be breaking some new ground in this post because in addition to a review of the reading, I'm going to include a sample of a comic noir story. Hey, maybe I'm a comic noir writer and not as I've come to suspect, an editorial cartoonist who can't draw.
But, first, the trouble with this otherwise excellent reading was that it went on too long.
Evenson started off by reading a snippet from one of his older books and the title story of his new book "Windeye." I'd heard him read this story at KGB the previous Sunday night and it only got better the second time around. Everything in the piece is kind of spare and innocent on the surface with about 15 kinds of dread lurking underneath.
The second reader was Tim Horvath. He read the last half or two-thirds of  a story from his new collection “Understories.” He is an engaging reader, the story was compelling for most of its 20-minute or more length, though I thought it did bog down toward the end, but it lasted too long.
The beginning of the story mentioned riots in three cities, one of them, Hoboken. I seem to have missed that riot during the reading. But to be fair to Horvath, the fun and the limitation of hearing an author read his work is that you're probably going to miss some stuff, so while I think it's OK to review the reading as a reading, any final, critical pronouncement should include access to the text, which Row, Dole doesn't have. I am a big fan of riots in Hoboken.
By the time this comic noir evening's entertainment ended, I was squirming in my chair. And I loved these authors and their presentation and material were really good.
The night's third reader was Bradford Morrow. He read a duet story from his new book "The Uninnocents." Evenson helped out by reading the second voice in the story.
It is an excellent story and Row, Dole is mildly proud to be the only audience member to have sat through the thing twice, having heard Morrow read it a few months ago at 192 Books with novelist Benjamin Hale helping out with the second voice.
During the questions and answers period, Morrow and the other authors took turns saying things about who this second voice is and their comments were really illuminating as, along with those of us in the audience, they tried to describe Morrow's shifting, Trickster-like, second fiddle. 

Not Ready For It

I don’t know what kind of hair will have grown under my doormat until I check every morning. Most often, it is brown hair. That is the way of the world. But I don’t mean to not give brown hair, its due. There are so many different kinds of brown hair that it is almost like brown hair itself, without even getting any help from blonde hair, black hair and red hair, contains the entire, laughably broad spectrum of hair color, though, of course, some mornings these other colors can also be found on the underside of the mat.

I hope it doesn’t sound unenlightened to say that as far as the eyeballs that float to the surface of the pool every morning, swaying like a carpet in the breeze, I prefer those mornings when they are blue. Just as with the hair that grows under the doormat every evening, there can be so many varieties of brown eyeballs bobbing in the pool that if there were only brown eyeballs, I would never get tired of them. But to come upon a pool full of blue eyeballs, I don’t know, blue eyeballs just go better with the chlorine smell. Just as red hair and blonde hair are less common, so, too, is blue the rarest eye color.

If I were a man who preferred blonde hair having grown during the night on the underside of my doormat and who preferred to find only blue eyeballs bobbing in his pool, I might not have a leg to stand on.

But because only one of these things is true you must believe me when I say that my preference for blue eyeballs is only an aesthetic choice.

I have an old-fashioned milk box that sits just to the side of my doormat. I don’t know why there is a kidney in it every morning. The growth of the hair, the floating of the eyeballs, these are normal, organic things compared to the way the kidneys appear.

The hair grows each night. The eyeballs bob to the surface by morning. These are natural processes that I can somewhat understand, not that our science is can explain every part of how they appear.

The kidneys are something else. Someone puts them there. Milk boxes after the demise of milkmen or even when they were around, do not grow a kidney every night by themselves. I don’t know if these are starter kidneys meant to make sure there is a new kidney every morning until the milk box can grow its own. I’ve only lived in this house for four years. Maybe someone had to seed the underlining of the doormat or the bottom of the pool, or wherever the eyeballs germinate from, until the process became self-sustaining.

I hope that is what is going on with the kidneys I find every morning in the purely decorative milk box. I wish I knew where to lodge a request that if and when the kidney appearance program starts to run on its own, it produces kidneys that don’t come with the messy entry points for the renal vein and the renal artery. Even if I could get used to finding a kidney in my milk box every morning, these dripping openings would still gross me out.

The kidneys disturb me. I don’t get the kidneys the way I get the hair and the eyeballs. Maybe it’s a generational thing. The people from the World War II era didn’t like rock and roll. The rock and roll people don’t like hip-hop.

There’s no sense worrying about who will live in this house when I’m gone or what kind of body part they will have to adjust to the appearance of every morning.

Whatever organ or tissue it is, it will probably be difficult for them. To them, it will probably seem silly to be upset by living here in the early days of the kidney seeding project, if that is what it is going on in my milk box.

It does seem like the deeper in the body that the organ comes from, the harder it is to integrate it into my daily routine. Maybe this is wrong thinking on my part, although of a different sort than my preference for hair that isn‘t brown, maybe it is some other prejudice. But, for now, at least, the kidneys come from too far inside. I’m not ready for it.

I’m not ready for hearts and lungs either. But I’ll tell you one thing, I’d like to have some say in what part of the house or grounds they start appearing in if they come. Granted, it will be a difficult transition anyway, but shouldn’t I have some say in where I have to see them every morning? After all, they come from really far inside. I don’t like to even think my body is that thick. I’m not ready for it. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Jonathan Galassi, Andre Aciman, "Across the Great Divide," Tiny Bathing Suits and the Left-Hander's Advantage in the Ad Court --

Date: April 19, 2012
Author: Jonathan Galassi
Venue: 192 Books
Neighborhood: Chelsea
Lit Celebs in Attendance: Wayne Kostenbaum
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A --  yes, but I chickened out
Book signed -- no  
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

First of all, let's remember that I am the book critic for Long Island Tennis magazine so when I, in the course of this wide-ranging essay, address Jonathan Galassi's reading two weeks ago, the death of musician Levon Helm, the advantages of being a lefty in tennis and why people younger than 60 shouldn't even bother having sex, that on the tennis parts, at least, I am a recognized authority.

Galassi's reading from his new book of poetry "Left-handed" was at 192 Books.  It happened to fall on the day rock musician Levon Helm died, but I didn't learn about that until later. 

A few months ago I was at 192 Books waiting for a reading to start and I read a passage in somebody's book about how Helm's bandmate, the then 17-year old Robbie Robertson rode a bus for two days from his home around Toronto to live with Helm's family in Arkansas. This was the beginning of the collaboration that resulted in the Band. Robertson found himself in a new environment. He'd never met many Americans, and now he was hanging around and playing music with white and black Southerners.

The story I read on that previous visit to 192 Books said the Band's song "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" was Robertson's thank you note and love song to Helm and his family and the culture of the American South they introduced him to. But on subsequent visits to the store, I was never able to find the book I'd read this passage in. Still, evanescent as that page in whatever book it was became, I hadn't forgotten it when I got to 192 Books for Galassi's reading. For me, all stories and evocations of the South, including those that note or celebrate positive aspects of the Confederacy, are always linked to the Southerner in my family, my daddy, Theodore Howard Shearer.

