Category: Books

Another day, another play, Another You

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007 | All Things, Arts, Books, Eats

A full night, full of both low and highbrow entertainment, with some tasty eats in between.

First stop: a cocktail party and book reading for Grant Stoddard‘s new book, Working Stiff: The Misadventures of an Accidental Sexpert. The event was being held at the McNally Robinson Bookstore in NoLIta, one of the few independent bookstores in the city — R.I.P., Coliseum — owned and run by Sarah McNally, a daughter of Holly and Paul McNally, who founded the Canadian McNally Robinson chain.

Plied with cocktails by Dewar’s (ginger beer fortified by Scotch whisky), the crowd settled in to listen to the puckish Brit read excerpts from his new book, the stories of which grew out of his formidable arsenal of material, most gathered through his experiences as a popular onetime sex columnist for Stoddard’s “I Did It for Science” column was a pseudo-scientific examination of his sordid, mind-bending (but often hilarious) tales of sex in the city — laden with catchphrases, euphemisms and double-entendre. His self-deprecating, humor-laden style suited the subject matter well; clearly, he still views his unorthodox career trajectory since arriving in the States at age 21 with some bemusement and more than a little abashedness.

The question and answer period was as you would expect, given the topic at hand, during which Stoddard doled out some practical tips and advice, culled from his years of [s]experience… and none of which I will repeat here.

Working Stiff

Grant Stoddard

In honor of the recent death of Momofuku Ando, inventor of instant ramen, a trip to Menkui Tei in Cooper Square for a steaming bowl of the real deal. The Village Voice dubbed them the “Best Star Wars Noodles” for their “Jar Jar” Ramen (cold wheat noodles heaped with spicy ground pork in thick soy sauce), but on this chilly night, I went for the “Menkui” Ramen (seaweed broth flavored house special noodle soup) and was not disappointed.

Don’t know if it’s the best in the city; personally, I prefer the Momofuku version, though at almost twice the price for the house-named version, Momofuku is not exactly “Cheap Eats.”

Menkui Tei

Menkui Tei Ramen

Back at The Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival for Another You, the stark, mercilessly autobiographical solo show by Allen Johnson. His string of vignettes dealt with themes mostly outside the comfort zone: incest and booze, brutality and bonding, the dull ache of loneliness and finding (or keeping) faith among the filth. Johnson recounted scenes in alternately raging and almost-detached tones, limiting most of his monologue to a box of light on the floor in which stood nothing but a white porcelain commode. All raw, sometimes funny, often ugly… and as riveting as anything I’d seen on the stage in a long time.

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Like Calvin loves Alice

Tuesday, January 9th, 2007 | All Things, Books

I was moved to tears when I first read Calvin “Bud” Trillin‘s posthumous love letter to his wife Alice after it appeared in The New Yorker  in March 2006.

Alice Stewart Trillin died in the late night hours after September 11, 2001 from heart failure — the result of irreversible damage suffered during radiation treatments she received for lung cancer a quarter century earlier. Alice – to which she was always referred affectionately in her husband’s work — was a 38 year-old non-smoker, and in 1976, she was given a 10 percent chance of surviving beyond a year or two. After undergoing surgery to remove a lobe of her lung, she defied those odds long enough to see her two young daughters grow up and marry, to accomplish important work as an English professor, public television producer, author and cancer advocate, and to participate in a long and happy marriage with her Bud. Her obituary in The New York Times during that terrible week, simply stated: Alice Trillin, 63, Educator, Author and Muse, Is Dead.

Calvin Trillin is probably best known for his humorous writings in The New Yorker (where he has been on staff since 1963) and his contributions to The Nation and Time. Food and family served as his inspiration for countless articles and several books, including The Tummy Trilogy (American Fried, Third Helpings and the National Book Award-nominated Alice, Let’s Eat: Further Adventures of a Happy Eater), Travels With Alice and Family Man. To date, Trillin has authored 21 books, among them fiction, political pieces and satirical poetry. And through it all, as Trillin acknowledged in the dedication to Tepper Isn’t Going Out: “I wrote this one for Alice. Actually, I wrote everything for Alice.”

About Alice

In his writings, Alice was generally portrayed as the ever-sensible foil to her slightly goofy husband — George Burns to his Gracie Allen. Trillin recounts the story of how their romance began in 1963 at a Manhattan launch party for an ill-fated magazine of political satire called Monocle. That night, young Bud fell under the spell of a blonde beauty who “seemed to glow.” She was an English professor, he a magazine writer. For him, it was love at first sight, and he would dedicate the years until her death to impressing her. The widely circulated photo of the couple on their wedding day, two years later, shows two people very much in love, as it seems they would remain for the next almost 40 years.

