Few Americans consider themselves bigger than the presidency but Obama might be one of them. The man in the Oval Office, argues Toby Harnden in the U.K. Telegraph, may already be preparing for a role as a post-president in a post-American world.
"Obama is the first black American president, an established author, multi-millionaire and acclaimed figure beyond American shores.
It seems highly unlikely that Obama will decide not to run in 2012. But he might well be calculating that a embarking post-presidential role as the leading global thinker in the post-American world as a Republican successor enters office is more attractive than being sullied by the political compromises and manoeuvrings necessary to win."
Circumstances, waning memory, and my eagerness for this reading resulted in our inadvertantly missing the Gary Shteyngart reading at BookCourt on Thursday. We showed up a day early (ouch) and then a prior commitment prevented a return for what was no doubt a funny and highly literate evening at the always delightful BookCourt on Court and Pacific. I read a digital chapter of Shteyngart's new tome, Super Sad True Love Story, and was again enthralled by the humor, speed and sheer literary brio of the book. Ironically, I read the digital sample chapter on the Kobo app on my BlackBerry on the way to what I thought would be the reading on Wednesday evening.
Gary Shteyngart, author of "Super Sad True Love Story"
I haven't yet purchased the book. We are in the process of reorganizing our home. Books, books, books---ours, our kids, plus library books, newspapers, magazines. There is a constant paperflow and clutter in the house. I began to think - should I go digital with my reading? [NOTE: I purchased and read a hardcover copy of this entertaining and future-gazing book shortly after this posting appeared.]
There was a recent article in the NY Times that discussed the potential impact of digital editions of books on mega booksellers, such as Barnes and Noble. The article noted that, as in the film "You Have Mail" the romantic comedy which had Tom Hanks' "Fox Books" book chain pushing Meg Ryan's "The Little Shop Around the Corner" out of the book business, digital books sold online at lower prices may now be threatening the large book chains with their relatively high mortar and brick overheads, in the same way the big chains previously muscled the little book stores out of business.
The Times article notes, ironically, that the independent book stores that have survived have proven that they can make it (BookCourt is only a couple of blocks away from a large Barnes and Noble also on Court Street). Like music/CD stores, the big book chains may be fighting a tough battle for survival. The little stores may prove to be the Last Bookstores Standing.
In any case, as I was reading the sample chapter of Super Sad True Love Story, I happened to think that it was ironic that one of the charms of author readings was the opportunity for booksigning. With the move toward digital by many readers, What now? I mean, the point of the reading is of course seeing the author in person and hearing him or her read aloud and perhaps answer a few questions. But it was also always fun to buy and walk away with a signed copy. It definitely gave the act of reading a certain extra frisson.
Will printed books now go the way of the vinyl LP record? A specialty item, less available and higher priced, perfect for signing and collecting but not necessarily for reading? Will the remaining bookstores (or Starbucks for that matter), offer downloads at the reading? Will that offer a better "vintage" than an e-book purchased at a differnet time online? Maybe the store will throw in a signed photo of the author.
The late Serbian writer Milorad Pavic (author of Dictionary of the Khazars and many other volumes), believed in novels taking many other forms - dictionaries, acrostics, nonlineqar works, books with 100 possible endings. Prescient, he also was interested in the novel as computer file or program.
Although it is a great to hold and read a book -- that connection between the internal (reading) and the external (the book as commodity), in some ways, it would be easier without the physical burden of years and years of accumulated books -- In conversation, one of our daughters (15) acknowledged preferring bound books. Buit part of the joy of books is gonig to a shelf, having something pique your interest again, and picking up the book to delve in and enjoy the experience again. In my opinion, browsing books on a shelf is completely different than browsing CDs on a shelf or music files on your Ipod. I enjoy reading stuff online, but just as often, I will print an article out to read later.
I tend to think that people appreciate that you are paying for the author's talent (and occasionally, genius) and the bound book is only the medium for the author's mesage. But there is still something special and wonderful about that antique commodity, the printed book. If it is black and white and read all over -- I am on it. I for one hope the printed book never goes away. Completely.