So when I was at 192 for the Galassi reading two weeks ago, and 192 Books employee Patrick was playing some Band songs, I was already primed for a deep emotional experience before Galassi read from his sublime book of poems "Left-handed" or before I'd learned about Helm's death.

Because I always get to readings too early like a doofus, I'd spent about a half hour in the park just up Tenth Avenue from 192, where, since it was April, I'd been able to sit on a bench and watch cherry blossoms drift down. Oh, mortality, Oh, the evanescence of passages in books we can no longer locate. Oh, the treachery of bookstores that are willing to, and might have, sold the book I wanted to revisit the story about "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" in. 

My father, who died in 1980, said upon Jimmy Carter's election, that it was nice to have a president without an accent. Between my thoughts about him, the Band songs Patrick played, the blossoms coating the paving stones in Clement Clark Moore Park and Galassi's poems, I found myself, again, in some kind of state of aesthetic overload. After all, from whom do we learn what it is to be a man, if not from our fathers?

For previous generations of dads, perhaps my own, their response to the news that their son has switched from loving women (right-handedness in Galassi's metaphor) to loving men (left-handedness), might not be greeted with joy, but that is part of the reason that some men come to their left-handedness later than others. Galassi's poems about coming out later than most, earlier than some, would be strong whenever he published them.
But because the book was released this year, when Galassi was 62, presumably sparked by events that took place when he was in his late fifties, they are tinged with an appreciation of his own mortality as they chronicle his change in sexual affiliation.

"I want spring to come because
I want upheaval, flooding
the excitement of the primal rite.
And I don't want spring to come
because it means another, one less spring."

I don't know what the first sign was for Galassi that he was becoming interested in men, but for a former friend of mine's family, it was when their dad started wearing tiny bathing suits  to the beach. As I first listened to, and later read, the poems in "Left-handed," I wondered why it isn't uncommon for a man to switch in the direction Galassi has, but how you never, or rarely, hear about a man switching from being a lefty to a righty. For a lot of people, some obvious answers to this question may exist. By now, I've moved on to a secondary question, which may also suggest some obvious answers, namely, why is the frequently, younger person, who inspires the switch, always so cute?

To have listened to Galassi read his poems, with the faint echo of the two or three Band songs played before the reading started, only underlined the linkage of my own mortality and my version of the search for love and sex that Galassi addresses in "Left-handed." Some of us geezers are still seeking love even as our contemporaries, our heroes, are dying. "Kill the Rock Stars" was a perfectly fine name for a record label in the eighties, but even more deadly for our generation's heroes than regular rock star debauchery and drug use is the passage of time.

What is more central than sexual desire and the fear of death , more human than to seek out some small respite from the onrush of death, now all the closer since these age spots have popped up on my hands. What is more touching than the process of seeking out new love, either as a righty or a lefty, when you know your chances of achieving the moments of illumination it provides are becoming fewer and fewer. "The Last Waltz" is only a couple of dances from now, certainly. 

So you could hardly find a reader more attuned than me to Galassi's theme, one of them, anyway, of late middle-aged desire.  As I think about it, the enhancing effect of being close to death while still seeking out love and trying to find a place for the fulfillment of desire is almost the only thing that matters.
"Left-handed" is a tour de force description of the painful change the author went through. For all of us who are Galassi's age, it is less a question of righty v. lefty, though that brings its own challenges, but how do you make peace with the knowledge that there's going to be a last love and it might have already happened?

And even if it hasn't, surely we aren't going to get too many more attempts and this bittersweet knowledge is only reinforced by cherry blossoms falling off trees and the songs Patrick played before the reading. At what point does the pursuit of love for us geezers become a lost cause, more suitable for being turned into myth as the waning days of the Confederacy were in "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" than for realization ?

Maybe we can meet people and socialize, but it all takes place against an unseen, but omnipresent Lenten background of purple and black with the difference that although this is Palm Sunday, Easter will be the end. The cherry blossoms will fall from the trees in Clement Clark Moore Park next April, make sure you check them out if I miss them.

What readings should I go to this last, this holy week? In any case, why would anyone bother seeking love or sex if they have decades more to frolic in, what would be the rush, it's beyond me now, though this isn't an insight I had at a younger age, oddly.

But now that Levon Helm and sax man Clarence Clemmons, who I actually hung out with decades ago and had hoped to meet again, have died, there's little sense in not making some effort, however feeble (I know I'll write about it on my blog that nobody but Lou and Chris reads.), to connect with other "rock stars" while you guys are still around. These men are my contemporaries who as Galassi's poems make clear, it would be easy to miss for the same reason I'm never going to be able to amuse Clarence with my story about how he brought us all back from that bar in Deal, in the seventies to hang out with him at his apartment in Sea Bright.

So that's why I'm inviting Galassi, Jimmie Atlas, Andre Aciman, and Sven Birkerts to play in a doubles tennis match at my home court in Tribeca. Any tennis court and some other sports settings are one place, lefties have big advantages. Don't forget, I'm likely to be right about the tennis parts of this essay, my daddy taught me how to play. I know Atlas plays tennis, Andre used to, whether or not Birkerts or Galassi plays doesn't really matter much because my court in Tribeca is also an excellent place to drink outdoors on warm summer nights while contemplating the nearby Woolworth Building. And if booze has left an potential guest's life, we can always admire the city's prettiest skyscraper and compare notes on Lipitor doses.

You might ask how Birkerts earned his invite. He is, among other things, an out-of-towner. It is because as I assemble this DreamTeam of readers, I have to get some man to pinch hit for Andre. No, it’s not your second serve, bro. It's because Andre didn't grow up here. So the bits about the dull, green T-shirts young women wore in the seventies and the blue, plastic diaprahgm boxes found in their dorm rooms and off-campus apartments, along with copies of "Our, Bodies, Our Selves," will be lost on him. If I had to choose between perfect French and knowledge of the infield fly rule, well, it's an obvious choice, but I'll need sometimes to substitute someone as a fourth for this match-up who knows why there's no point letting the ball drop with a runner on base when the batter pops it up.
Birkerts will also be a better audience than Andre for my story about going to see the Band in 1969 at Madison Square Garden. It snowed that night and to have been 17 and loose on Eighth Avenue, well, you guys get the idea, right? Birkert's essay about the time he played his guitar for a much more accomplished musician is a reminder that there was nothing bigger than being a "guitar hero" for those of us who came of age in this country in the seventies.
One of the first and funniest boomer generation evocations of decline and the presence of death was the Firesign Theater skit about members of the Dead and the Airplane in an old age home arguing about some important topic from our prime years, whose drugs were best, whose groupies the more comely. This was a skit from our long-gone years in which desire was unfettered by mortality.
Google Alerts, do your damnedest. Feed my ideal readers' heads and don't doubt for a moment that because all the big points tend to come up on the ad (left) side of the court, a lefty's slice serve nearly always produces better results than a righty's. I say this, ex cathedra, with the full authority of  my position as the book critic for Long Island Tennis magazine.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Lower Manhattan Man, Readings Enthusiast, Begins Final Training Phase For PEN Conference –

New York, New York ( 29 April 2012) – Brent Shearer, 57, the Lower Manhattan resident who has gained notoriety as a literary gadfly, held a press conference at Soho’s McNally Robinson bookstore in response to media requests for an update on his training regimen in preparation for the PEN conference.

