This August I have been traipsing all over Manhattan with the intention of touching famous writers in person. Here is a quick summary:
1) Richard Russo and Pat Conroy at Barnes & Noble. I didn’t have a seat which made me nervous about fainting from excitement and having to sweat it out on the floor like a sensitive Victorian lady. I was stationed behind the velvet Barnes & Noble rope and I knew that my swoon would distract the audience from the authors so I held it together as best I could. Russo sat in the chair meant for Conroy and vice versa, throwing me into a brief confusion because neither one of them looked like they did in my mind or, more importantly, on their book jackets. Also I discovered that famous authors really do wear khakis and loafers and blazers just like they’re supposed to.
2) Nick McDonell at McNally Jackson on Prince Street. I had to see this guy as a way of proving to myself that I’m not a jealous person, that all my ego deflating work has been successful. I got to the bookstore early, hungry, thirsty, nervous, sweaty, and thankfully all the chairs were empty so I could sit down and read a magazine. Ten minutes later I took an inventory of the room and saw 100 new arrivals, all young and attractive and fashionably clothed. I pretended not to see them and instead focused on the elderly man next to me because his neglected breath and raggedy plastic bag felt more my style. I hung out with him after the show, and it turns out he’s writing a book about who really killed the Lindbergh baby. He brought some newspaper clippings to show McDonell.
McDonell seemed just as nice and smart and self-deprecating as described in the recent New York Times article. He had artfully floppy hair with blonde highlights probably acquired naturally in the African sun. He used delightfully unexpected verbs like “leaven.” He dog-eared his own book. He admitted to planting friends in the audience. He wore khakis like the other guys but he tucked them into haphazardly laced boots that have probably been on safari. I didn’t once think about him with his shirt off even though I could have because he reminded me of a Holister model. At Barnes & Noble Richard Russo had joked about losing his train of thought while trying to make effective eye contact with the audience “like Obama,” but McDonell was a born public speaker who could read from An Expensive Education and stare into your soul at the same time. I wasn’t one bit jealous of his success but I think if he had been a female version of himself I would’ve been because my ego is sexist. Also, some people in New York City are so far out of your league that it wouldn’t cross your mind to compete with them. You’re happy enough just sitting in their proximity while you discuss Lindbergh baby conspiracies with someone more relatable.
3) Literary Death Match at Bowery Poetry Club. Todd Zuniga of Opium Magazine created the Literary Death Match because I gather he enjoys both literature and boxing and the LDM is the nearest he could get to making writers fight each other. At these events celebrities from the bookish world judge four contestants over the course of two rounds on literary merit, performance, and intangibles. Some of the authors at Bowery read from published work, some told stories, and some did stand-up. I thought the assembled talent – judges included – was phenomenal. I actually touched some people at this one, but not with their permission.
4) Mid-Manhattan Branch of New York Public Library. This doesn’t mean that I will stop buying books, but it does mean that I will start paying overdue fines. The trouble is you have to walk through Midtown Manhattan to get to the library so by the time you reach the stacks you’re so pooped from the visual and bodily assault of crossing streets in a pack that you just want to sit in the quiet stairwell and practice deep breathing exercises. But I’m thrilled to have my NYPL card at last even though I can’t believe they just give these things to anybody. But the joke’s on them! I’m not going to use the card to educate myself in order to be a better citizen of this democracy. I’m going to use the card to gain access to the bathrooms whenever I’m in Midtown.