Thursday, September 30, 2010

Red traveling socks

Though I've only visited once, I sometimes find myself strangely homesick for San Francisco and Berkeley. This sparked one of those moments. I wish I could see John Adams, inspirer of this blog, on his home turf. (Though goodness knows I've seen him on visitors' turf far more times than the average bear.) I'm really looking forward to seeing my favorite Harmonielehre in November.

In other John Adams "news," the other day as I walked down the street in Brooklyn Heights I overheard a discussion about John Adams impersonators. It took me a minute to realize they meant the other one.

In other traveling news, tomorrow I go off to Boston for the weekend, where I hope to see many wonderful friends including some readers of this blog. If anyone has activity suggestions, please let me know, as my generous host has informed me she has 800 pages of reading this weekend, and so I imagine I will be spending at least a little time on my own. Ah, grad school, sometimes I think about you and sometimes I unthink about you again. I suppose we can always have a work party; I have plenty of freelancery to do. Then again, I am the proud possessor of my own Charlie card (thanks, M.--!), so I expect to do some wandering...

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


You heard it from me first.

And the winner is...

So it turns out the contest was rigged. But how could I order another macchiato (and, face it, most of them have been pretty lackluster) when I could have one of these? Mine looked exactly like the one in the picture, complete with mason jar and syrupy bottom layer. And so I am throwing my Bushwick coffee support behind Little Skips, which, in addition to my delicious beverage, serves intriguing sandwiches (it is always important to remember to eat when you are on a caffeine tour), has an array of charmingly mismatched furniture, and sits practically under the elevated M tracks, putting me in mind of Alvy Singer's Coney Island childhood in Annie Hall. Some might say that the rumble of the trains is a deterrent to concentration, but I would certainly bring my laptop back to Little Skips for a cozy couple hours of proofreading.

The only downside is that they don't stay open very late (7 PM) though a sign announces longer hours are coming soon. (Another sign proclaims "No decaf" in no-smoking style. No problem!) At least the early hours impelled me to wander Bushwick for a while. I sometimes feel that learning new neighborhoods is like playing Super Mario Brothers. You have to navigate the terrain for a while before it gives up its bonus points and secret passageways and new worlds. For the first time I felt that Bushwick opened up a few of its secrets to me. I couldn't walk long owing to a confluence of rain and knee and impending darkness but I did take in some of the sights. For instance, I had read about the mansions on Bushwick Avenue but had never seen any of them for myself. There aren't a ton of them, but they are beautiful and eerie and I can especially imagine the one in its own lot right next to the subway tracks as the perfect setting for a mystery. I have also heard that Brooklyn was known as the borough of churches, and in Bushwick you can see why: it seems like there is a church on every block, from humble storefront to looming cathedral. And the public library I walked by was itself a temple. I also have to admit that I love some of the newer architecture going up around here. There is something awe-inspiring about the hulking Woodhull Hospital (though the Yelp reviews of it are anything but (who knew that hospitals had Yelp reviews?)), and another curved glass and brick nursing center on the end of a street otherwise filled with tiny or decomposing buildings.

By the time I got on the bus home (B43 < B48 but it'll do), it was completely dark. But I sort of liked it that way. There's something satisfying about eroding the borders between a new destination and home, some prolonging of the mystery. I will definitely be back soon.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Poet try

Over the past couple of years or so, I'm not sure I've done enough writing to properly call myself a poet. And goodness knows I have never read enough of other people's poetry. This is something I handwringingly halfheartedly keep trying to change. But let's see if I can stick with it this time.

A couple of things have made me resolve to renew my poetry-reading efforts. First of all, last week I read Maggie Nelson's Bluets, which is a sort of cross between a philosophical investigation and a poem. Nelson has published several books. I regretted for years not picking up Shiner from the Strand when I had a chance (one of the poems I'd read in the store stayed with me so much that I eventually ordered the book); a couple years after that I had the rare privilege of helping to design the cover of another of her works. So, Bluets complete, I thought I'd best go back to the other books of Nelson's I have.