“I’m tapering off on my time actually listening to readers even though I have continued to adhere to my grueling schedule of going to readings in these last few weeks before the conference. I think this is the best approach because this way I don’t lose my rhythm of getting to the events on time. 

“The point is that by not listening to the readings while I’m there, but still going to them, I think I have achieved pretty much the literary equivalent of the lift that “blood doping” gives runners. I expect to be able to pay better attention to readers at the conference because I’ve spent the last three weeks not listening to writers who have read their works at local venues such as the KGB bar or the Housing Works Café, not to mention our hosts this afternoon.”

Shearer also addressed other concerns raised by the press and the public in the run-up to the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, starting in New York next week.

Shearer, the author of the best-selling memoir, “In the Front Row, On the Dole,” the story of a man who lost his job and started his now-legendary going-to-readings project, which  resulted in first place finishes in the PEN competition the last two years, also said, “The new testing rules don’t scare me. I’ve never used any banned substances in my preparation for the PEN conference. Anyone who wants my urine or tissue samples is welcome to them.”

While reluctant to exactly spell out how he manages to attend so many readings, while piling up  the highest per reading scores in the history of the PEN conference. Shearer did say the following in response to questions about whether he was changing anything this year in his going to readings technique.

“A lot of times the margin of victory comes down to how well you can coordinate your use of the city’s mass transit system to hit as many readings as possible to pile up points. Cabs have some utility but if there’s a lot of traffic, forget it. A bike would be good, but I’m scared to ride in heavy traffic so it limits my use of this mode of transport. 

“Being from New Jersey is actually an advantage because in addition to having to know the city’s transit structure as well as natives, I also bring to the table my knowledge of the PATH system. It will surprise people, but often the best way to get from one PEN event to another, say if it’s a question of getting from say “Death in Spring”and “The Time of Doves” at the Cuny Graduate Center, near Herald Sq to “A Thousand Deaths Plus One”  at the New School, NYU or anywhere else in the West Village, is on the PATH.

Shearer also touched on what has been called his “sharp-elbowed” approach to getting the most “mike time” during the questions and answers period that follows many PEN readings. “It’s hard to do well in the PEN competition if you don’t get the bonus points awarded to frequent questioners. They provide a cushion to compensate for the inevitable screw-ups when you get held up on a train or stuck in traffic in a cab so if that means resorting to techniques like unplugging the mike on the other side of the auditorium so I can squeeze in a second question, well, you might have noticed there’s a big gap between first and second place prize money.”

Shearer responded to criticism of his practice at last year’s event of sitting in the “empty” chair customarily placed on the stage at PEN events to draw attention to imprisoned writers. “The symbolic impact of these damm chairs occurs only at the start of the reading when the moderator makes the same canned speech noting the their significance. Once the reading starts, it should be every man for himself. Those on-stage stairs allow the readings competitor the best access to panelists during the questions and answers session and often the quickest egress from venue. I’m sure the imprisoned writers, once they get mentioned, could care less who sits in their chairs during the readings.”

Shearer also said the controversy about professional audience members accepting “guarantees” to attend particular authors’ readings was, in his mind, a non-issue. “I feel as much as anyone that it isn’t an official reading if I’m not there. But these rumors of appearance fees for leading competitors are easily dismissed. If you are tying to win the whole event, you can’t let your schedule be affected by the kind of small change payments that we are rumored to be receiving.”

In response to a reporter's question, Shearer reacted to criticism that the conference’s competition should not allow competitors to merely skip, as Shearer does, events which are wholly or partially conducted in languages other than English. 

“To make this point is more evidence of the hypocrisy of the event’s organizers. I don’t see them scheduling any non-English events at any of the main venues with the best-known writers. They avoid this because they want people to come, want to sell tickets. It’s obvious that the few, relatively, paid events help subsidize the majority of the events which are free and open to the public." 

"When the organizers schedule Salman Rushdie and an otherwise all Filipino slate of authors presenting their work in Tagalog, then they can talk about penalizing competitors who attend only English events," he said.

Monday, April 16, 2012

"I Ride An Old Paint"

Dispatch From The East Fourth Street Crypto-Cowboy Jubilee

Date: March 15, 2012
Authors: Nick Dybek, Claire Vaye Watkins
Venue: KGB
Agents and other Lit. Celebs: Julie Barer, Colson Whitehead
Neighborhood: East Village
Free Drinks -- Depends on Lou's Mood
Q & A -- no
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

When Colson Whitehead walked into the bar, early, for the reading, I thought that guy looks like the novelist Colson Whitehead. But then I thought, nah, what are the chances? When I saw agent Julie Barer come in and sit down with him, I thought, “Oh, pretty good.”
Still, just to make sure I was going to embarrass myself with the right people, I asked a woman who I'd seen chatting with Julie if her friend was the well-known agent. She said she was. Then I said, "Oh, so who's that guy she's sitting with? It was already kind of crowded and noisy in the bar so the only part of my informant's answer I heard was "white." I replied, "No, the black guy."
A little later, I did go over and introduce myself to Colson and Julie and I think I made the conversation brief enough so that I didn't embarrass myself.
I didn't mention that I wrote a play "Mr. Charlie is Down With the Wu Tang Clam" based on Colson's N.Y. Times op-ed that came out right after Obama's election. Colson's story was a tongue-in-cheek take on the post-racial America that some commentators said Obama's inauguration ushered in. The whole concept of a post- racial America, which I riff off in my play, has gotten a lot less funny with the death of Trayvon Martin.
Of course, the main subject of this blog is who I met and what we talked about at readings, but I do want to mention the writers from last night.
I've always imagined a show-down, battle of the bands kind of reading between the two gifted Nevada novelists I knew about before last night. You'd have Charles Bock, the author of "Beautiful Children," representing Las Vegas against Willy Vlautin representing Reno.
What Hannah Tinti said about Willy's work is absolutely true: he breaks your heart. (I know I've been promising my reader the "My Date With Hannah Tinti post. Don't worry it's upcoming and will include Row, Dole’s first poem.)
But now that I’ve heard last night’s first reader, Claire Vaye Watkins, I realize there’s another gifted Nevada novelist. She read a piece whose title might have been "Razor Blade Baby" that really was kind of like Denis Johnson and sounded brilliant.
The second reader, Nick Dybek, Julie’s client, also rocked the house, reading a short and dramatic section from his new novel “When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man.”
Sometimes I think if I've only heard a story once and not read it, it shouldn't be the sole critical foundation to judge a writer by. Maybe so, but last night at KGB, both writers gave great performances and easily accomplished one thing that a reading is supposed to do, make the listener seek out the book.
Continuing the night's Southwestern motif, filmmaker Bernadine Santistevan sat down at my table between Claire and Nick’s readings. We talked for a while after the reading was over.
Bernadine is from a tiny town in northern New Mexico. Her family are descendants of Sephardic Jews who fled the Inquisition in Spain and moved to Mexico. But then the Inquisition crossed over to Mexico and they moved to what is today northern New Mexico. They hid their Jewishness and spoke some kind of Ladino-inflected Spanish. Fast forward four hundred years and now when Bernadine goes to Mexico or Spain, people have trouble understanding her Spanish.
I love these stories about largely forgotten linguistic pockets like the survival of 18-century English usage in hidden corners of Appalachia.
Bernadine told me a story about how us poor authors are always trying to gauge the effect of our work on readers.
When Bernadine went to the KGB ladies'’ room last night after the reading had ended, she ran into Claire. The author asked the filmmaker how she liked the performances. But Bernadine arrived after Claire had read, so she could only say that Nick’s stuff had been great.
But even if she had heard “Razor Blade Baby,” Bernadine would know what Claire looked like. The best kind of feedback for an author would be if she could ask the question and be unseen. I don’t know the layout of the ladies’ room at KGB, but if it had adjoining stalls, an author could use them as a confessional of sorts and solicit the reaction of somebody who just heard them read without the audience member knowing she was talking to the author.
You could do this in the mens room by sitting down on the sole toilet, closing the western-style swinging doors and asking the pissers standing at the urinals, “How’d you guys like my, I mean, that dude, who just read, how’d you like his stuff?”