Sample excerpt at Barnes a nd Noble website here. (Ironically, the first edition of the book avaialble at the B & N website is the e-version. The printed copy says "also available as an e-book.)
A cool breeze off the ocean offered delightful release as the sun began to set. The boardwalk and beach were busy but by no means crowded. We strolled down past Luna Park and back and then stopped at Ruby’s for a drink at the bar. We then walked out onto the pier, where couples walked, fisherman tried for one last catch, and a few intrepid swimmers dove off the pier, ignoring the "no swimming" signs, and bravely swam to shore, then walking back down the pier to do it all over again. The steel blue and grey clouds, under the setting sun, and the illumination of the parachute jump tower and the Big Wheel, set the parameters for a quiet mid-week summer evening.
Families with kids in strollers, teenagers, tourists--after the months of oppressive heat, it's still summer, but you could almost feel the gentle shift, as the seasons once again slowly begin to change. But for now everyone was out and about, craving a change of scenery from stifling apartments, hotel rooms, or even homes with backyards where the grass is turning to hay. Enjoying the cool breeze and comfortable delight of this particular evening while we still can in anticipation of whatever new extremes the next seasons might bring.
Eli Wilentz's Eighth Street Bookstore between 8th and MacDougal in Greenwich Village, "Three Floors of Books," was such a cool destination. Books, authors, students, serious readers, it was an important off-campus resource to me as an NYU student. Established in the 1950s, it was gutted by fire in 1976 and was rebuilt. However, it was closed in 1979. According to the NY Times obituary, Mr. Wilentz decided to close it when it became clear that none of his children were interested in carrying on the family business. Well, yes and no. Sean Wilentz, son of co-founder Eli who passed away in 1995, may not have been a retail kind of guy, but he has certainly made his mark in the literary world of course as a Princeton University professor of American History and an author/historian. His most recent book, Bob Dylan in America, will be released in September. It looks to be a very good one, indeed. The New Yorker is publishing a generous excerpt:
From Chapter 2: Dylan’s continuing link to the Beat generation, though, came chiefly through his friend and sometime mentor Allen Ginsberg. Dylan’s link with Ginsberg dated back to the end of 1963, a pivotal moment in the lives and careers of both men. Thereafter, in the mid-1960s, the two would complete important artistic transitions, each touched and supported by the other. On and off, their rapport lasted for decades. And in 1997, in New Brunswick, Canada, Dylan would dedicate a concert performance of “Desolation Row” to Ginsberg, his longtime comrade, telling the audience it was Allen’s favorite of his songs, on the evening after Ginsberg died. -from Sean Wilentz's new book Bob Dylan in America, scheduled for September publication by Doubleday
Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz. Read more in this excerpt in The New Yorker here
For some reason, Pennsylvania proved to be our target state this summer. Back in May, we didn't anticipate spending much time on the road, but we did, as far as Pittsburgh and now New Hope. We didnt anticipate the intense heat and humisdity that the summer broguth, either. Consequently, it was good to get away, with and without the kids. While away, we also drove to a cool mall in Northeast Philadelphia, patrolled by security on Segway, with a little bit of the yellow brick road feel to it. Wandered around looking for that special something... We made our way to New Hope, took what turned out to be a private boat ride on the Delaware, saw a blue heron and a snowy egret, and walked a cross the bridge to Lambertville, NJ. The important role of rivers and bridges in Pennsylvania is unmistakable from the road. We did a lot of walking, hiked along the trails at Washington Crossing, had a few nice meals, talked about the year past and what's coming up ahead (as far as we can see), got to do some reading and writing.Visited the small galleries in Lambertville, lunch at the Lambertville Station pub which makes a nice salad and a nice Bloody Mary, bourbon street style. Taken by the Woodstock-y ambiance of New Hope.Went into Type B, a fun tie-dye shop in New Hope, where the friendly proprietors were making shirts and listening to the Grateful Dead. Had a romantic lunch at Marsha Brown's , a Cajun-Creole place, located in a former church in New Hope.