Trillin’s 12-page New Yorker essay “Alice, Off the Page” was an attempt to add another dimension to his wife, whom most knew only as a caricature in his light writings. He expanded the piece into a slim volume, titled simply About Alice, from which he was reading that night at 192 Books in Chelsea. (The New York Times  excerpted the first chapter.) We assembled could easily sense Trillin’s wistfulness in talking about his Alice — the love, already evident on the page, came to life in his steady, even reading, leaving many in the crowd misty-eyed for his loss.

Calvin Trillin

Calvin Trillin

The title of this post is taken from a condolence letter Trillin received from a reader, who like so many others, grew to love Alice as he did, despite never having met her. It refers to a query posed in the mind of this young woman in New York, while looking at her boyfriend. “But will he love me like Calvin loves Alice?”

I often wonder the same for myself. Whoever he is, I certainly hope he will. And like Alice, I hope to be just as deserving of that affection.

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The Art of the Book

Monday, December 4th, 2006 | All Things, Books, Events

On my way to this evening’s event, I stopped in to view The Grand Central Kaleidoscope light show. Every half hour from 11:00AM to 9:00PM, a seven-minute show accompanied by synchronized music illuminates the walls and pillars of the main concourse in a huge kaleidoscope of color and light.

As if there weren’t excuse enough for visitors to Grand Central to look anywhere but where they’re going — and to hold up traffic by snapping photographs! The brilliant, shifting display nonetheless offsets some of the frustration of late trains and crowded platforms.

Grand Central Kaleidoscope

Grand Central Kaleidoscope

Grand Central Kaleidoscope

Back at the 92nd Street Y for “The Art of the Book: Behind the Covers with Dave Eggers, Chip Kidd and Milton Glaser,” part of the Unterberg Poetry Center Reading Series. The night was organized around three presentations focusing on cover jacket design by luminaries Milton Glaser, Chip Kidd and Dave Eggers, with introductions by Michael Bierut of Pentagram.

A capacity crowd filled the Y auditorium that night, to the surprise of each of the presenters. Who knew graphic designers could be such a draw?

And so funny? Glaser — best known outside the design industry as the founder of New York magazine and the man behind the “I (heart) NY” logo — was dryly witty and low-key, presenting highlights from his decades-long career. The prolific Kidd, longtime art director at Alfred A. Knopf, presented his covers from the past year. He was deliciously bitchy in his description of the design process: slaying the audience with his comments, at times made at the expense of the authors with which he was tasked to work: John Updike apparently — and distressingly — “studied typography briefly in college”; Cormac McCarthy suggested that his name be left off on the cover of The Road. Eggers, the last presenter of the evening, received the loudest applause, as the speaker whose name recognition furthest extends beyond the design world: as novelist, editor, publisher, and teacher at the writing workshop 826 Valencia. His talk was less about covers than about the process of designing and making books: selecting layouts, binding, materials, etc. One run of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern was printed in three different colored versions (blue, brown, yellow) when a printing deadline loomed and the Icelandic printer didn’t have enough yardage of one cloth for an entire run of covers. For Issue #7, the rubber band binding the story pamphlets had to be run through a home washing machine before shipping to eliminate any powdery residue after the post 9/11 Anthrax scare. The youngest presenter of the evening, Eggers is apparently also the most technology-averse, claiming he relies almost exclusively on the Garamond font because he can’t quite master the type feature in his circa-1999 version of QuarkXPress.

Wonder what the assembled group would think about the DIY My Penguin series: six classic novels published with blank fronts, for readers to design their own covers.

I would have blogged further about Glaser’s misguided feminism during the post-presentation panel, but Gothamist beat me to it. Again — I guess that what comes of being a couple weeks behind in your entries. The mood of the crowd shifted tangibly, and there were a few muted hisses, after Glaser stepped into the thicket by attempting to answer one audience member’s query about whether a glass ceiling exists for women in graphic design. Glaser was clearly foundering when Chip Kidd attempted to lighten the mood by interjecting, “As Larry Summers once said…” referring to remarks made in 2005 by the then-president of Harvard, suggesting that women are handicapped as scientists because as a group they are innately deficient in mathematics, compared to men.

At the post-event reception, Eggers’s line was the longest by far, but half an hour later, I got my copy of What is the What  signed by the friendly author. This week, I started reading the riveting “autobiography” of Sudanese “Lost Boy” Valentino Achak Deng, who recounts stories of the journey from his destroyed village in Africa to a sort of refuge in Atlanta, Georgia.

Milton Glaser

Eggers Kidd and Glaser

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