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Minty Stem's Date With Bill Clegg

Group Home Resident Assails Lit Agent with touching plea:
Beck out my Clog ! Beck out my Clog !

Date: April 12, 2012
Author: Bill Clegg, moderated by Katherine Lanpher
Agents: Bill Clegg, Marly Rusoff, Anna Wiener
Venue: Barnes & Noble, Union Square
Neighborhood: lower Chelsea, upper mid-Village
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

This is another one of those posts I thought I'd get out of the way before the event occurred. I've been going to readings now for three years to meet writers, agents and editors so I know how this event will play out.
Now that I've pitched Jonathan Galassi (see below My Date with Jonathan Galassi) and blew it, I might as well pitch Bill Clegg. If nothing else, I'll learn how to pronounce his last name.
I'm really not scared to walk up almost anybody and ask them to publish the book that this blog is the warm-up for. Especially now that I have the arrangement with Salman's peeps (see below Rushdie’s Rejects).
Yeah, I'm the Samuel Pepys of the NYC readings scene, clawing my way up the slippery ladder of the media food chain one Google Alert at a time.
With Clegg, I'm going to roll out my Minty Stem personna and see what he makes of it. I'm not going to even start the courtship process of Clegg becoming my agent if he doesn't know what a Minty Stem is.
My Minty Stem character is a Rick Ross rapper guy transposed to the NYC readings circuit. He's like the Nas - Samuel Pepys of the scene I've been inhabiting at KGB and McNally Jackson.
Right after I introduce myself to Clegg, I'm going to describe myself as the James Kunen (an author who just published a book about boomers getting the boot out of their cushy, corporate gigs) combined with my pal Jon-Jon Goulian, albeit with a much less impressive body fat ratio, with a bit of Anis Nin thrown in.
If Clegg gives me a blank look after that associative challenge, I might just start squawking "Beck Out My Clog, Beck Out My Clog" and start looking around wildly for the mini-bus from the group home.
My pal Lou, a KGB bartender, had no trouble figuring out that this is just Martian for “Check Out My Blog.”
So that’s my plan for Clegg.
With the moderator, Lanpher, I plan to not try to stike up a converation. I saw her at the Maud Newton - Alex Chee reading last night at KGB.
Sometimes when I try to meet people I admire on this literary readings circuit even if my opening line is, as it was to Lanpher, a slam-dunk, I manage to alienate them.
When I met Lanpher, I mentioned that I worship the work of her friend Trish Hampl. I’ve been a fan of Trish’s ever since I was working at the Strand in 1985. Like when Our Lady appeared at Fatima, I stumbled onto Trish’s work in quaisi-religious moment when a shaft of light penetrated the gloom of the bookstore’s basement and pointed me toward her first prose book “A Romantic Education.”
Oddly enough, I’d just gotten done raving about “A Romantic Education” to my tablemates Alex, Jean and John when I saw Lanpher come into KGB last night.
I dunno, maybe I should get my teeth fixed, maybe it wouldn't amount to losing my hillbilly muse
Anyway, when Trish and Garrison Keillor were undergrads at the University of Minnesota, he probably thought of her as the bright one. Her latest book is “The Florist's Daughter.” It has this great scene where after meeting Trish’s mom, the agent Marly Rossoff says that Trish’s mom is so Irish that she’s Jewish. That observation is so profound, I can’t get my head around it, but attempting to, has been great fun.
The agent Anna Wiener was at the KGB reading. I didn’t talk to her but if I had, I wanted to mention that the composite client at her shop is a young mom novelist who wears colorful footwear to their readings and writes about animals, upstate communes or doctors in New Jersey.
Finally, here’s the first “Row, Dole” bonus challenge:
one free Baltica beer at KGB for anybody that can tell me what a Minty Stem is. (Google it, but that won't help.)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Copping a Feel at Housing Works

Copping a Feel with Deb Olin Unferth
Justin Taylor and Ben Marcus Pas de deux

Date: March 12, 2012
Authors: Ben Marcus, Deb Olin Unferth, Diane Williams
Agents: David McCormick, Denise Shannon
Venue: Housing Works
Neighborhood: Soho
Free Drinks -- no, but Sixpoint beers available
Q & A -- no
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- benefits expired