My second resolve nudge came from reading Nicholson Baker's The Anthologist. Which is a novel about a semi-washed-up poet attempting to write the introduction to an anthology of verse...but in the course of procrastinating on his introduction, he comes up with a whole book instead. The book combines all types of musings. It's a gentle satire of academia; it has the same stream-of-consciousness quality of, say, some of Tao Lin's books, but does not frustrate me in the way those do; and, most importantly, it's a celebration of poetry (albeit one that made me half tired of the whole business--but that's a story for another time). Baker's narrator is so genuinely enthusiastic about the poets he describes that I became enthusiastic too. In particular he discusses Elizabeth Bishop, whose collected poems I picked up when I was in San Francisco (and somehow magically managed to fit in my overfull bag) and W.S. Merwin, whose latest, The Shadow of Sirius, I just happened to have stored in a cabinet at work.

I read some Merwin interspersed with The Anthologist and I think I will read Bishop's Collected Poems more thoroughly. It shouldn't be impossible to read a handful of poems a day, right? I mean, I manage to read NPR's poems of the day, blearily booting up the morning internet. Reading poetry is hard, if you let it be. I think I tend to get bogged down by the need to understand and parse every. single. nuance. of a poem. But this time I am going to try to go a bit more full steam ahead. I will let you know how it turns out.

Who are some poets you particularly like? Franz Wright and Anne Carson are also very much on my list; I have read and LOVED several works from each.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Home(crest) sweet home

When you've had too much caffeine (never! you cry) another way to explore your borough is through libraries. Yesterday I had some books to return and my home branch was not open. So I looked at the Brooklyn Public Library's website and found some branches that were open until 8, picked Homecrest, and off I rode.

It takes a little less than an hour to wade through a mishmash of transfers from City Hall in Manhattan to the F stop at Avenue U in Brooklyn. (I didn't use the simple Q option because there is construction right now and the southbound platform is closed. Plus I hate waiting for the train at @#%$ Canal Street.) From there, it's a fifteen-minute walk or so to the Homecrest branch of the library, past a variety of quiet houses including one stately Victorian, some enormous buildings that looked to be single-family houses, and some tiny cottages. Streets have names like Village Road and West Street and, I discovered when I later looked at a map, Llama Court.

Another discovery: the Neck Road of subway stops is more fully known as Gravesend Neck Road, Gravesend being the surrounding neighborhood. I always feel like the name is sort of mysterious, conjuring up both the idea of graves and their lack, even if the real etymology is somewhat different.

The library is located on much busier, more commercial Coney Island Avenue, where it crosses Avenue V. It was slow going returning my books (like at so many libraries, the book drop is no longer operational), but I enjoyed the librarian's exchanges with the kids waiting ahead of me.

I walked up Coney Island Avenue to Avenue P before I caught the bus home, and as always there was a lot going on there. Full of the requisite delis and garages, but some other intriguing buildings are mxied in--a tiny residential stretch of cul-de-sacs (Homecrest Court, 1 Court, no 2 or 3 to speak of), cafes, the questionably-named Vodka Gallery, and my personal favorite, a pretty large bookstore (alas, it was closed). I stopped at Gulluoglu, home of about twelve exciting varieties of baklava. I did not have one of their signature creations but instead a delicious potato boregi, a sort of layered pastry bun.

Quite full, I sat down on the bus and made my way past the sights (giant bazaars, a rundown movie theater, an astonishing array of kosher eateries--bagels, of course, but also sushi and Mexican food--and the giant gentrificational Whole-Foodsy Pomegranate). Coming back to Cortelyou, I felt like I'd returned from a foreign country, or several. And in fact Cortelyou itself is a part of that country. I so rarely come into the neighborhood that way, yet it links up to southmost Brooklyn just as well as it does to its northern neighbors.

I stopped off for a cookie and a cup of tea at newly-opened Qathra ("drip" in Arabic), to discover that they were in the process of installing wireless. I read my remaining library book and sipped my tea before taking the brief walk home. Delicious.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

A book review wherein I decline to explain the plot

I can't tell you how many books have intrigued me with their opening pages. The undertone of menace in Coraline, the odd intellectualism of The Puttermesser Papers, the sprawling historical opening of Empire Falls, the comedy of England, England. But these books, and too many others, have something in common: they don't live up to their potential. I would say that in general I've found this problem to be one of halves. The first half of the book is full of whatever elusive promise makes me embark on it in the first place, whether it's menace or humor or any other quality. But too often the plot, in particular, derails, becomes something too violent or crass or just plain anticlimactic. Looking back over the first half of the book, I wonder where things went wrong.

