The Great Read in the Park

Sunday, October 15th, 2006 | All Things, Books, Eats, Events

SYB and I parted ways after the brunch adventure: he, off to support his friend, who would be performing at CultureFest 2006 in Battery Park; I, to attend the second annual Great Read in the Park, hosted by the New York Times. Last year’s inaugural event commemorated the 70th Anniversary of the New York Times Best-Seller list; the event was such a success, that the Times brought the “extraordinary literary celebration for book lovers of all ages” back to Bryant Park for another year.

Multi-colored tents and one main stage were set up inside the Park behind the New York Public Library for the simultaneously scheduled events, which included author book signings, themed panel discussions, interviews, readings and live music and dance performances. Over 120 authors had signed up to participate, catering to a wide range of interests: from food, to fiction, to business, to politics, to college admissions, to sports, to health and wellness…

The Great Read

Last year’s lineup featured more of the performances and authors I wanted to see. I remember: the Broadway cast of Wicked; Doubt’s Cherry Jones and Brian O’Byrne; Anthony Bourdain; Nicole Krauss; Jonathan Safran Foer; Mark Kurlansky; Rick Moody; Will Shortz… none of whom were making a return appearance this year.

The Great Read

Still, there was plenty on the slate of interest. I arrived just in time for the “New York Writers, New York Stories” panel taking place in the Green Tent. At least, I thought so. As it happened, by fifteen minutes before start time, the tent was already filled to capacity and security was not letting anyone inside past the velvet rope. There’s always a velvet rope in New York City. Who knew that Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams could draw such a crowd?

A determined few, similarly shut out of the main event, resorted to eavesdropping from the other side of the tent canvas.


Not I. I gave up and wandered into the Eve Ensler interview, taking place on the New York Times Stage. Here, Ms. Vagina Monologues herself discussing her new book, “Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security-Obsessed World.” Part memoir, part criticism, her work explores how the pursuit of security in and of itself creates an environment of insecurity, isolating individuals and thwarting opportunities for dialogue, hope, and change.

Eve Ensler

In another part of the Park, Grammy Award-winning singer songwriter Gloria Estefan (sans Miami Sound Machine) was reading from her children’s book “Noelle’s Treasure Tale”:

Gloria Estefan

Not wanting to be shut out twice, I went to stand on line for the panel I wanted most to see: “Food Writing: Cuisine with Personality,” featuring New York Times writers and brothers Matt Lee and Ted Lee (in glasses), and Gourmet magazine’s husband and wife columnists Jane and Michael Stern. Florence Fabricant (far right), food writer for The New York Times, moderated the panel for another capacity crowd.

Food Panelists

It was interesting to hear how the two teams approach their food discoveries differently. The Lee bothers admitted to a decidedly NYC-centric view, and they talked about the “heat-seeking culture” of the New York Times. They and Fabricant commiserated about the constant pressure to find the Next Great Thing, or the super-secret source, which by virtue of their writing about it becomes not-so-secret anymore. The Sterns, by contrast, consider themselves more food preservationists, traveling around the country, shining their spotlight on chefs and dishes that would perhaps otherwise fade away without notice or fanfare.

Matt Lee told a funny story of how in Summer 2000 he wrote a piece for the New York Times (which made its way to a National Public Radio feature) about Hamburg Inn No. 2 in Iowa City. At the time, he waxed poetic about the “secret” menu item of the otherwise unremarkable diner: the pie shake — a slice of crusty fruit pie blended into a milkshake. Pie! In a shake! Brilliant. (His favorite combination: strawberry rhubarb pie and vanilla ice cream.) Perhaps obscene, but ultimately “a triumph of design and flavor — a pie à la mode smoothie — and evidence of the heartland’s inspired practicality.”

Lee’s piece created such a sensation – in Iowa City! – that the Inn was unable to keep up with the demand. Rather than do what any diner in New York City would have done, i.e., start charging $10 a shake, so that only a manageable few would continue to order it, the Hamburg Inn flat out refused to fulfill any more orders for the pie shake — which had never been on the menu to begin with. Diners who made the trek and request for a pie shake after the owner’s edict came down were told firmly that no such item existed. And so the pie shake disappeared into legend, a victim of its own runaway success. Naturally, other diners attempted to mimic the seemingly simple menu item — and don’t think I’m not going to try this at home! — but could never recapture that initial pie shake magic.

An alternate view of the Empire State Building, as seen from the north side of Bryant Park:

ESB Reflection

And on the way home, another street fair. This one along Sixth Avenue beginning at the Library, and extending uptown, past Radio City Music Hall for as far as I could see.

From Wikipedia:

Although [Sixth] Avenue’s official name was changed to Avenue of the Americas in 1945 by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, New Yorkers seldom use this term and calling the avenue by that name has even become a cliché of sorts for something a tourist in the city might do but not a resident New Yorker (such as mispronouncing “Houston Street”).

Sixth Avenue Street Fair

There are 4 Comments ... The Great Read in the Park

October 22, 2006
October 22, 2006

Thanks — been trying to work that one in for a while now.

“New Yorkers also think it’s nice to let others in on their thoughts and tell about their personal experiences; the expectation is that others will do the same.”

So leave a comment, youse guys. 🙂

October 22, 2006

I have been waiting for someone to leave the first comment since 01:45, 10/22. 🙂 Wow, the street fair in NYC is much more sophisticated than those in my area. I’ll remember not to say “Avenue of America” again next time I visit. (No wonder the taxi driver didn’t understand me.) I enoy the stand on line link, too. It’s funny. One comment. I thought parents always sound interrogating to their children and their boyfriends/ girlfriends, no matter where they are from. 🙂

October 23, 2006

Even got to transfer knowledge from blogland to the real world this morning!

Go for it ...