I was thinking about not drinking because I'm such a contrarian and St. Patrick's Day is nearby, but the availability of SixPoint 
beer ruined that resolve.
It's not often that I actually know an author at a reading, although to meet authors is a goal of this whole, stupid going to readings project. Still, I got to know Deb Olin Unferth two summers ago when I was running the reading series at KGB, an experience that was, to quote DFW, "A supposedly fun thing I'll never do again."
Anyway, I had this joke I'd been waiting to tell Deb for more than a year. So last night's reading was my chance to tell it to her.
When a reading ends a lot of people crowd around and want to talk to the authors. The worst thing that can happen is that just as you make your bid to talk to the author, she sees a friend, that is someone she really knows, not someone who booked her to read at a bar two summers ago, and shouts out his name in excitement, "Jim," just as you start to talk to her.
But Deb was gracious and introduced me to Jim. I thought I'd better speak my piece, tell my joke and get out of there.
"Hi, Deb, so here's this joke I've been waiting a year or so to tell you," I said.
"Wow, that's a pretty big build-up." Jim said.
"I'm glad you're here, Jim, because you can be like the impartial judge of whether it is in good taste or funny." I said.
I continued, "So, you know Deb in your book "Revolution," toward the end you have this little passage where you say, "Oh, by the way, I was sexually harassed and molested at just about every turn in the trip this book is about." This matter-of-fact tone is consistent with the dead-pan humor that makes the book so effective. It also led me to think that Deb must be one of the most stoic victims of sexual harassment ever.
My joke was to ask her "Could I cop a feel?"
She laughed and I guess the joke worked, although I told her and Jim that the reason it did was because of her great sense of humor, which I think stems from the creative intelligence that informs her work. I explained to Jim that since I really don't know Deb very well, the joke could easily have bombed.
Another fascinating conversation at last night's reading between two writers at different stages of their career, like Deb has one and I have this blog nobody reads, occurred when Ben Marcus and Justin Taylor chatted. Now that was a conversation packed with nuances in which the younger writer, Justin Taylor, sought to curry favor with the older, and more established writer, Ben Marcus.
I think he and Ben talked about Ben's career path at Columbia in which he started out teaching creative writing, was named head of the department, and, I hope I have this right, recently shed his administrative duties. Justin said something like I'd love to get involved up there and Marcus was non-committal. There were two rows separating me from the two men so I can't say this is a verbatim account.
What does Marcus think of Taylor? Who knows? The only sure thing is that Taylor entered the conversation well aware of the various types of patronage Marcus controls. If Taylor read this blog, he would know that the really well-paying teaching writing gigs are at the CUNY Writer's Institute though they go more to editors than writers.
But as far as CUNY Writers' Institute professors go, it is likely that faculty member and Granta editor John Freeman is feeling the pressure to produce a book that isn't as lightweight as "The Tyranny of Email."
Despite Freeman's knowledge of the production processes of the magazine, as he recently recounted at a Granta event, there is no escaping the fact that "The Tyranny of Email" is no "Among the Thugs," the first publication by Granta founding editor Bill Bufford.
But for myself and my three colleagues who have these New York readings blogs, I think we can take comfort from the fact that I don't think any four words in English contribute to the viability of text on paper, despite Freeman's boring description of the travels of Granta raw stock, more than "Check out my blog."
My Date With Maud Newton

Date: September 15, 2010
Author: Name Withheld, moderated by Maud Newton
Author's Agent: Sarah Burnes
Venue: McNally Jackson
Neighborhood: Soho
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- 567093

I had struck up a slight acquaintance with the writer Maud Newton during the summer of 2009 when she and other writers from the anthology "Love is a Four-Letter Word" were doing a series of readings to support the book's launch. She was totally pleasant and accessible, which makes my faux pas with her at this later reading really regrettable.

Anyway, Maud was interviewing an author at McNally Jackson reading. I said hello to her before it started. It's always tricky for the Samuel Pepys etc. to see if his writer-heroes remember him, but Maud did and we started to chat.

Unfortunately, the second or third thing that somehow came out of my mouth was "What's with the Fifties get-up?" I saw Maude's face darken. I said, "Are you coming from work?" She replied with totally justifiable indignation that she wasn't. It was one of those moments where I couldn't unsay what I'd said and the more I tried, the more lame I sounded.

Anybody reading this account can see the problem I created. You don't go up to somebody you barely know and suggest that perhaps their outfit doesn't fit the social situation. Not only don't I know Maud well enough to say that, but who appointed me arbiter of authors' outfits at readings?

As my wife said, Maud probably put a lot of time and effort into selecting her outfit and who was I to open my big mouth. Of course, horrified by what I'd done, I kept making it worse. I started ticking off all the writers Maud has introduced me to on her blog, Keith Lee Morris, A. L. Kennedy, Rupert Holmes, the Dog of the South guy and many others. But it was too late.

In the post, "White Sweater, Black Lungs," I accidentally compliment an author. That's not so bad. I'm sorry, Maud. I'm going to go to your event this week at McNally Jackson and apologize in person.

Posted by Brent Shearer at 11:37 AM

Monday, April 2, 2012

Rushdie's Rejects To Be Escorted By Row, Dole Principals Shearer, Skyhorse, Miller --

In a pact that threatens to remake the formerly staid world of readings and book parties, if the three Row, Dole principals could ever get invited to the later, Indian novelist Salman Rushdie's representative, Sarah Chalfant at Wylie, has inked a pact that calls for the two KGB bar patrons, Shearer and Skyhorse, and KGB employee, Miller, to serve as escorts for the many literary women of the city who would be thrilled to hang out with Rushdie.
As reported in a recent New York Times article, Rushdie is embracing the social opportunities of the city, now that his political problems have receded. His entry into the social whirl precedes the publication of his memoir, which will presumably tell the story of the years that the gregarious novelist was forced to live in seclusion.
"Regrettably, Salman cannot possibly chat with, meet for drinks, spend weekends at the country houses of all the women who find him fascinating. I have to thank Chris Jacobsen, Louie Miller's agent, who put together this deal that calls for the three KGB bar veterans to serve as stand-ins for Salman on the city's as well as the Hampton's and the Berkshire's social circuit."
For his part, Jacobsen played down press reports that said Shearer, as he is Rushdie's only generational peer among the three Salman-substitutes, will have to do the majority of the escorting. "We expect to spread the wealth evenly among the three KGB-Row, Dole gentlemen. We didn't select our Rushdie replacement escorts team without giving serious consideration to the talents and abilities of each of the team members. It wouldn't be fair if we load Brent up with most of the social opportunities growing out of this groundbreaking agreement. Plus, neither Skyhorse or Miller have those hillbilly-looking missing teeth that some society women fans of Rushdie's may find off-putting in Brent's otherwise charming self-presentation."
To make reservations to spend time with any of the KGB - Row, Dole Rushdie replacements, please contact Chris Jacobsen at the his lower Fifth Avenue office, the Strand kiosk opposite the Sherry-Netherland, as the well-connected agent eschews any but person-to-person inquiries.
In other news, an unidentified source said Rushdie doesn't consider Granta editor John Freeman "a Quisling" because he was willing to publish a Rushdie story turned down by the magazine's previous editor, Alex Clark.
Any implications that Freeman's willingness to do the bidding of the publication's owners resembled, although with an opposite outcome, the "Saturday Night Massacre" of the Watergate era is incorrect according to this individual.
(The "Saturday Night Massacre" was the term given by political commentators to U.S. President Richard Nixon's executive dismissal of independent special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and the resignations of Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus on October 20, 1973.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

John Wray Reading on the "L" Train Parody

Date: March 13, 2009
Author: John Wray
Venue: "L" Train
Free Drinks: yes, later a a bar in Williamsburg
Q & A: informally, yes
Book signed: NA
UE check number: 0864388

Clear Out to Canarsie – The taking of Canarsie Seven Zero Fiver –

I put my knife to the motorman’s throat and forced him, first out of the cab and then off the train. Then I pushed down on the lever and headed for 6th Avenue.

By the time I was two paragraphs into reading my new novel, I’d gotten the hang of handling the bullhorn I was reading into and working the train’s controls so I could speed up and slow down following the green and red lights in the tunnel.

The sixty or so people who had boarded the first car of the “L” train with me were listening intently. A lot of them were taking pictures with their phones. This thing was working!

As we approached 6th Avenue, the first stop, I managed to slow down and stop the train at the markers on the platform. Looking down the train, I saw that my editor, Eric Chinski, had overpowered the conductor in the back of the train. The conductor should have been in the last car where we expected him to be, but I saw Eric toss him out onto the platform, battered, bloody, not resisting, from the second- to-last car instead. There’s no sense even trying to launch a novel by taking over a train and giving a reading if your team can’t improvise. Way to go, Eric.

