2018 New Members New Books PEN Party

I went out with friend and client Emily Smith to PEN's 2018 New Members New Books party at the Sean Kelly Gallery. It was pretty fun! Everyone wore name tags, and the biggest name I spotted was Jennifer Egan.  Below is a shot of the crowd from the hors d'ouevres table.

 View of the PEN party

View of the PEN party

I vowed to network and make connections at this party, and not dance it up, as I did last year. That vow sort of succeeded, in that I did make small talk with a kind PEN staffer and her boyfriend, a car salesman, aspiring real estate agent and Rutgers Business School attendee. It also succeeded in that since no one was allowed to dance, I didn't dance. Apparently there were concerns about the safety of the art (it's held in an art gallery.)

There was a projector screen onto which flashed all the 2018 debuts with pictures of their covers and authors. Emily and I were standing next to the author of the amazingly titled Finding Mr. Rightstein (which seems to have actually come out in 2016). The author pointed when her cover flashed on the screen, and I'm happy to report Mr. Rightstein was standing next to her and appropriately lit up when her book came on screen.

In the middle of the party, there were some speeches by writers who had been helped by PEN, which has an admirable mission of promoting free speech. They were very touching. It was interesting to note, there was definitely a calmer atmosphere at this year's party as opposed to last year's immediately-after-Trump extravaganza. However, though it was calmer, in a way it was more sobering as the dangers the writers were describing did feel that much closer (mainly about the crackdown on immigration.)

Incidentally, I've been reading Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner, which has made me think a lot about immigration and the international economic systems. I thought about The Wretched of the Earth by Franz Fanon, and the strange way plantations always seem to be lurking in the background of Jane Austen novels. Although Telex from Cuba got off to a slow start, it's picking up and I'm enjoying learning about Cuba which I know next to nothing about. The book speaks matter of factly about how insurrections are funded by the U.S. and arms dealers. It also is pretty good when dealing with racism. I feel like we start out learning that these things happened in history and now they're OVER, but as you get older, instead it seems more like a continuum and in this case the companies in Cuba importing workers from Jamaica and Haiti don't seem that far from slavery.

 

 Photo booth captions...believe they are answer the question, "What are stories for?"

Photo booth captions...believe they are answer the question, "What are stories for?"

The hors d'ouevres were pretty good, and although they only had one cocktail offering as opposed to last year's several, it was the sweet one, the Daisy Miller. Emily and I lingered for awhile, then decamped to Friedman's, a hipster place across the street where I had a glass of wine and sweet potato fries. It was warm out, so no need to take an Uber home. I feel like I said a lot of truths that night, and they kept coming back to me in fragments over the next few days.

 

 The photographer who always does literary parties.

The photographer who always does literary parties.

Tis The Season

Tis the season, and I've fallen off my blogging game.  What I've been doing re the book world since then.

 

 

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I read Sympathy, a novel by Olivia Sudjic. I really enjoyed this novel, about a British girl in her early twenties who comes to New York and adventures ensue. The plot is a little scattered and difficult to describe, but it was all part of the charm. The book really dives into social media, in particular Instagram, and how it influences lives. What I enjoyed the most about it was the real pointillist approach to describing New York. The narrator's days of roaming the streets were intensely relateable. As was her search for love, acceptance, meaning. She is in love or obsessed with someone she sees as her doppelganger. Actually in spirit, it did remind me of Dostoyevsky a lot, though I've never read The Double. Dostoyevsy always has these ranting male protagonists, and Sudjic's was like the female equivalent. 

 

 Emily Smith

Emily Smith

I also went to a reading at Bluestockings Bookstore. My friend and client Emily Smith had an essay published in a book titled Greetings from Janeland, about women pursuing romantic relationships with women, after much experience with men. The readings were all pretty fascinating since they were cutting right to the heart of people's personal experiences. Emily's was great, and not just for the story, but also for so well conveying what it's like to be in a malaise and then have first glimmers of hope.

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I'm in the middle of reading this novella by Chekhov. I just think he's an amazing writer and am in awe of him. This is all in part of my new initiative to only read paper books. That said, the plot of this book is not that interesting to me, it just seems to be about a young man bored with his provincial life, but some of the writing has been incredible. For instance, there is a whole description of the types of buildings the man's father, an architect, designs, and the description accurately conveys the dullness of the man's mind--and I barely understand architecture. Amazing! Then the young man paints stage scenery and you so easily understand the appeals of painting stage scenery.

Finally, I've been interested in some of the #metoo ripples into book publishing. Most notably with the resignation of Lorin Stein at the Paris Review. I had a brief stint of devouring Paris Reviews after college and when I first started out literary agenting. I liked a lot of the fiction they presented. I haven't read it in a long time, though I've decided I definitely want to up my periodical subscriptions.

