Monday, June 29, 2009
Things are looking up on Wythe.
On May 21, I was privileged enough to attend a tour of the place, thanks to Brooklyn Based. I wanted to write a proper post about the tour, but Gothamist covered it, and there's a lot of information already widely available (here's the Times article), so the plan is to post pics -- ones of much better quality can be seen here -- and some thoughts. Dear Peter and Charley: Please don't hate me for sharing the pics, and I promise to invest in a new camera soon.
Imagine the opposite of a nested doll when it comes to Brooklyn Bowl, each space opening up to something bigger. You walk in to an open space, to the right is the shoe booth for bowlers, to the left is the bar and bowling lanes, and straight ahead is the restaurant (Blue Ribbon, with nothing costing more than $20).
Unfinished shoe booth.
Plush seating, and the table top used to be a bowling lane.
Cute table leg.
More seating, including a mini bar.
A wall of these carnival push dolls separates the bowling lanes, bar, and stage from the restaurant.
Lanes and big-screen TVs. I got a chance to check out David Gilmour's Remember that Night in high-def.
Bar decorations, with more carnival theme.
A view of the huge stage from the bar.
More plush seating!
Even MORE plush seating for bowlers.
High-tech keypads and ball returners/storers.
View from the green room.
Treated to a game and a beer.
Sharon prepares to roll.
Big, heavy balls.
A picturesque ending.
There's a slight controversy about Brooklyn Bowl opening so close to the Gutter, yet the places are so radically different that there won't be too much of a competition -- and I find Gutter's plastic seating and old-school lanes more endearing than Brooklyn Bow's technology and shine. Also, those very posh couches are going to be a wreck one week after the place opens thanks to drink spills.
Don't get me wrong: I wish Brooklyn Bowl all the best, and I definitely had a great time, but my one worry is that it's too ambitious a project. The owners commented that they made the building so custom to their needs that Brooklyn Bowl "won't be a flash in the pan; we're here to stay," but they haven't yet figured out how the bowling is going to work when bands are playing, and they're aiming to have a band every other day. The restaurant is nicely removed from most of the action, but it's too small to consider going to Brooklyn Bowl just to eat. I foresee waits for the lanes, but I'm not sure how those waiting to bowl will be handled -- like Gutter's "now serving" number. Also, in a space so huge, it's going to be as loud as hell, even without a band. With such a lack of intimacy, I won't be going just to drink.
Macbeth's vaulting ambition was his ruin, though Shapiro and Ryan's bowling ambition shouldn't spell theirs once the kinks are worked out.
Friday, June 19, 2009
-- attendee's comment about female authors being pegged as writing "chick lit" when their male counterparts are heralded
Two summers ago, when I interned at Speigel and Grau, my favorite day started with a launch meeting with Doubleday-Broadway bigwigs, with Steve Rubin at the head of the table. The S&G editors walked in like they owned the place and proceeded to enthusiastically chat up their list to the table. When hyping Janelle Brown's All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, which follows a suburban housewife's decline into drug addiction after her husband leaves her, Julie likened the novel's style to John Cheever's. Steve Rubin held up his hands and said: "Ladies, take off the white gloves. We have a commercial novel on our hands. Market it as such." Tacitly, he implied the novel was "chick lit."
Books about females written by females should not automatically be deemed "chick lit." Some authors, like Helen Fielding and Marian Keyes, write and embrace "chick lit," but that reflex to label all female authors as such needs to stop. Brown's novel is definitely more Cheever-esque than Bridget Jones, and after last night we can add another bucking-the-trend author.
Kate Christensen, author and Greenpointer, read from her new novel, Trouble, last night at Word. Kelly made deliciously strong sangria, Stephanie made decadent organic brownies, and I took (bad) pictures. Sangria-flavored Wine Cellar Sorbet and Brooklyn-flavored salsa, the hottest offered by the Brooklyn Salsa Company, rounded out the treats.
The biggest treat of the night was literary blogger extraordinaire Maud Newton's interview with Kate. We learned that Kate wrote Trouble in three months, and she considers it her beach book because writing it felt like a vacation after The Great Man, which was difficult for her to write, as it's a third-person narrative. Her hard work paid off because it won the Pen/Faulkner Award.
Kate described her characters as "juicy, opinionated women," "older," and "looking for passion." The main character of Trouble visits her celebrity friend in Mexico City, a city built on human sacrifice -- an odd parallel, as the friend is one of those women "sacrificed" on gossip blogs like Perez Hilton -- and they soon get into trouble with sex, drugs, and alcohol. Sounds like my life since 2008.