The Thieves of Manhattan is not this kind of book. I can't say it is my favorite book, because it's not; in fact, it may be my least favorite of the ones I have wound up reviewing here. But it does have a distinction that is, to me, remarkable: its second half is better than the first.

I read this book in roughly two chunks (Boltbus down to Philadelphia; Boltbus back) so I was in an ideal position to notice such things. The first half (the plot of which I will explain) is unremarkable. The protagonist, Ian, is a dead-end short story writer working in a cafe, feeling jealous of his more-successful girlfriend, making fun of the fakery of celebrity memoirs, most notably the prison confessional Blade by Blade. It's this last trait that cracks Ian's world wide open: a mysterious well-dressed stranger, ostentatiously reading BbB in the cafe and dropping twenty-dollar bills in the tip jar, has a proposition for him. Will he take the stranger's unpublishable novel (too much old-school adventure plot, too little character development) and pretend it's a memoir of events that happened to him? Ian demurs, but the stranger, with his unerring talent for ferreting out the truth, knows he will take on the project.

And what happens when Ian accepts the project forms the second half of the book, which I won't say much about here, because to tell you about it would ruin the pleasure you'll get from reading it yourself. Let's just say that the truth and fiction get mixed up and spun around in a variety of truly unexpected ways, while our main character breaks out of his pathetic existence and becomes a new man, though not without regrets.

Thieves brought me back to my eighth-grade days--or, I should say, nights--of reading Great Expectations and Harry Potter under the covers well past any reasonable bedtime, caught up in the manic incredible plot-twisting pacing. Read Thieves if you have a free afternoon, or a night where you don't have to be anywhere the next morning. It won't take you long, and if you are any fan of heists or mysteries or sudden twists of fate, I suspect you won't regret it.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Long ride in a slow machine

Lately I've been lazy. It's been a while, last Thursday excepted, since I undertook a giant walk; my running career basically stalled once the temperature hit 80. Even the prospect of taking the godforsaken stairs up to my office (one small piece of exercise I'm serious about) is difficult to stomach when I blearily stumble into the building in the morning.

This bothers me, so I have tried to come up with a cure for my lack of motivation. And I think I've finally it. The catch-22-ish trick is: When you want to feel energized, use more energy!

This morning I got myself out of bed when I woke up at 7, instead of fitfully half-sleeping away the next hour or so (and believe me, this wasn't easy). I then took the magic B103 bus which runs hyperexpress from Coney Island Ave. onto the Prospect Expressway and ultimately into downtown Brooklyn. Though the bus was a bit stop-and-start on this ride, it still didn't take toooo long to arrive at Tillary Street. Where I dropped my library books in the slot at the Brooklyn Heights branch (I wish my corner library had one of those) then made a pit stop at Tazza for some iced coffee. And then...over the Brooklyn Bridge to work!

Again with the exception of last Thursday, it has been far too long since I walked across the bridge. The middle of which is now full of construction barriers far too tall for piddling little me to peer over, but never mind that. Watching the morning come into being around me, the fog slowly lifting off New York Harbor, the biking and striding purposeful commuters, all set to the soundtrack of Hallelujah Junction, is really the way to welcome in the morning. Then, Short Ride in a Fast Machine in ipod tow, I descended into the frizz and fray of downtown Manhattan and damned if those stairs weren't trifling after all.

Friday, September 10, 2010


Since I have not posted as many of my own thoughts this week as usual, here are someone else's. I have not worked for Akashic, though I do work for some of the other companies Johnny Temple mentions in the interview. I like his focus on the relationship between music and books; as you know, both are dear to my heart.

The reason for Temple's interview is, of course, the Brooklyn Book Festival. If you're in town Sunday, check it out. Your humble poster will only be there in the morning, but even if you can't accommodate her jetsetting lifestyle, the book festival is worth it for all the books and events and books and fun workshops and books and did I mention books?

(1oo posts today, wow. Seems like just yesterday I was commemorating 50.)

Thursday, September 9, 2010

In conclusion

And a nice walk home was had. (Not without meetings fortuitous and planned, some lovely telephone conversation, and a sit-down dinner, mind.) Even a little bit of a run. Fall, here I come!