Here's what I've read/listened about it. "Farewell to a Scoundrel" by Wesley Yang in Tablet Magazine, "This is How A Woman is Erased from Her Job" by A.N. Denvers in Longreads, and this podcast by Jessa Crispin, interviewing Leah Finnegan,  In the latter, Leah Finnegan does accurately describe how I felt about Paris Review parties. 

Happy Holidays!

Electric Lit Ball

I went with my friend Eveline to a party thrown by Electric Literature. The party was themed "Masque of the Red Death," after an Edgar Allen Poe story. Guests were required to wear red or black. There were masks at the party, free drinks and free books. 

I showed up promptly at eight. There were lots of books available and no one was really taking any--early party shyness. I got a tote bag and filled it with books after seeing one other person do the same, then checked my tote bag and coat, grabbed a mask and a drink and waited for Eveline.

I ran into this guy who I guess is the official photographer for New York literary scene stuff, because I saw him at two PEN events previously. Each time I address him as if he knows who I am and each time he responds as if he knows who I am, but I always have the distinct impression he does not remember me. And also that he knows I know he doesn't remember me?

 Literary scene photographer who may or may not recognize me or both at once like Schroedinger's Cat.

Literary scene photographer who may or may not recognize me or both at once like Schroedinger's Cat.

 Bemasked literary people.

Bemasked literary people.

While I waited, a young writer struck up a conversation with me. She worked for a tech company but wrote on the side. Her personal essays sounded really interesting, and I encouraged her to write more of them. 

Eveline arrived, checked her coat, and put on her mask. We stood around talking to the younger writers for awhile, who told us about a networking group for women that they're in called the Valkyries, but how they might have to change the name due to a right-wing nationalist type group also being named the Valkyries.

Then, we hit the dance floor. The music was an enjoyable, pop mix including "Faith" by George Michaels, "Thriller" by Michael Jackson, and "Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order. I was impressed by how the DJ seemed cool and calm, and then realized later that he wasn't actually the DJ but the sound and lighting guy, so the reason he was so chill around the music was because he wasn't involved in playing it. I think there's a metaphor for my love life in there somewhere .  

 Note to self, expressionless does not equal Zen transcendence.

Note to self, expressionless does not equal Zen transcendence.

 Party at its height.

Party at its height.

Eveline and I stayed on the dance floor for a long time. The last song playing as we left was "Vogue" by Madonna. At this point, I was filled with trepidation about bringing all my books home on the subway, but it actually turned out to be pretty easy. When I woke up it was nice to have a stack of books to look forward to reading to. I'm probably most interested in Olivia Sudijic's Sympathy. It's about a young girl . . . who comes to NYC . . . 

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Books!

A Fresh Ink client, J. Thomas Kelly, recently published his novel Makato's Mother. I really enjoyed working on this book, which has heavy spiritual themes. I also enjoyed some of its insights into Native Americans. It's a deep book, and I often think back to it. There's a lot about suffering.

I'm reviving this blog. We'll see how it goes. Keeping up a blog meant to be SEO-optimized was training, but I think I could handle just writing my thoughts about books and manuscripts. I also really don't like seeing a blog that's not updated that much on websites so I want potential clients to know that I'm here and working.

I read a great book this week, In Love by Alfred Hayes. It was short, a novella. Whenever I read novellas, I am struck by how much I like them. Novels can take over your mind and become almost too immersive, replacing the real world. But a novella can kind of slither in and merge with your reality. I'll read short stories and enjoy them, but I almost never reach for them. They sometimes feel like puzzles to me.

In Love is about a New York love affair, so I was very engaged. The writing was amazing, clear as a bell. After the break-up of the couple, though, I got less interested. There is a great sequence where the man drives the woman to Atlantic City, and he thinks the love affair is going to get revived, but instead it just is well, if not the last, one of the last nails in the coffin. His and her reflections on the ocean are extraordinary. Unfortunately, I returned the book, but there's a whole passage about how the narrator feels looking at the ocean always like he understands everything and finally gets it, but then the understanding slips away when he comes back to the real world.

I had some great work I was doing today, helping out with a historical manuscript. These are always challenging My favorite contemporary historical writer is Emma Donoghue, who is now more famous for her novel, Room. Bringing history to life is no easy feat. When depicting the past, there is such a temptation to just name a lot of things. To make everything an accumulation of details. The life gets choked out of the book. Personal stories get submerged.

In Love was written in 1954, but not only were the themes timeless, the setting also did was not distractingly different. So much was just in the interior of the characters' heads. The world was boiled down to only those items they felt significant, like a fur, a necklace, the ocean, fly paper. Everything else was gauzy. I could relate, for sure.