1. Feeling bookish. Anyone who thinks reading is dead need look no further than the Brooklyn Book Festival. With about 100 panels, 180 booths and thousands of readers of all ages, it was a terrific opportunity to realize how the printed word still influences us. Best of all — it’s all free! For a book nerd like me, it was exciting to see lines around the corner to get into the auditoriums and crowds around the booths so deep I had to wait to get to the front. There were so many interesting panels happening simultaneously, I often didn’t know which one to attend. Hear Francine Prose speak about how the past compels us to reinvent ourselves or former US Poet Laureate Billy Collins read from his work? (See below for more Billy Collins.) Listen to Naomi Wolf discuss her controversial new book or Joyce Carol Oates and Colson Whitehead debate the effect of setting in their work? Hear Julia Glass and Carin Clevidence discuss what it’s like to be debut authors over the age of 40 or YA author Susane Colasanti talk about how much of “real life” to infuse into her work for teens? Not easy!
One panel I knew I would attend was with Karen Thompson Walker author of The Age of Miracles, the book I just finished. I can’t wait to tell you more about her book — another time! How wonderful to be reading an author’s work and then be able to hear her talk about how she got the idea for the story and the choices she made along the way.
Now its seventh year, the festival just keeps getting better. The very first festival took place weeks after my book, The Subway Chronicles, was published. Back then it was an unknown. Would anyone come? Would dust collect on the books I hoped to sell? I took a chance and rented my own booth (because the publisher refused). By noon I’d sold out!
Have you ever been to a book festival?
2. How can I get this job? Bibliotherapist. This is a real job at Alain de Botton’s School of Life in London. He says, “What makes books good, generally, is we are reading them at the right time. And I think what makes books ineffective, boring or easily forgotten is that we have come across them at the wrong time. What bibliotherapy tries to do is marry the person up with the book that would speak to them at that time.”
For about $125 you can describe your issues –workplace blues, girlfriend troubles, struggles with rebellious kids — and the bibliotherapist will send you off with a prescription for…books. Here are a few recommendations by bibliotherapist Ella Berthoud:
- Adjusting to a new city: How to be an Explorer of the World, by Keri Smith, is neither a novel nor a philosophical book, but an artist’s book, which looks a bit like a sketchbook. The book suggests ways in which we can use our imagination creatively. Keri Smith, who is a successful illustrator, encourages her readers to observe their environment and see the world with new eyes, and to then document their observations. This book will help you learn to love your new environment.
- Grieving the loss of a loved one: Someone in this situation might find The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion, helpful. She describes the death of her husband and illness of her daughter, and how she copes with it. The book is widely described as one of the most helpful books about bereavement around, partly because Didion is so factual and, in a way, emotionally removed from her subject.
- In between jobs and confused: If you are only just discovering the joys of unemployment, you could start by reading Bartleby, the Scrivener, by Herman Melville, a hilarious short story in which an employee is constantly asked to do things he “would prefer not to.” He is eventually asked to leave, but he remains night and day in the offices. He does it with such grace and dignity that one can only admire him.
What books would you recommend if you were a bibliotherapist?
3. Unlocking the secret to women. While riding the 2 train yesterday, I overheard two guys – about 18 or 19 – discussing the dating life, specifically how they have both been in a dry spell. The good news was that one guy has unlocked the secret to getting the ladies to agree to go on a date. As your faithful blogger I jotted down the finer points of their conversation. Surely I will be using this material in a future story.
Guy 1: Girls aren’t that complicated, you know.
Guy 2: They’re not? They always talk a weird game. Like we say what we mean. (Shaking his head) But girls?
Guy 1: Forget that. Here’s what we do. It’s so simple. We compliment them.
Guy 2: Compliment them?
Both guys nod appreciatively at an attractive woman who boards the train at Wall Street.
Guy 1: If you don’t compliment them in a subtle, not-so-subtle way, then you’ll be stuck in the “friend zone.” You don’t want to be stuck there. You have to compliment them so they’ll think about you. Then you ask if they want to go for a coffee.
Guy 2: Coffee? Sounds like the “friend zone” to me.
Guy 1: No, no. It’s a big mistake to meet a girl at a bar or at a party. See, then she’s looking all pretty, all dressed up and she’s expecting to be approached. She’s prepared to say no to you. You have to do it on the street.
Guy 2: Wait. Did Brian tell you this? Brian’s a @(%#!$
Guy 1: Yeah, but he’s made out with like half the girls in class, so I think he knows what he’s doing.
Guy 2: Yeah. (Thinks about this for a moment.) I guess you’re right.
Guy 1: So like I was saying, you just meet her on the street. Just run into her like “Whoa, I didn’t see you there.” Catch her off guard. Then you compliment her and ask her for coffee. It’s that simple.
4. Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I’ve spent way too much precious time watching these webisodes from Jerry Seinfeld. It’s exactly what it says it is: Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, so why is it so darn funny? In each webisode, Jerry calls up one of his comedian friends — Alec Baldwin, Ricky Gervais, Larry David, Joel Hodgson, etc. — and picks him up in a kick ass classic car. They drive around New York City for a bit, ending up at a local coffee shop. Check out the webisode with Colin Quinn and Mario Joyner for a trip into Brooklyn, not too far from my neighborhood, where they spend some time laughing at hipsters.
5. The next poet laureate? Watch this adorable three-year-old boy recite a wonderful “love” poem, Litany, by Billy Collins. All I can say is wow. I can barely remember what I had for dinner last night. Just press play.
The text is below so you can follow along.
Litany, by Billy Collins
You are the bread and the knife,
the crystal goblet and the wine.
You are the dew on the morning grass
and the burning wheel of the sun.
You are the white apron of the baker,
and the marsh birds suddenly in flight.
However, you are not the wind in the orchard,
the plums on the counter,
or the house of cards.
And you are certainly not the pine-scented air.
There is just no way that you are the pine-scented air.
It is possible that you are the fish under the bridge,
maybe even the pigeon on the general’s head,
but you are not even close
to being the field of cornflowers at dusk.
And a quick look in the mirror will show
that you are neither the boots in the corner
nor the boat asleep in its boathouse.
It might interest you to know,
speaking of the plentiful imagery of the world,
that I am the sound of rain on the roof.
I also happen to be the shooting star,
the evening paper blowing down an alley
and the basket of chestnuts on the kitchen table.
I am also the moon in the trees
and the blind woman’s tea cup.
But don’t worry, I’m not the bread and the knife.
You are still the bread and the knife.
You will always be the bread and the knife,
not to mention the crystal goblet and–somehow–the wine.
Have a great weekend, everyone!