The upstairs dining room at Marsha Brown, in New Hope, PA
Along the way, I was reading about Max Frisch's 1957 novel Homo Faber, and then stumbled across a newish copy in Farley's bookstore on Bridge Street. That was a nice surprise. A few moments to think, enjoy some quiet time, and just be...
Oh Well, seems like another summer is nearly gone.
Eat Pray Love, directed by Ryan Murphy, starring Julia Roberts, based on the book of the same title by Elizabeth Gilbert, is a light but exceptionally entertaining take on a woman's search for meaning. While it reflects the struggle of a woman to find herself as a human being outside of the context of her unhappy marriage and the expectations that have shaped her so far, at the same time, there is no mistaking that it is a summer film, filled with wonderfully photographed, romantic locales, amusing and warm characters, and the pleasures and pitfallas that can come from living life on your on terms. Perhaps it strives to be a sort of of existential adventure film, escaping the complexities of complicated personal life life in 21st century America, by running free in Italy, India and Indonesia.
The story has taken some hits recently. Feminist literary magazine Bitch, in an article entitled Eat Pray Spend, criticized the true story of the book as priv-lit, an existential crisis that is too informed by materialistic fears masking as a search for meaning: To quote just one excerpt:If more women become willing to put aside their fears, open their eyes to cost-free or inexpensive paths to wellness, and position themselves as essentially worthy instead of deeply flawed, priv-lit could soon migrate to a well-deserved new home: the fiction section.
Gilbert, played by Jula Roberts, does extricate herself from a failing marriage and a messy divorce by first heading to Rome and Napoli (a lovely travelogue, featuring a da michele l'antica pizzeria, circa 1870, that we visited on a trip to Naples last year that leaves even the legendary Brooklyn pizzarias in the dust). This section is a sensual obsession, with delicious Roman cuisines (the fried artichokes looked scrumptious) and a joyful engagement with language, humor, and warm social contact. Moving further east, India and her visit to an asharam provide an opportunity to begin to search within herself. Here too she meets Richard, the American expat, played by Richard Jenkins, another seeker who, through his own complex bio, is able to finally hold up a mirror to Gilbert, as she first begins to try to see herself and where she is running from and running to. The last section, Bali, where she meets Felipe, Javier Bardem in another warm and delightful role , as a Brasilian businessman, escaping his own failed marriage by hiding out in Bali, allows the seeker to begin to open up to the possibilities of new relationships, and how romantic love is not the only kind of love in the world.
Perhaps it is ironic (isn't everything these days?) that of the two big late summer movies, Eat Pray Love features Julia Roberts as the hero/anti-hero, while The Expendibles features Eric Roberts, Julia's brother man, as the summer villain.
There are so many terrific performances in this movie: Viola Davis as the author's best friend, James Franco as a young actor, Billy Crudup as her husband, Richard Jenkins as the Ashram expat, but also Christine Hakim as Wayan the healer, many scenes stolen by Hadi Subiyanto as the Balinese shaman, Giuseppi Gandi as Spaghtetti, and Welker White as her attorney.
This is not Last Year at Marienbad or L'Aventura. It is a story of a struggle told gently, in warm climes and amid warm people. The film does not ignore the poverty and struggles of the world that she passes through, but neither does it wrestle with the questions of -- as I believe philosopher-mytic George Gurdjieff referred to it, the material question." This is a story told always in motion and always on the move. It feels like less a dark night of the soul, than a tale of a woman who wakes up in interesting and beautiful places but can't understand why she is still unhappy. Ultimately, like in Groundhog Day, another existential story come to think of it, her life begins to take new form and provide new possibilities when she begins to take risks that touch the lives of others. While this may seem a tad superficial and facile, here, it all works. We struggle and if we are lucky, we also think and reflect. I loved the travel aspects of this film,the ideas of making new friends in exotic places. But the real reason that it all comes together into such a satisfying film is that the questions that are raised here, despite any political backlash, are all eternal questions. And in this case the seeker is a brave human being who just keeps trying everything, including the courage to move toward nothingness, until she finally gets something right. This is a warm, complicated and colorful story, and director Ryan Murphy has translated the book to film in a gentle and less fractious way, but still has caught it all perfectly.
