Antrim and Franzen @ the 92nd Street Y

Monday, October 23rd, 2006 | All Things, Books, Events

Met B at Grand Central for a dinner before the book event this evening. It had been some time since I last visited the Grand Central Dining Concourse, and there were several new additions (including the Little Pie Company shop with its tempting selection of miniature pies and cakes under glass.) Located on the lower level tracks, the concourse is part of the departure station, with brightly lit, cavernous marble arches throughout.

The most famous of the dozens of food outlets is, of course, the Oyster Bar, which has been in business since the day the Terminal opened in 1913. The “Whispering Gallery” near the Oyster Bar entrance is the stuff of city lore. Here, the acoustics of the low ceramic arches create a parabola that is said to catch and transport whispers from one corner of the gallery to the corner diagonally opposite with minimal distortion. I checked it out one day after learning about the phenomenon from my junior high school math teacher, and can report back that it does work — though not perfectly, given all the ambient noise. Still cool. According to the hostess at the Oyster Bar, the wall is a popular spot for marriage proposals, especially on Valentine’s Day.

Naan, samosas and lassi from Cafe Spice, then back up to street level to catch the bus, moving on up, to the East Side.

Chrysler Building

Donald Antrim and Jonathan Franzen were reading and answering questions at the 92nd Street Y, as part of the Unterberg Poetry Center Reading Series. Both authors, known for their fiction writing, recently published memoirs: in The Afterlife: A Memoir, novelist Antrim (Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, The Hundred Brothers, The Verificationist) expands upon the poignant and darkly humorous essays about coming to terms with his mother’s death that first appeared in The New Yorker. The Discomfort Zone, Franzen’s first foray into memoir, also begins and ends with his mother’s death. In between, he takes an intimate look at the painfully funny awkwardness of his Midwestern adolescence.

Franzen is one of my favorite writers. His previous works include How to Be Alone, a collection of essays, and The Corrections, which won the National Book Award for Fiction in 2001 (and infamously, was unceremoniously uninvited from Oprah Winfrey’s book club.)

Antrim announced that he’d be reading from a yet unpublished novel that “had been set aside” over the years. His delivery was frantic and feverish, and interspersed with dramatic pauses — a story of a man grappling to understand his deceased father. The narrative jumped backwards and forwards in time, recounting tragicomic details of his alcoholic mother and invalid sister, and hallucinations involving a blue mini-skirted former lover. Franzen’s reading was taken from the first pages of his memoir, no less funny for being less frenetic, sardonically drawing dead-on observations of human nature in his retelling of the sale of his childhood home in Illinois, following the death of his mother from cancer.

Antrim and Franzen are old friends and their easy camaraderie was evident as they jokingly jockeyed for position in front of the microphone set up for them to answer pre-screened questions from the audience. Afterwards the writers held a book signing in the adjacent gallery.

Book signing

Franzen — heck, I’ll call him Jon — has a lot of fans, me included. After picking up his new book, I waited in line for about half an hour, finally reaching the table. When my turn came, I approached.

“Thanks for waiting,” he greeted me.

I mentioned having heard him read the pages he read that night, when they were still in manuscript form, at a Hunter College event earlier in the year. “Oh?,” he asked. He seemed to consider this for a moment. Then: “Yes, I remember that reading. I don’t remember what I read, but I remember the audience. I hope it was all right.”

“It was wonderful!” I gushed. In my defense, I did NOT let slip, “You  were wonderful,” or “You’re brilliant,” or “You’re an amazing  writer,” or any of the other dorktastic comments that were ricocheting around my brain at that moment. (“I am your number one fan,” perhaps?)

“Thank you,” he smiled.

I smiled back. A shade too widely, and perhaps for just a fraction of a second too long — just enough for the look to pass from casually complimentary to borderline creepy. Jon held my gaze awkwardly and then, seemingly unsure of what to do next, gestured for my book. Oh right, the book. I could feel the blush rising on my cheeks. I handed it over and half considered lying about my name. But how ridiculous would that be?

“Uh… my name is Vanessa,” I mumbled.

He inscribed the book to me, his pen poised over the page, as if to write something more, but then seemed to abandon the idea, opting instead to just sign his name. He closed the book carefully and deliberately — no sudden movements — and delivered it back to me.

“Thanks… Vanessa.” (Now please leave before I call security.)

And that is how I met Jonathan Franzen.

You will notice that I did not include snapshots of the authors here. After such an encounter, I couldn’t very well take a photo, now could I?

There are 6 Comments ... Antrim and Franzen @ the 92nd Street Y

October 31, 2006

Er…Is this the first time you’ve revealed your name on this blog? Just checking.

October 31, 2006

Nah. Also… the About page, which has yet to be populated fully.

But thanks for looking out… and for the first post.

October 31, 2006

You should have taken a picture with “Jon”! 🙂 Well, I’ve never been anybody’s big fan. For a brief period, I kind of liked Andy Grove, Colin Powell, Lance Armstrong…. I only got autographs from the first two. I’ll see Bill Gates in two weeks. Perhaps I should get his signature since he and his wife are doing a great job in philanthropy. I shall check out “The Corrections” when I have time. Thx.

November 1, 2006

I read in today’s Wall Street Journal that Andy Grove will be guest lecturing at Stanford’s McCaw Hall tomorrow (November 2) on “Technology & Healthcare.” Can’t help you with Lance, though he is supposed to be in town for the NYC Marathon (now the ING  New York City Marathon) on Sunday.  I’ll keep an eye out for you.

November 2, 2006

Don’t worry about it, vipnyc. After getting the “silver—> platinum” present, I should not have any other men on my mind for a while. 🙂

November 8, 2006

Whoops, totally missed this post the 1st time around. I’ll try to pay more attention. 😀

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