On Monday night, old friends Donald Antrim and Jonathan Franzen shared the stage for the first time. Antrim gave a rousing reading of new work titled "Must I Now Read All of Wittgenstein." Then Franzen carefully read the first few pages of "The Discomfort Zone." After that, they answered questions from the audience.
Antrim, looking a little like a young Andrew Sullivan, clearly relished the chance to perform his fiction, fully inhabiting his kind-of-crazy first-person narrator, who has decided to write "a son’s criticism of his father's critical studies of critics," especially T. S. Eliot. But this father, H. T. Antrim, didn't just write scholarly tomes about the limits of language and modernist poetry--he also ran a do-it-yourself lumberyard, developed orthopedic shoes to help cure alcoholism, and dealt with his wife, who suffered from a psychosomatic clubfoot. It was as silly and postmodern and hilarious as it sounds.
Franzen, looking a little like a young Stephen King, really, really loved the audience’s attention. His need for affection made him clumsy, as when he knocked over a water glass, and awkward, as when he took off his jacket and put it on the floor (I couldn’t help but wonder why he even bothered to wear it on stage, since it came off within 30 seconds). There’s no denying that Franzen’s an incredible writer—his ability to weave disparate themes into a coherent whole is incredible (c.f. “My Bird Problem,” the last essay in “The Discomfort Zone”). His line about a real estate agent who “totally got why I lived in New York” got a big laugh, but, in general, the short piece he read about trying to sell his childhood home wasn’t nearly as performative—or entertaining—as Antrim’s work.
And then there were the questions. For some reason, the 92nd St. Y didn’t include chairs for the men to sit on as they answered, so they had to awkwardly alternate standing at the podium. Antrim played the straight man to Franzen’s goofy self: Antrim sternly stared at the floor, arms hugging his chest, as Franzen spoke; as Antrim spoke, Franzen made faces and fidgeted. A great question about whether it’s harder to empathize with characters in memoir (both writers just published memoirs) than with characters in fiction (both writers are successful novelists) caused Franzen to reflect on some of the negative reviews he’s been getting: he said he was shocked to discover that so many critics felt he wasn’t empathetic toward the characters (his family, his friends) in “The Discomfort Zone.” He thought his empathy would be implied by the very fact that he was writing about people he loved; that he wrote about them (mostly) unsympathetically was only his way of showing that flaws are interesting.
Another question asked about the importance of writer friends. Antrim and Franzen have been friends for years, and Antrim spoke movingly about how hard it is to “stay up with” writing and how much his friends have helped him to do so. He concluded by saying how much he has enjoyed the programs at the 92nd St. Y, and how flattered he was to have been asked to read there. Both writers are worth reading, but Antrim especially came off as worth knowing as well.
Wednesday, October 25, 2006
Monday, October 23, 2006
Another day, another set--this one for a new show called "Six Degrees." I hope I'm not spoiling anything for anyone by mentioning that at least one upcoming episode features a woman shouting, "We're getting married." Anyway, we also saw Hope Davis coming out of her trailer.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Thursday, October 19, 2006
The Turkish version of tapas, meze plates consist of several small servings of various appetizers like hummus, cacik (yogurt), olives, babaganush, pilaki (red kidney beans), tabuleh, stuffed baby eggplant, and soslu patlican (chopped eggplant and tomatoes). Small plates; big deliciousnesses.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Much has been made of this movie, which was booed at Cannes but has since received pretty positive reviews from American critics. It's sweet, as sweet as the bon bons Marie chomps throughout her biopic, and the deliberately anachronistic music (from the 1980s, including the annoying "I Want Candy," which I can't seem to get out of my head) and fashion (a shot of lilac hightops) definitely works. It's beautiful too, one montage following another such that the movie becomes a series of lush shots rather than an acute character study. But that's OK, because Marie Antoinette's having her moment, 213 years after her death; there's plenty of academic and revisionist stuff being published right now that serves as a complement to Coppola's movie.
"Let them eat cake," Marie Antoinette famously did not say, according to the movie, even as Marie and her lady consorts eat cake after cake. The fun for us is in the watching.
Friday, October 13, 2006
If a celebrity walks by and you don’t recognize him, is he still a celebrity? More to the point, today is Richard Howard’s 77th birthday (photo by Betsy Bell). To some, he’s just an old man in round glasses with thick frames hanging around the Washington Square Park dog run; to me, he’s the owner of a wicked cute French bulldog. He’s also the Pulitzer Prize–winning poetry editor of “The Paris Review” and probably the best translator of French poetry working today. Have a happy and a healthy, as they say, Mr. Howard.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
Every New Yorker's experienced it: you're walking along, doing your thing, until suddenly you're stopped by a young person with at least one walkie-talkie who enthusiastically urges you to either stop and wait or to go another way. That's right: somebody's making a movie and doesn't want you in the shot. Yesterday I got diverted from Washington Square Park as Will Smith filmed a sci fi-horror feature called "I Am Legend." Oh, indeed. Thank goodness the dog run was still open.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Sunday, October 08, 2006
A packed theater at 10 am testifies to the power of the panelists: Edward Norton, speaking about acting in a movie based on a W. Somerset Maugham novel and about adapting Jonathan Lethem's "Motherless Brooklyn"; Mira Nair and Jhumpa Lahiri, speaking about adapting Lahiri's "The Namesake"; Sarah Polley, speaking about adapting a short story by Alice Munro; Liev Schreiber, speaking about adapting Jonathan Safran Foer's "Everything Is Illuminated"; and Michael Cunningham, speaking about having "The Hours" adapted. Aside from a weird discourse from Schreiber about Jew-on-Jew prejudice, the panel was really interesting. According to Norton, Lethem had no doubts or concerns with Norton's adapting his novel for the screen, a sentiment echoed by Cunningham when he stated that novels are only rough approximations of what the writer originally had in mind. Both Lethem and Cunningham felt that they had tried to do something in their novels, and now someone else could give the creative process a go. Lahiri evoked the familiar comparison between writing a novel and giving birth to a child. Schreiber, quoting Foer, said that giving up his novel was like watching his daughter head to a prom party with a strange man. Definitely worth heading up to Midtown for.
Friday, October 06, 2006
Under the Power Your Way program, Con Ed lets its customers choose the energy supplier from which it buys power. A few months ago we switched to a hydroelectric and solar power supplier: Con Ed bills us, we pay Con Ed, and Con Ed, in turn, pays a company that's doing something good for the environment. Some people argue that paying for nontraditional power will cause their bills to skyrocket, but we haven't noticed any real difference. Plus, last week Con Ed sent me a $25 rebate. Wahoo!
If you're local, see what I'm talking about here: http://www.coned.com/customercentral/energychoices.asp
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
The original poster for a movie full of great lines, which, with the exception of the opening credits, has aged remarkably well. Here's my favorite line, spoken by Otto to Archie: "You're the vulgarian, you fuck."
Monday, October 02, 2006
Not only was the movie infinitely better than the book, and not only was the movie a magnificent mingling of genres, but Todd Field was on hand for a Q&A afterward. Three noteworthy bits:
(1) Field based the incessantly clicking clocks in the McGorvey house on his childhood home.
(2) He called himself "conventional and pat" after someone in the audience called the movie's ending "conventional and pat," a sly, self-deprecating way of handling a dumb question.
(3) According to his worldview, there are no happy endings--only stories that aren't over.
Sunday, October 01, 2006
Probably finished around 1300, this little painting cost the Metropolitan Museum of Art roughly $45 million to acquire in 2004. I'm not generally a fan of religious or iconographic art, but I find this image very moving, perhaps because it's simply so human.