Last week I was looking for my boss when I noticed Nabokov’s Pale Fire on a colleague’s desk. I asked her, “Are you reading this?” Realizing how condescending that sounded, I tried to make a joke of it and added, “Or what?”
Category Archives: Books
A girl in college once told me she thought that people who liked the same bands could probably be friends. Her sentiment struck me as terribly naïve, but it’s taken me two decades to question my own assumption that people who like the same books share a sensibility.
Last week my wife and I went to see the formidable Barbara Ehrenreich speak at Congregation Beth Elohim in Brooklyn. You might know Ehrenreich from Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America, her much-celebrated and controversial book about the ordeals of blue-collar workers, but I love her for Bright-sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America, in which she stomps all over our country’s favorite panacea. In short, Ehrenreich’s a bad-ass. Which is why I was so surprised by the kind of people who made up her audience.
Here’s a sad story. When the weather allows, I like to take a break from work and visit the Strand’s kiosk in Central Park. While there, I methodically browse through all the books on sale, starting at one end and making my way to the other without skipping a single book. But this isn’t the sad part!
At a recent night out with another couple, we followed Indian food with a nightcap at Rolf’s, a German restaurant. (Thankfully the ethnic leap was mitigated by the bartender, who was Bangladeshi.) It’s not often that I get to talk about my literary obsessions with a willing participant, so I drunkenly tried to keep up my side of the conversation about comic novels with the husband—not an easy task in my state, considering that after two drinks I forget names and after four I forget adjectives, and I was somewhere around my fifth.
As I strained to convince my companion of the virtues of the great Dawn Powell without the benefit of recalling her name, I caught my reflection on the mirror behind the bar. Even from a distance I could see my right eye was noticeably off alignment, as it invariably happens when I’m tired or, as in this case, sauced.
I’ve shaved off my beard. Again. I try to grow a beard at least a couple of times a year, each time believing that this time will be the time that I keep it, this will be the time when I will become a bearded man. But I always give up and shave it off at around four weeks. Sometimes it’s because it feels uncomfortable, more recently because I think it makes me look old, but mostly I do it because it somehow feels like it’s not me. But how can it not be me, if my beard is literally a part of me?
Do I not recognize myself when I see myself with a beard? Perhaps it’s because the beard is outwards-directed, forcing me to try to see myself through the eyes of others. According to pop-Existentialist Gary Cox, “For Sartre, the moustache becomes the emblem of unthinking men with no inner life. A man can not see his own moustache, at least to the extent that others see it, so a moustache exists primarily for others and a man with a moustache is a man who has undertaken to exist for others rather than for himself.” Makes sense, facial hair as bad faith.
Earlier this week I received an invitation to a gallery opening from an artist I hadn’t heard from in many years – and whom I hadn’t seen since our one and only date about ten years ago.
I met her when I worked at an art gallery in Harlem. It was rare to get visitors outside of the opening reception; usually the only people who dropped by during the run of the show were a local drug dealer, who would spend a lot of time looking at the art and leave without ever saying a word, and the landlord, demanding to see the owner because we were invariably late paying the rent. It was a very special day when a cute girl walked in, and near-miraculous if she would come to the back office, which this one did.