After we left 6th Avenue, I continued reading, segueing into the section where my book switches from first person to close third person. I also remembered to check the indicator lights to make sure the doors were closed before we left the station. By now, there were some people in the car who weren’t there for my reading. But menacing stares from my posse and the slight indication that some of the publicists from my house, FSG, were packing seemed to keep them quiet. Or maybe they were getting off in Manhattan and figured it wasn’t worth it to start bitching.

I knew one of the most demanding stations as well as one of the trickier passages to not lose the audience at was going to come when I had to simultaneously pull into Union Square and give readers a taste of my main character’s disordered thoughts. The platform at Union Square has always posed a lot of challenges for novelists because if you don’t line up at the marks right, you are going to have the last car or two back in the tunnel when the doors open. But I hit the marks smoothly and gave readers a sense of the tormented thoughts of my schizophrenic teenager.

I know that what happened after we got to Brooklyn has gotten a lot of notice. Note how nobody talks about how smooth my stop and take-off from First Avenue was. I felt as bad as anyone because it was my publisher who paid for the free beer at the bar right near the first stop in Brooklyn, in Williamsburg.

It isn’t true that I was sucking up to my editor when I decided to keep going. Yes, Eric always disparages the scene in Williamsburg, saying it’s like “Lord of the Flies,” but the real reason I didn’t stop at Bedford was I didn’t think the short excerpt I’d been able to read up till then was enough to give readers a full idea of what I was trying to accomplish. Plus, I felt I had an obligation to the passengers who didn’t get on for my reading. What was I going to do, strand them at Bedford Avenue?

Sure, maybe going clear out to Canarsie was an overload, but for the listeners who stuck with me, I think they’d say it was worth it.

There have been some questions about reading techniques while commandeering public transport vehicles at recent Authors’ Guild meetings. I just like to just start at the beginning of the book because then you don’t have to explain much about what’s going on, you don’t have to set up the scene while making sure the train is actually in the station when you open the doors.

The novelist who took over the flight from JFK to London said it was really dicey landing the plane while reading his third most important character’s stream of consciousness riffs on cricket. He said the next time he does a take-over reading on a plane it’s going to be a Boeing not an Airbus because the Boeing’s auto-pilot is better.

That raises the question of whether using a plane’s auto pilot while giving your reading is cheating or not. All I can say is that during my take-over of the “L” train for my current book’s launch or during the temporary capture of the captain’s deck on the Staten Island Ferry that I did for my second book, I was totally in command of the train and the boat all the time I was reading even during the sotto voce (SOTTO VOE CHAY) passages.

The novelists that are coping my style, my so-called competitors, I have to laugh. Lethem taking over that cruise ship to read the imaginary letters from the chick scientist who’s trapped in outer space to her boyfriend back on earth. Even if it was a real takeover and the crew wasn’t in it with him and his publisher, how lame was that? What are you going to hit in the middle of the ocean? You could read half of ‘Infinite Jest” without having to steer around anything. For his next take-over reading, I’d like to see Mr. Motherless Brooklyn try it in the Panama Canal or while he’s docking at one of the West Side piers.

Then there’s the gal novelist, what’s her name, who took over the Roosevelt Island tram for a reading. Sounds lame already, right? Roosevelt Island tram, total capacity, what, twelve passengers? Nobody wants to discourage rookies, but come on. Maybe the Roosevelt Island tram is OK for somebody’s first book of stories, but nothing more. Because if you lower your standards that much, what’s next? You’re going to get some beginner novelist, right out of Breadloaf, wresting the controls from one of those hobbyists at the pond in Central Park with the radio-controlled sailboats and calling that a take-over reading. I don’t think so. Not when I’ve taken my listeners clear out to Canarsie.

Seward Park Library Shocker !

Date: February 12, 2011
Author: Said Sayrafiezadeh
Venue: Parsons Institute
Neighborhood: Ft. Greene
Free Drinks -- no
Q & A -- yes
Book signed -- no
UE Check Number -- 1245673

Open Letter to the Prominent Writer (Said Sayrafiezadeh) I Saw Working at the Seward Park Public Library at 3pm, on Monday, August 23, 2011 after having attended his reading earlier that year.

Dear I Won't Out You (Until Now),

Oh, the shame, the humiliation. For this, I bought your award-winning memoir in hard cover.

Fine, it wasn't a National Book Award or a Pulitzer, but earning a spot on NY Times critic Dwight Garner's top ten list is pretty good, too. And the Whiting, that's not chopped liver, nor are the short stories in the New Yorker.

Betrayed isn't putting it too strongly. For this, I went to so many of your readings that you apologized to me the fifth time I sat through your story about flying to Paris right after 9/11 and not looking very All-American.

And to have to see you like that, in town during the dog days of August, working in a public library where due to cutbacks they have the reference librarians working the checkout desk? Maybe you're not all that? Could that "gifted, young American voice, sure to fulfill its early promise" stuff be hyperbole?

You can see how it calls my whole career as a reader of yours into doubt. What is the point of winning a Whiting, if you are going to work at the Seward Park Public Library, barely clinging to a computer terminal while about 150 Chinese kids wearing their orange day camp T-shirts jostle you?

It was like finding Keith Richards playing in the house band in a Holiday Inn at the airport in Indianapolis.

Is there really no summer writing institute that might have had you for these last two weeks of August? No, Hamptons or Berkshires, intensive memoir program or even one of those NYU summer in New York fiction programs with the wading pools in Washington Square Park?

I mean, in a more just world, the writers one admires should spend August in Tuscany? OK, you missed out on Italy or the Dalmatian coast, with that, I could deal. But do you mean to say you don't have a single friend with a house upstate who could put you up till Labor Day. Don't you want to spare me the spectacle I saw today?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Why Daphene Merkin No Longer Teaches the Memoir Class at the 92nd St. Y

Date: April 11, 2008
Author: should have been me
Venue: 92nd St. Y
Free Drinks: no
Q & A: no
Book signed: NA
UE check number: 987378

Philip Roth, Daphne Merkin and Me :
What I Learned in Memoir Writing Class at the 92nd St.

These are some of the things I learned last March and April when I was a student in Daphne Merkin’s class at New York’s 92nd St. Y.

Merkin said “Philip Roth is no longer a good writer,” and “Most men are incapable of emotional intimacy.”

Grace Paley got off easier. “I have mixed feelings about Grace Paley,” while poet Mark Strand got a left- handed compliment. Merkin said he was a “dull poet, but a handsome man.” She didn’t temporize about Seymour Hersh. “One of my least favorite journalists.”

Merkin, who gained notoriety for her 1996 New Yorker essay about the pleasures of getting spanked, has taught the memoir writing class at the 92nd St. Y for several years. She is the author of a novel, a collection of essays and frequently writes for the New York Times magazine, where she is a contributing editor. She also writes for the New Yorker, Slate and the Bergdorf Goodman catalogue.