I got the chance to speak with Kate, as I wanted to ask her about her next novel. Here's a description of it from Word's blog:
My next novel is called THE ASTRAL—yes, that Astral, the huge red ghetto castle on India Street. It’s about a 57-year-old male poet whose wife of 30 years has booted him out of their Astral apartment...After discovering she lived in Greenpoint for nineteen years, I wondered why she was now basing a novel in it. She said something along the lines of: "Because I find its history so beautiful and tragic." I told her about the Walking Greenpoint tour, during which I learned the Astral provided progressive working-class housing (better than tenements) for the families of Astral Oil employees. When I mentioned I grew up in Greenpoint, she asked for my contact information for a possible interview! I am thrilled at the prospect.
There are so many books on my to-read list -- Emily Mandel's Last Night in Montreal, Margot Berwin's Hothouse Flower, and Charles Bock's Beautiful Children -- that I don't know where to squeeze in Trouble after finishing The Strain. Maybe I'll have to take the day off when the sun comes out and take a copy to Coney Island, making it a true beach read.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
-- Mark Twain
I have an announcement to make: until recently, I have been a terrible book person. Terrible's much to harsh a word though when you hear of my crime. For as long as I've been a consumer, I wait for the sales, use the coupons, and do anything to save a buck. Because Greenpoint didn't have an English-language bookstore when I was growing up, I got used to shopping at B&N and Borders in high school because it was easy to find their locations online, and I preferred Borders because I could request a book online and pick it up at the cash register, saving me from all but the most basic of human interaction with someone at the register. When Borders launched their rewards program, and coupons taking twenty to forty percent off my purchase landed in my inbox, all the better. Then I got a credit card in college, and Amazon provided the better deal nine times out of ten -- and absolutely no people.
One of the assignments in CCNY's Publishing Certificate Program was to interview a bookseller at an independent bookstore. I chose Murder Ink on the Upper West Side, since the professor spoke highly of the store. I don't remember much of the conversation -- it was probably awkward, and I pulled through it for the assignment -- but I hated the feeling of obligation that came with it to buy a book. It also didn't help that the store might have been going out of business. I wound up purchasing two books, feeling I did a good deed. I returned a few days later to purchase Christmas stationery from Ivy's, Murder Ink's sister store. Sadly, both stores did close after the holiday season.
I was unaware when Word opened in Greenpoint in 2007 because I wasn't living here (and still thought Franklin Street was abandoned), and it sadly remained off my radar until last year when I attended the "Forgotten Greenpoint" reading and "walking Greenpoint" tour. I introduced myself as a native Greenpointer to the owner, Christine, while purchasing Walking Brooklyn and promoted the bookstore and its events on Facebook, still frightened to walk inside and feel the obligation to make a purchase.
And even if I had something in mind to buy, it's the fear of chit chat that prevented me from entering the store. I'm not a social butterfly and don't do a good job of carrying a conversation with people I barely know. Add in a horrible relationship where my attempts at communication were rebuffed, and it didn't take much to make excuses for me not to go to the store's events. Until recently, I hated attending social events (putting on a smile and pleasantly agreeing with people is something that doesn't come naturally to me, and I considered my presence at these things insincere) and suffered anxiety (what if I say the wrong thing? what if I'm left with nothing to say, and there's an awkward silence?).
All of this changed this year thanks to Twitter, a service through which you can talk to people without actually talking to them, saving me the embarrassment of an in-person faux pas. Word lured me back to its basement when it hosted an event with John Wray, author of Lowboy, a novel that takes place on the subway (so I had to read it!), which I re-tweeted like crazy, and I also developed a rapport with the store manager, Stephanie, a.k.a. Bookavore. After attending a reading at Matchless at which Mara Altman read a hilarious selection from her memoir Thanks for Coming, about her journey for her first orgasm at twenty-six, I woke up the next day rabid to purchase and devour the book. When I went to Word to get it, Stephanie and I had a great conversation about the book -- "When I saw the catalog copy, I thought why would anyone want to read this?" "Yeah, the premise could have been schlock, but the reading proved the book's got merit." -- and about publishing in general, including some bookseller considerations I was ignorant of.
I attended a panel Stephanie was on at the BEA and hung out with Christine and events coordinator, Kelly, in the the ABA rec room.¹ They introduced me to author Emily Mandel at the BEA Tweet Up. I RSVP'd to attend Emily's reading at Word but was struck last minute by a monster headache and couldn't go. Thankfully, she was also scheduled for an event at McNally-Jackson, so I could save face.