Brooklyn note: Bookstore scenes filmed at BookCourt.
Above, The Midtown Scholar, huge, wonderful dealer of more than one million discounted, used, rare, academic and general interest books. It may well be the largest bookstore in Pennsylvania. Also the site of literary readings, music and theater events, and other community activities, the Midtown Scholar is a nexus for cultural activities in the Midtown Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area. It features a great coffee bar and chairs and sofas for browsing throughout. A sort of alternative Barnes and Noble, laid back with a strong literary focus, this is the kind of place that New Yorkers visit and think, "Wow, it must be cool to live here and have this as a local spot." (Although, in fairness, Harrisburg folks probably think -- "I wonder what it must be like to live in Brooklyn." In any event, an interesting roadside attraction that we encountered on our trip through PA to Pittsburgh. More on the Midtown Scholar, Harrisburg, here.
Just across the street in the Midtown Harrisburg area, the Broad Street Market is a fun destination for casual eating and shopping at great prices. I had a great Lebanese mez platter for lunch, but there was West Indian, Asian, Mexican, Italian, Viet Namese, BBQ, burgers, tons of choices. Folks were friendly and prices good. Next door was an equally large building with local merchants and farmers (including Amish and Mennonite families) selling organic meats, seafood, fruits and veges, flowers, dairy products, candies, bread and baked goods, etc. Vendor list here
Remembering Jerome John "Jerry" Garcia (August 1, 1942 – August 9, 1995), an American musician best known for his lead guitar work and songwriting with the band the Grateful Dead. Though he vehemently disavowed the role, Garcia was viewed by many as the leader of the group.
One of its founders, Garcia performed with The Grateful Dead for their entire three-decade career (1965–1995). Garcia also founded and participated in a variety of side projects, including the Saunders-Garcia Band with longtime friend Merl Saunders, Jerry Garcia Band, Old and in the Way, the Garcia/Grisman acoustic duo, and Legion of Mary.Garcia co-founded the New Riders of the Purple Sage with John Dawson and David Nelson. He also released several solo albums, and contributed to a number of albums by other artists over the years as a session musician. He was well known by many for his distinctive guitar playing and was ranked 13th in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" cover story. Later in life, Garcia was sometimes ill because of his unstable weight, and in 1986 went into a diabetic coma that nearly cost him his life. Although his overall health improved somewhat after that, he also struggled with heroin addiction, and was staying in a California drug rehabilitation facility when he died of a heart attack in August 1995.
Jerry Garcia's long, strange trip continues to roll on, as the 15th anniversary of his death will be marked by a Jerry Garcia Tribute Night at the San Francisco Giants' stadium tonight. In addition, Ben and Jerry's ice cream reports that Cherry Garcia continues to be the favorite flavor. More here on the myth and the very cool man.
Borough President Marty Markowitz, on NY1 last night, criticized Transportation Commish Janette Sadik-Khan for placement of the two way bike line on Prospect Park West, citing the potential for safety issues for kids in strollers, and its not-so-hidden agenda of making it difficult for automobile users in the City. "NYC is not Amsterdam," said Marty. This may ultimately prove to be less of a problem for PPW (except for parking for PPW residents and the other safety issues cited by the Boro Prez) than it will for surrounding blocks as folks avoid driving down Prospect Park West. Our friend OTBKB.com noted that a study by a neighborhood advocacy group reported that PPW appears much calmer since the lane was installed. I would likely avoid it on the rare occasions that I might be driving near the Park.
In the past year, I have been driving a lot less, walking more and taking public transportation to work. But there are times when I want to and/or need to drive my car. I am not sure if this is more of a political issue and turf war between Marty and Jan, since Marty asked that this new lane be relocated elsewhere, but Jan went ahead and put it there anyway. Even as an occasional driver, I recognize that NYC is a heavily car-oriented City, crazy in some times and places. But there are times when I don't want to take public transportation and choose to drive. And, at the same time, you have to respect the wishes of a lot of people to get around by bike.
But I don't think it is realistic to see a day when bikes and current public transportation alone will replace cars. Perhaps even newer public transportation alternatives are needed - light rail; more, higher-volume ferry services; express dirigibles to JFK; whatever. Remember when the Segway was the transportation alternative of the future? They aren't even legal in NYC.