If the last outlet seems out of place in the list, Merkin thinks so too.

“A friend told me the Bergdorf Goodman catalogue was below me,” Merkin excitedly told our class. Merkin said she’d changed a lot of details in her story for the catalogue story, which is about the death of the dinner party, so that the person she was talking about wouldn’t recognize herself in the piece. “I didn’t think she would read it, but maybe her mother would.”

Merkin’s memoir writing course, “Through a Writerly Eye,” met six times in March and April from 6:30 to 8:30 on Thursday nights. It is one of the 92 St. Y’s “master” classes, which means that students must qualify for admission by submitting manuscripts, which are presumably read by the instructor. At $375 for the 12- hour class, each of us paid about $30 an hour to be instructed by Merkin. There were 12 students, three men and nine women.

The following observations grow out of my attendance at five of the six class sessions. All quotes are from Merkin unless otherwise identified.

Taking Merkin’s class was like being allowed to look in on a gruesome scientific experiment in which the instructor’s ego, freed from any of the customary restraints of a superego or some controlling administration, was free to thrash around the room. Naomi Campbell or any other free-to-act-out diva would be one comparison, but it was a class and we were paying for it.

It is doubtful that Merkin’s approach to teaching, blending a logorrheic stream of name-dropping and references to her career, her likes and dislikes, and her travel plans with what can be at best described as a casual approach to things like showing up on time would play for long at most colleges. If we weren’t treated to at least one name-drop or self-referential aside every 15 minutes, it was rare. Usually, they flew fast and furiously.

Nor would her laissez-faire approach to scheduling the consideration of student work fly in other settings. After all, one basic tenet of most writing classes is that student work is read and commented on by the instructor and the students. Thus, if one person gets twenty minutes of class time and another, two hours, there is a problem. Merkin couldn’t be bothered to allocate class time equally. Note: You don’t want to be the last one to go on the last night of a Merkin class. That was the woman who got twenty minutes.

“I don’t wear a watch.”

But the 92nd St. “Y” isn’t a college. Nor are all its classes like Merkin’s. April Reynolds’ advanced fiction workshop was sublime.

It’s OK to hold strong opinions. It was the self-absorption that was off-putting, the “as I said to my friend Kathryn Harrison,” or “ Roy Blount whom I sat next to at a dinner last night,” combined with the blatant lack of interest in teaching the class that gives a memorist of Merkin as instructor such rich material.

Merkin let us know that her important social interactions were elsewhere.

“I just spoke on a panel on Virginia Wolf with Peter Gay.”

“Brian Grazer, a director I know . . .” Actually, Wikipedia said he is a producer.

Merkin had trouble remembering student’s names and couldn’t recall who had presented their work and who hadn’t.

But one student said, as the class complained about Merkin’s late arrivals and lack of focus, that it’s always like this when you take a class with a “star.” She said film class at NYU with Martin Scorsese had been similar.

The Fifth class

Our second to last class was the best, or worst, example of Merkin’s approach. On Monday, emails were sent out notifying students that Thursday’s class was cancelled. On Thursday morning, emails were sent out saying it was on. I wasn’t confused because I didn’t get any of the emails.

In any event, most of us showed up. By now, we knew the one sure thing was that Merkin would not arrive for the class on time. To her credit, Merkin never missed a class this year. A former student in this same 92nd St memoir class told me that she just didn’t show up for classes that year. So even as I paint this picture of Merkin as a dysfunctional, uncaring, self-absorbed instructor, I have to say she didn’t blow off the class altogether this year.

At 6:45, Merkin’s assistant Lila arrived. She told us that Merkin missed her plane in London and was running late. But she was here in New York and was at her apartment reading the second of the two student manuscripts we were to consider.
Lila told us Merkin said she’d be there in 15 minutes, but added that meant at least a half-hour in Merkin time. She had instructions to read us an essay of Merkin’s from a collection called “The Reading Room” to occupy us.

But while most of the class members rarely objected to Merkin’s approach, this was a little much. The woman whose memoir was getting a quick read from Merkin said we should reschedule the class. The other student whose turn it was agreed with her.

In light of this rebellion, Lila called Merkin, moving into the hallway for privacy. They talked for about ten minutes. Lila returned to the classroom to say that Merkin was alright with cancelling, but if we did that, there wouldn’t be any rescheduling because she was going to Israel for Passover. That would exclude what would have been the seventh week of the class. Merkin was too tightly scheduled to squeeze in a make-up session any time after that.

That the chance of escaping from teaching one of the classes appealed to Merkin wasn’t a big surprise since she had said it be great if she could somehow get out of the last class during an earlier session. Lila’s news left the two writers undecided about what the best course of action would be. The rest of us were confused about what to do also.

At this point, the student who presented the memoir that among other bits contained some Ariana Huffington stories said we should just go through with it tonight. She might have had a point, but since the luck of Merkin’s chaotic approach to scheduling had given her nearly two hours of Merkin’s and our time in a previous class, I thought she should leave the decision up to the two writers whose night it was.

Minutes later the unlucky two whose turn it was that night caved. They asked Lila to tell Merkin we’d have the class that night.

At 7:30, Merkin arrived, made an apology and was about to start the class. But first, she told Lila to call an editor again and find out whether a reference in a story of hers he was working on had been cleared up. At that, Lila, said, “Are you kidding?” Presumably she meant that at 7:30, the guy wouldn’t be in the office or maybe it was the thirteenth time she’d been asked to contact him.

Merkin then joined the ongoing discussion of the first memoir we were looking at. She stayed until 9:10 that night, so while we didn’t get the two hours we paid for, we got more than one. Incidentally, the writer whose initial impulse was to reschedule got Merkin’s and our attention from 8:30 to 9:10. Would she have done better another night? Hard to say.

One mystery about the class is whether Merkin actually read our submissions in the application stage. As I mentioned, the deal with these 92nd St. Y Master classes was that getting into the class was a selective process. Presumably, the teacher picked the twelve best memoirs for the class. I don’t know whether Merkin read our manuscripts, skimmed them or how she selected us.

Merkin often had little recall of student work when as a class we reviewed stories that the writer said were either the same or a reworked version of their application piece. The former Merkin student who told me about Merkin’s no-shows the year she was in the class doubted that Merkin would take the time to read the submissions. She said that when she took the class, a few years ago, it wasn’t a Master Class. Given her exposure to Merkin’s teaching methods, she doubted that Merkin changed her approach when it became a “competitive entry” class.

If the class was less of a meritocracy that it was supposed to be, it would explain Merkin’s concentration on things that might have been taken for granted in an advanced class. More than once, Merkin went on at great length about M dashes, information we could have easily gotten from a style book. She also pointed out the linkage between reading and writing and said we should read a lot.