Emily came up to me at McNally-Jackson. She caught me off-guard, and to be honest, I was there out of guilt from not being able to see her at Word, kind of hoping I'd be able to get away with being seen and not heard.
And then her interview with Masha Hamilton began. As she read from the book, discussing themes of disappearance, abandonment, and the complexity of language, I couldn't wait to crack the spine and experience Last Night in Montreal. And I bought the book not out of obligation, but because she sold me: there's magic in hearing a great author talk about his or her work, and Emily put me under her spell. After the reading as she was signing my copy, the words I couldn't find when she recognized me earlier flowed effortlessly.
The lovely Emily chats about her debut novel, Last Night in Montreal:
I'm pretty proud of the strides I've been making socially. Stephanie, Bitchcakes, and I went to a librarian party at Enid's, and I confronted someone who dressed like John Hodgman by telling him he reminded me of John Hodgman. Somehow, this one-off comment turned into a full-blown conversation about publishing (he works at Harper Collins) and Greenpoint (he used to live at Bedford and Lorimer -- right where I used to get my fifteen-dollar haircuts!). He gave me his card, and judging from our e-mail correspondence he sounds enthusiastic to see me again. The feeling is mutual. We'll be heading to Coco 68 -- I'm missing a class of interval training at the YMCA for this! -- so please send an extra prayer to Hermes, god of communication, that our totally awesome conversation continues.
Slowly but surely I'm realizing that there is nothing intrinsically wrong with me, and it's great to see these baby steps -- like going to Punk Rope happy hour or visiting Word just to say hi² -- turn into great times. I used to think the occurrence of good things happened outside my sphere influence, like fate, but ever since the BEA I've been carrying around more confidence than usual. It happens when you find the right crowd and actively seek to be a part of it instead of leaving yourself up to others' whims. I have finally found the agency I longed to possess.
¹ Also, thanks to Meg introducing me to the Restless Legs reading series, I'm able to drop the names of a few travel writers into the conversation. I'm hoping David Farley and Tony Perrottet agree to chat at Word when Farley's An Irreverent Curiosity comes out.
² That obligation to buy went out the window after I realized we're all book people and we all have shelves and stacks of books in our to-read pile -- we're not necessarily looking for another one. Also, Stephanie has tweeted about being lonely when she's the only person in the store. The human connection I've neglected for so many years is suddenly out in full force!
So what exactly was my crime? Noy "buying indie." Here Indie Bound's great, succinct reasons why you should consider abandoning chains and start living an indie lifestyle:
When you shop at an independently owned business, your entire community benefits:Seriously, befriending the people at Word may be the best thing you'll ever do, because I can't think of another place that would allow a Neil Gaiman fanatic to organize a party in the hopes that he'd visit.
• Spend $100 at a local and $68 of that stays in your community. Spend the same $100 at a national chain, and your community only sees $43.
• Local businesses create higher-paying jobs for our neighbors.
• More of your taxes are reinvested in your community--where they belong.
• Buying local means less packaging, less transportation, and a smaller carbon footprint.
• Shopping in a local business district means less infrastructure, less maintenance, and more money to beautify your community.
• Local retailers are your friends and neighbors -- support them and they’ll support you.
• Local businesses donate to charities at more than twice the rate of national chains.
• More independents means more choice, more diversity, and a truly unique community.
Friday, June 12, 2009
• preliminary review of Brooklyn Bowl
• joining the YMCA and Punk Rope adventures
• a praiseworthy review of Coco 68
• a hate letter to skirts
Hopefully I'll find a few hours of free time this weekend to at least opine about Brooklyn Bowl, but until then I leave you with Time Out New York's Noo Yawker quiz. I scored a 108 (out of what?):
DO YOU BELONG IN NYC?
Yes, but sometimes you wish there were a better option.
You do love New York, and you fit in here better than you have anywhere else. You're committed to the city, and you take advantage of all of its amazing food, culture, nightlife and arts. But you have nagging doubts about this relationship. Spend your whole life here? Not sure about that. Sometimes you wonder about that farm in your fantasies or even just a smaller city. But in reality, you know there's nowhere better. Click here for suggestions about how to really enjoy NYC. Do you belong in New York City?
Questions that I loved to answer:
6. Your thoughts on the subway fare hike: It sucks, but we're captive customers. What are you gonna do?
8. True or false: A 45-minute commute on the train or bus is too long. False. (All the better to read!)
9. How many times have you talked about leaving New York for someplace less demanding? That kind of talk is for cowards. I don't need those lily-livered varmints in my town.
