Friday Five

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!



  1. As always, too many treasures in one post, Jackie! Has the Festival come and gone already? It is such an incredible event–and cheers to you, friend, on your success there! (Though I’m sure Reggie’s already given you a high-five-paw:)) That dialog between the 2 guys is priceless!! Have a great weekend!


    1. I just found your comment in the spam filter. Strange.
      The main festival is on Sunday, but there are events all week leading up to it. For me it’s like the Oscars, Grammys and Emmys all rolled into one. I hope one day to find you on a panel titled, “Maine in modern literature.” It could happen! 🙂


  2. One of my favorite Friday Fives yet. So much, so diverse! I love the Brooklyn Book Festival, looks amazing — I hope to go to the Boston Book Festival at the end of next month (have never been to one before). As for the young guy conversation. It’s been a longggg time since I was that age or dating, but this seemed to be pretty smart: “Catch her off guard. Then you compliment her and ask her for coffee. It’s that simple.” I really do think it’s that simple. The other stuff, the analysis, is HYSTERICAL (and maybe not so simple or so true) and I agree would be a great addition to a novel. Loved it!


    1. The book festival was great. It was wonderful to see so many people browsing the booths and listening to the panel discussions. A few panels I attended were standing room only! I hope you get to go to the Boston Festival so we can compare notes.


  3. Oh, I loved this post, Jackie. I’m a book-lover—-a big book-lover. Yes, I have a Kindle Fire, but I still need the actual book in hand from time to time. And, goodness, that little boy was amazing! How articulate for a three-year-old. I totally loved the way he played the entire time he recited the poem. Hope you and Reggie have a wonderful weekend, as well!


    1. I noticed that too, Kathy, the way the little boy was playing with his dinosaurs or whatever. So sweet. Oh to have a mind like a sponge!
      Hope you get to relax a bit this weekend and enjoy breakfast. 🙂


  4. The Brooklyn Book Festival has blown up… so exciting!! As for the bibliotherapy, sign me up! Actually, this sort of therapy would be further enhanced by having Meryl Streep or Jeremy Irons reading bits of Michael Chabon or Tom Wolfe to me whilst driving to work 🙂


  5. The BBF sounds fun! Did you pick up a copy of Reading like a Writer? Or had you already read it? Anyway, I adore book festivals. They’re big, happy, book nerd parties.

    I think Guy 1 might be on to something. Maybe you should have suggested they meet girls at book fests? Shelf Awareness had a cute link recently about meeting potential dates at book stores, but advised against having 50 Shades of Grey in your hand.

    Thank you for sharing that Litany…doesn’t reading it make you want to go sit down and write?


    1. The entire book festival made me just want to hole myself up at some writer’s colony for weeks. Oh, how wonderful that would be!

      I’ve read Reading Like a Writer before. Whenever I need a refresher, I find I go back to it time and again, much like Stephen King’s On Writing.

      PS – I’ve seen several people (men and women) reading 50 Shades of Grey on the subway!


  6. All day yesterday I thought it was Thursday, so I’m late with this. I don’t have a memory like that adorable boy!
    Probably your best Friday Five ever, Jackie. The description of the book festival left me drooling. I went to one festival in D.C. and it took a while to figure out what was going on. Soooo many authors and speakers all at the same time and book-signing lines that went on forever. Would have liked yours better.
    Bibliotherapist? Oh my, who wouldn’t love that job? I’d recommend Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman for any woman going through a divorce.
    The poetry reading was one of the sweetest things I’ve ever seen. Thank you for that.


    1. I don’t have a memory like that boy either! Actually I don’t think I every did. 🙂
      Love your book recommendation! I didn’t even know this was a career, now I think, dream job!
      Hope you’re having a great weekend


  7. Oh boy how did I miss this one. Well I found it. congrats on selling your copies. I would love to be a Bibliotherapist. And the two guys on the train…well I laughed. Probably not what they would want to hear. I think they are right, they should stick to coffee dates. It will be easier for the girls to get away.


    1. The School of Life can’t be too far away from you. If you go, I want a full update.

      I’m glad that those guys have “figured out” women at such a young age. 🙂 Now they can educate their friends.


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