It wasn’t just me who felt like Merkin’s commitment to teaching wasn’t all-engaging. On the train ride home from a class, I suggested to a fellow classmate that we should invite Merkin out for a drink after the last class. This writer, a bit quicker than me in picking up on the Merkin style, said, “Oh, I don’t think that will happen. I think that would be a nightmare for Daphne.” I came to see how right he was.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

"Row, Dole Apologizes to Galassi"

Date: March 16, 2012
Authors: Cuny Writers’ Institute students -- Caroline Seklir, Destanie McAllister, Thomas Lin, Sultana Banulescu
Venue: KGB
Free Drinks: Depends On Lou’s mood
Q & A: no
Book signed: NA
UE check number: benefits ended

Just because a stupid idea works, doesn't make it a smart idea. The intersection of this blog, whose purpose is to get me a book deal, and Jonathan Galassi, presented me with a situation that I mishandled.
I should not have let somebody's title obscure the person. I just opened Alice McDermott's "At Weddings and Wakes" and saw on its dedication page "to Jonathan Galassi, as ever."
Odd that Alice McDermott didn't feel the need to trick Galassi into sitting down at her table and then hyperventilate about it for 1,200 words. She wrote a book; he worked on it with her. That's his job. The fact that he has administrative skills in addition is no reason to, well, you get the idea. I apologize.
I didn't want to not describe the other readers at last Friday's Cuny Writers' Institute. Destanie McAllister followed opening act, Caroline Seklir, with solid piece. The third reader was Sultana Banulescu who read from her story about a French teacher. It captured the feel of provincial town in Eastern Europe and the conflicts the title character faced after landing there.
The final reader, Thomas Lin, delivered a virtuoso account of Thomas Edison as a young man.
It's not quite true that Galassi didn't utter a single sentence to me. At one point, I told him that I knew some of the students in the Writers' Institute program. I pointed out one of them, Kelly Aronowitz, and said I knew her a little from going to a lot of the same readings. Galassi said, "She's from Mexico."

Sunday, March 18, 2012

His Kingdom For a Chair? My Date With Jonathan Galassi

Calamari Press Edges Ahead of FSG for "Row, Dole" rights as NYC readings Pepys Blows Galassi Pitch

Date: March 16, 2012
Authors: Cuny Writers’ Institute students -- Caroline Seklir, Destanie McAllister, Thomas Lin, Sultana Banulescu
Venue: KGB
Free Drinks: Depends On Lou’s mood
Q & A: no
Book signed: NA
UE check number: benefits ended

Andre Aciman holds the Chair of CUNY’s doctoral program in comp lit. Irish poet Paul Muldoon holds the Chair of the Peter B. Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton.

I held the chair of the second table to the left of the podium in the hope that FSG president Jonathan Galassi would sit in it. He did. Although a small press, Calamari has decent distribution.

I got to the reading early and took a seat with my back to the wall so I could see the bar’s entrance.

I threw my sweatshirt over the opposite seat. I was saving it for Jonathan Galassi so I could pitch him. Amazingly, it worked, at least insofar as he showed up, took the seat and I did pitch him.

Possibly, I sounded like a jerk and the coincidence of my seating coup was wasted. Still, I prefer to look at it as the struggle to get your work in front of an audience is like dating. It only has to work once. In the acknowledgments section of his book, Brando Skyhorse, this blog’s spiritual advisor, refers to the “yes” he got from his agent Susan Golomb. I don’t think Brando cares about all the “nos” that preceded it.

So here’s how I pitched the most powerful man in publishing whose name isn’t Newhouse or Murdoch, and probably, if you quality it by saying literary publishing, Galassi is the equal of the two owners.

I’ll let my reader, if such creature exists, be the judge of whether I made an ass of myself again. The fact that Galassi didn’t say, or have a chance to say, as much as complete sentence to me might be an indication that I did blow it.

In my defense, what’s more New York than controlling a bit of valuable real estate and using it to say, “let me join the club.” Anyway, here’s a rough, but accurate transcript of my date with Galassi. If I had any readers and if I could use FB or Twitter, everybody could vote on whether I screwed up my moment of access, if that’s what it was. But before I master social media I have to learn how to download James Marcus’ brilliant Old Jewish Man Shouting Mix starring Philip Roth’s MP3 as a ring tone. Only then will I worry about hashtags.

I knew there was a 50-50 chance that Galassi would show because some semesters, but not all, he teaches at the Writers’ Institute. Andre Aciman is the director of the institute. For both Andre and me, holding a chair isn’t our only gig.

I threw my sweatshirt over the seat opposite me. If anybody had asked if the seat was available, I would have said yes, but between the shirt hanging on it and my decrepit visage, nobody wanted it even as the room grew crowded.

The reading started and most of the seats, both at the bar and the tables were taken. Late arriviers were crowded at the room’s entry and the far end of the bar.

I saw Galassi in the doorway. He was looking for a seat. He started to take a few steps into the room while the first reader, Caroline Seklir, performed.

Seklir’s story took a while to get going, but it ended with a beautiful image of the wife and the mistress-au pair folding a sheet upon which the mistress and the husband had recently had sex.

I think what singer Patti Smith said about rock concerts, that the only thing that matters, like in prizefight, is that it end with a knockout, can be applied to stories. Seklir did this.

As Galassi started to look for a seat, there was an older lady doing the same thing and like a gentleman he signaled for her to go ahead. She found a seat against the wall to her right. I was now in Galassi’s sight line and he hadn’t found an empty seat.

I pointed to the seat across from me, moved my sweatshirt and indicated he should take it. He did. When Seklir finished, I introduced myself to him and said,” There’s a tradition in this bar that if somebody saves you a seat, you have to publish their book.”

Galassi nodded and smiled. I went on.

“It’s probably not enforceable in the courts. It’s more of a gentleman’s agreement, but I saw how polite you were in letting the older lady go ahead , so I think a gentleman’s agreement will work.”

Again, I got a nod and a smile.

During the intermission, Galassi got up to buy a drink and stopped to chat with the students and faculty members present.

After the third reader ended, I said to him, “My book, “In the Front Row, On the Dole” is about a financial reporter, me, who gets fired in the ‘08 recession and assigns himself a new beat, going to readings. Nobody has told the story of the older workers who lost their assets and their jobs. Now, I’m working as security guard.

“In the Front Row, On The Dole,” is a story of a boomer following his bliss, yes, but I’m also tiptoeing on a thin rope across the precipice of financial ruin. Nobody wants to hire a geezer trade press hack and if I tumble off the tightrope, my family will take the plunge with me.”

Again, Galassi nodded and then the fourth reader started. The FSG president might have been worried I was going to try to borrow money from him. As the last reader was getting going, Galassi got up, said goodbye to a few people and left. He didn’t say anything to me.

Nobody else took the seat. When the reading ended, I went to the bar and told Lou about what had happened. On the plus side, I’d spoken my piece. On the other hand, I’m not signed up with FSG and my seatmate didn’t respond even with a platitude. Maybe what I did violates some social norm that I don’t know about.

The first time I covered a tennis match I knew much more about tennis than about journalism. When a player hit a good shot, I was the only one to clap in the press box. You’re not supposed to. The other sportswriters looked at me like I’d farted. I hope pitching to Galassi like I did wasn’t an equivalent faux pas.

Then too, my friend Chiara Barzini, the Italian author and movie star, publishes with Calamari and I’d be honored to be at the same house as her.
(end Writers Institute: part one)