11. When you're stressed out, you... go to the Met and wander through the permanent collection. (Ashley probably does this more than I do.)
14. Taking the subway is... the way you've always done it and always will do it. (If I can't get there via public transportation or my own two legs, then it's not worth it. Seriously, I was out last weekend with this brat thirtysomething who loved taking cabs everywhere and got us lost -- though you're never really "lost" with me -- en route to a place because I couldn't find my landmarks, which I would have noticed on foot. He got a tongue lashing.)
15. Your brand of hypocrisy most often entails... blowing $120 on dinner and then refusing to pay an extra few dollars to cab it home. (See above.)
26. Give yourself one point for each of the following things you have done: Paid a quarter in suggested admission at the Met (museum), called in sick so you could join the line for Shakespeare in the Park tickets, hopped a bus to a neighborhood you’ve never been to just to look around.
37. How do you save money? Never leave the city, for vacation or any other reason--you can do, see and eat anything you want right here
42. The biggest obstacle to maintaining a love life here is: The long distance (East Village to Astoria) can drive you apart. (Made me chuckle.)
45. Your date gets major points for suggesting: a guided walking tour in the East Village (Seriously, the quickest way to my heart is something fun involving New York, Pink Floyd, primates, or books.)
¹ Her one comment: "Your ex sounded like a dick." Right on!
Tuesday, June 02, 2009
this is the random-ass shit that goes on at book expo
Originally uploaded by cybermelli
And look at her bags, filled with galleys, books, and other promotional material.
Bags are big at BEA -- my favorite from this year is Chronicle's -- and once the floor opens on Friday people are rabid to grab them.
I always try to be polite when snagging one. (In 2007, my first BEA, I was too polite and left without very snazzy DK and Wiley totes.) For example, I struck up a conversation about Robert Reid when asking for a Lonely Planet bag for Meg. On Saturday, I asked a McGraw-Hill rep where she'd like the line to start. Yes, a line for a bag. McGraw-Hill's bag is enormous (this picture doesn't do it justice), and it's one of the most coveted bags at BEA.
Because my badge labeled me as "staff," I got on the floor before the bookselling/librarian/educator attendees and was first in line. Another note about my badge: My affiliation was listed as CCNY, the City College of New York, the institution from which I received a certificate in publishing and through which I was able to volunteer in the autographing area. Since I officially work for a publishing company, I wrote in my company's name to promote it.
So I ask the rep about the start of the line, and she examines my badge for a good ten seconds, which feels like thirty to a minute.
"We're giving them out to booksellers and librarians only," she replies, "and it doesn't help that you work for [...]." Of course, she named my company, which is a competitor of McGraw-Hill.
She did not have to cross that line, especially since I thought publishing was a gentleman's business. We're all competitors of one another, yet we're all kind of friends too. The previous night, Debbie Stier explained that she called up Jane Friedman, then-CEO of Harper Collins, for advice on her career when she was at a rival house. Debbie currently works for Harper Studio, a revolutionary imprint at Harper Collins, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was because of that conversation.
So, McGraw-Hill, I think I'm going to stick with my company -- one that didn't discriminate when giving out free stuff -- because your workers like to burn bridges before they're even built.
Monday, June 01, 2009
• wore the sexy red dress to the Emerging Leaders panel, where I didn't learn anything new
• threatened: "I'm going to have one more drink and tell those Geoffs how bad they were."
• had "one more drink" -- all on the AAP's dime, thank you very much -- but didn't let my tongue stray
• attended the ABA's social-media panel, where Bookavore and Word (where she works) stole the show
• caught up with a former Random House intern (more drinking)
• waited an hour in line to get a whiff of Neil Gaiman
• spoke briefly with authors-who-don't-impress-me Chuck Klosterman and Joshua Ferris (the latter was more my type)
• attended the successful 7x20x21 panel, where Spiegel & Grau's Chris Jackson and Harper Studio's Debbie Stier gave wonderful presentations
• drank complementary Belvedere vodka at the impressive BEA Tweet Up
• asked Craig Ferguson to sign his memoir to my mom and his novel to me
• met Dr. Ruth
• acclaimed DJ Cousin Brucie charmed the hell out of me when I got his CD signed for my uncle
• attended Wiley's in-booth beer party
• enjoyed Bookavore's doughnut
• had the balls to tell Michael Pietsch that Little, Brown's business model will save publishing (maybe it was all that drinking...)
• went to Fort Greene's No. 7 with Meg and dined on fried broccoli and stuffed cabbage with brisket and marinated mushrooms
Now I'm back to my desk job and missing all the interaction.