But it will always come down to peoples' preferences for personal, not public, transportation - largely bike or automobile. There is a message and a truth on both sides in this policy battle, but I think the Boro Prez and the Commish, probably with the Mayor's tacit blessing, risk further polarizing an already heated issue. After all, there is one, unalterable fact in this situation -- in NYC, bikes and cars are here to stay.
On 1 August, almost the entire side of the Sun that faces the Earth erupted in a blaze of activity known as a "coronal mass ejection". These storms throw up to 10 billion tons of plasma - superheated gas - off the surface of the star and hurtling into space at around a million miles an hour. It covered the 93 million mile journey from the Sun to the Earth in just three and a half days.
From the U.K. Telegraph: "It was the "first major Earth-directed eruption in quite some time," according to Leon Golub, a scientist at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA), who warned of the event on Monday.
The flare which caused the eruption was relatively small, described as a class C3 by astronomers. Other flares, known as X or M class, are much larger, and capable of doing damage on Earth. C-class flares rarely have much effect on Earth beyond auroras - the glowing displays towards the poles, like the Northern (and Southern) Lights.
Dramatic auroras were seen in Denmark, Norway, Greenland, Germany and across the northern United States and Canada as the expanding bubble of gas slammed into the Earth's atmosphere. The frequently beautiful displays are caused by the charged particles in the plasma interacting with the Earth's magnetic field - the solar matter is drawn towards the poles, where they collide with nitrogen and oxygen atoms in the atmosphere.
While no damage seems to have been done by this flare, Nasa astronomers have previously warned that a much larger solar storm could cause havoc with electrical systems on Earth. In 2013, the Sun is expected to reach a stage in its roughly 11-year cycle when large storms are more likely."
A NASA Scientist has watned that, with the sun awakening from a cyclical solar minimum period, we are now heading into a period of solar maximum. Scientists are concerned about the impact of a severe solar storm on the Earth's satellites, electrical grid, and even earth-bound sensitive technological devices such as cell phones, GPS, etc. Lookout, Cleveland...
C.S. Lewis (Mark H. Dold) and Sigmund Freud (Martin Rayner)
A provocative summer surprise, The Barrington Stage Production of Freud's Last Session at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater on the upper west side, is a thoughtful and unexpectedly moving play by Mark St. Germaine. The play follows the meeting of author and academic C.S. Lewis (Mark H. Dold) and Sigmund Freud (Martin Rayneor) in London at the beginning of World War II. Lewis, at the time, a recent convert to Catholicisim, had satirized Freud in a book and he assumed that his invitation to Freud's consultation rooms was to receive a rebuke from the founder of psychoanalysis. Instead, Freud,at the end of his life, suffering from incurable cancer, engages the young author in a conversation that quickly becomes a fascinating debate about religion, psychoanalysis, spirituality, love, and war. The dialogue is fast paced. at times amusing, but always stimulating, and brings in elements of the lives of each of the two characters. Mark H. Dold and Martin Rayner are marvelous, bringing to life this plausible meeting on the day that the Nazi's invaded Poland. Set design by Brian Prather, which brings the audience directly into any photograph that you may ever scene of Freud's consultation room, and costume design by Mark Mariani together bring an astounding versimilitude that completes the transformation of Mr. Dold's and Mr. Rayner's top notch performances.
The play at the Marjorie S. Deane Little Theater at the West Side Y is an intriguing and intelligent conversation between two complex and philosophical personalities. The performance we attended on Saturday night was packed. Offering lively performances, thoughtful playwrighting and marvelous stagecraft, Freud's Last Session is an entertaining and intelligent summer gem not to be missed.
As reported by Gothamist last night and in passing by NY1, one man was bludgeoned and another stabbed at 5th Avenue and 12 th street in Park Slope.
The bloodstained sidewalk in front of the OTB on 12th street, and what appeared to be a group of detectives on an opposite corner, echoed what is a growing trend of violence and mayhem throughout the five boroughs during this long, hot summer.