Sunset song

Greetings, gentle readers,

I keep coming up with half ideas for posts--a music update? a request for tips on motivating yourself to deal with tasks you don't really feel like doing? a book review?--but none of them's really sticking at the moment. Instead of coming up with words at all, in fact, I'm tempted to let my feet rule and take me for a long glorious walk outside. Must be enthralled by the verge of fall--the crisp in the air the last few evenings has finally made me believe it's on its way back. I want to make the most of my time outside before the clocks change too soon and I leave work every night after dark. Maybe I'll listen to some of that new music I've been trying out (Mumford and Sons, Stars, Arcade Fire), see where it takes me. Happy wandering to you.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Read wear

I have been thinking about the internet lately (fancy telling you that here, right?).

This weekend I read Ilana Gershon's The Breakup 2.0. Gershon looks at how users convey information about breakups through various media, especially Facebook. She then uses this research to raise larger questions about how people use different media, and what their choices mean. It won't be too much of a spoiler if I tell you that different people use different media for different things, and that these preferences vary from person to person. This variance can be problematic if you're trying to figure out what other people's motives are in a conversation. Maybe I think text messages are for logistics and you want to write me a novel 160 characters at a time. Maybe you think emails are very formal and are confused when I send you one that's all "heyyy what's up." Or maybe I instant message you and you reply via text. Wait, what? And so we confuse one another.

Another confusion, or maybe more like a problem, can arise if you aren't aware of your audience: in a sinister turn of events, emails can be forwarded to recipients other than your intended; in a more mundane one, you can forget that you are posting, say, a blog and that the whole damn world can read it. Gershon spoke to a student who had a public blog with his full name attached to it, then was dismayed his parents read it. I know a whole wide world can read this blog, even though they may not so choose, and that does somewhat influence what I say here... (PS: Hi, mom!)

To be sure, the book does not offer much in the way of concrete conclusions, but it provides a good reminder to think about what you communicate and where you do it.

I have also been considering the internet anew as I find myself lurking on Metafilter and reading the questions users pose for one another. Some of the queries result in elegant solutions ("I heard this song which mentions a girl—can you tell me what it is?"; "Please suggest some interesting things to do in San Francisco"); others provide telanovela drama for the rubbernecker. I have never yet weighed in on these problems. And so it's with interest that I caught wind of this hypothesis, which I will not summarize here right now except to say that, unsurprisingly, it's a small group that generates most of the content on any given web forum; 90% or more of the community is composed of lurkers like me. And it's hard to know what the lurkers are thinking.

In summary:
-The internet is full of unsurprising conclusions.
-If you post something in public, people could read it.
-If you have a question, ask the internet.
-I hope you are enjoying my posts, lurkers, whoever you may be.

Friday, September 3, 2010


Last week, in less fraught and busy times, I jetted out to the Jefferson Avenue L stop for a quick extension of my tour. I visited the tiny Wyckoff Starr cafĂ©—which is so small and located so close to the subway stop that I turned the wrong way and missed it first time around. Though father out on the line, the area around this stop is a lot more welcoming. The design of the buildings has its own charm; there were people on the quiet streets and generally an aura of purpose, rather than factory neglect. Wyckoff Star was a nice place—$1.50 macchiato and all. The woman behind the counter checked to make sure that a macchiato was what I really wanted—cue some brief commiserating about how Starbucks has confused everyone—and when it was, put it in my thermos for me. The drink was pretty good, ranking below Boulevard and above the other two.

Afterwards, I took a walk—apparently, to Queens—up some quiet streets to the Onderdonk farmhouse, a real, live historical site. I couldn’t go in—they are only open on Saturdays—but the sudden greenery of the farmyard, couched in industry and with the Empire State Building et al rising stark out of the drizzly horizon, was a sight to behold.

Walking back, I conceded the area was pretty desolate. I guess it’s a question of where you come in—the immediate vicinity of Morgan near the L is pretty inhabited, too, even though I didn't feel it on my walk in. Here, though, there was a much more residential, peaceful feel—small houses, sparrows perched in a chainlink dovecote, an assemblage of greenery and blue garage that conjured up an image of the Statue of Liberty for me. In fact, I found the area so satisfying that I decamped there with K.-- for arepas this week. Pretty good, but not on a par with my dear Bogota, which I have neglected far too long... Dinner, anyone?