Last night I dragged my sister to what could have been the geekiest experience of her life, a panel discussion at Symphony Space featuring book jacket designer extraordinaire Chip Kidd and the graphic novelists/cartoonists/illustrators/artists Charles Burns and Chris Ware. I've been a fan of Ware's ever since I read Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, a true masterpiece that deserves to be read alongside other great works of literature and should be experienced especially by even those who most disparage comics as the exclusive province of children and middle-aged men who live with their parents. Even though many artists have dabbled in and been influenced by comic styles - or even appropriated their style outright - Ware has the unique distinction of being the first comic artist to have his work exhibited at a Whitney Biennial.
Each of the artists gave a quick run-through of their major works and their creative process and took a few questions from the audience, which included the comic art superstar - if there is such a thing - Art Spiegelman. Following the discussion the artists signed books in Symphony Space's cafe.
While waiting in line, my sister and I wondered about how online trading sites have changed the nature of book signings. At a typical book signing a writer asks for your name before making an inscription, rendering the book both personal and, in effect, more difficult to turn around and sell to another person. (Unless he is signing too many books to make personalizing each one an inefficient use of his time, as happened at the last book signing I attended.)
But do fans today have the nerve to ask authors to simply autograph a book without any sort of personalization? "My name? Oh, yes. First intitial e, last name bay." My sister joked that if a writer asked you why you wanted your first initial written in lowercase, you could say, "You know, like e.e. cummings." Smart and funny, that sister o' mine.
A young guy two places in front of us, about twenty-two and with a head of curly hair so unkempt it suggested that he was either a runaway or a struggling artist, had not one book, not two, but ten books for Ware to sign! It's one thing to get one or two books signed, even if you want to turn around and auction them off to collectors. But to use an event like this as your own personal ATM or geek-themed stock market seemed to be an abuse of the good will of the artists who generously agreed to sit and sign each book. Needless to say, those of us who were there to appreciate the artisty of the panelists and not for the resale value of their work were none too pleased. I noticed the people immediately behind this young fan exchanging a few grumbles before Ware was done signing his stack of books.
When I finally got up to Ware I asked him how he felt about people reselling his stuff on eBay. "You can't control it," he said, "but you try to do what you can."
It's a losing battle. I can understand why baseball players now charge for autographs, even the ones they give to fans in the stands, or why some celebrities refuse to sign autographs altogether. Stuff from Ware's earlier appearances in other cities is already available online and it's only a matter of time before at least a few books from last night are offered up to the highest bidder.
After a long absence, I've returned to Gothamist with a post on theater understudies. There's been a real dearth of questions sent to us advice givers over at the city-centric site, but this question was a fun one to answer. Thanks to my friend Adam for his help.
Cool. HarperCollins has put me up on their AuthorTracker website. No, this does not mean I have been fitted with an electronic ankle bracelet by HarperCollins editors.
Interesting article on some recent developments in the blook world from The Book Standard. The article mentions my agent, Kate Lee at ICM, and highlights some of the high-profile books being released by bloggers in the coming months.
TBS article via Gawker and M, a regular reader. Thanks!
I know the news of their marriage is so two weeks ago, but I couldn't help notice that in this picture of Demi and Ashton's wedding...
...the rabbi looks suspiciously like one of the rabbis who officiated at our wedding:
I forgot to mention this when my galleys arrived. If you are a member of the press and interested in doing a feature or review, please e-mail me and I'd be happy to have a copy sent to you post haste. Just be sure to include your name, address and phone number, and affiliation.
I'm now into the next phase of book activity, publicity, which to me is even more exciting than anything else so far. Writing is a solitary pursuit, even when it involves a subject as light as weddings, so focusing on press and marketing should represent a real change in how I think about the book. No longer will I be thinking about selling my writing; I'll also have to start thinking about selling myself! I'm meeting with my publicist (which along with phrases like "my wife" and "my agent" are still weird to me) tomorrow to discuss our plans for January and beyond.
A lot of people will probably be posting this list with an aside noting that they are so smart for having read some amount of the titles listed, so I figured why not me?
Between high school, college and the last almost-ten years, I've read 20 of the titles. And that's without ever having read Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret which was included along with works by Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald, and other canonical works of American fiction. I know it's influential and all, especially among women who were once teenage girls, but does "influential" equal "best"?
I submitted this list (with some differences) to McSweeneys, but it was rejected. Enjoy.
Names that Sound like Star Wars Bounty Hunters
but are Actually the Names of Popular Hosts on
National Public Radio and its Affiliates
The book's site is very basic for now and is just a placeholder for bigger and better things to come. For the time being I'll use it as a way to get basic information out to anyone who is interested. Those of you who pay attention to such things will notice that the copy comes straight from the back of my book. Be sure to check out the site and let me know what else you'd like to see up there.
Many thanks to Mike for helping me get it going.
Every day since the school year began a group of sixteen and seventeen-year-old girls from the local Catholic school around the block sneak out at lunch time to smoke. As my apartment building is close to the school yet far enough up the street to avoid the prying eyes of wandering teachers or school security personnel, the girls frequently use my building's stoop as their gathering place.
I don't have a problem with kids skipping school, at least not enough to tell them to go back. At the age of thirty-one, I'm also not one of those angry old men who doesn't want non-residents sitting on his building's stoop. And lest you think I'm a complete fun-hater, I don't have a problem with the girl's smoking even if they are underage. Part of growing up is sneaking out for a smoke every now and then; let them explain the smell on their clothes to their parents. (If their parents are even involved enough to care.)
In fact, I don't have a problem with smoking at all. What I do have a problem with, however, is smoke. You see, your right to smoke ends at my nose. (And if you've ever met me you'll know that doesn't allow for a lot of smoking room.) Want to fill your lungs with sweet sweet tobbacky? Go for it. Like the kind of high that only comes from sucking on a car's exhaust pipe? Be my guest. Just do it in your own home or in an area where you're not blowing into the breathing space of those who like to keep their lungs tar-free.
I work at home in a tiny second bedroom which I use as my office. The one window in the room looks out over the stoop from our position at the front of the building on the second floor. Every day for the last month and a half as the daily soda-klatch has gathered below, smoke wafts into the apartment, making me feel as if I work in a pre-smoking-ban bar and not within spitting distance of my bedroom. The smoke seeps in regardless of whether the windows are closed or open and the smoke lingers in the apartment for hours, leaving a pain in my chest and a despearate need for a breath of clean, smoke-free air.
I have politely asked these girls a dozen times to move to another stoop if they want to smoke, but for some reason they can't break their routine. I went down today to ask them one more time. Four of them sat on the stoop. One of the girls, prettier and thinner than the rest and the clear ringleader, told me that what they did during the day was none of my business.
I told her that she was right. I could care less about what they did during the day and that if they didn't want to be in school that was fine by me. All I wanted them to do was to move to another stoop if they needed their cigarettes. "Smoke all you want," I said. "But could you please not do it below my window?"
"We're just minding our own business," said the ringleader. "What do you care?"
I tried to appeal to their better graces with a tiny white lie. After numerous attempts at courtesy, I felt I had earned one small fib. "I have asthma," I said, "and the smoke really makes it hard to breathe." Now, I do have asthma, but it is exercise-induced; I have to be exerting myself fairly hard to feel any shortness of breath.
The girls puffed away. I had probably never seemed so old to someone else as I did in that moment. "So what?" said the ringleader. "That's not our problem."
So I went upstairs. Instead of going back to work, I went into my kitchen where I filled a large plastic cup with water. I took it to my office, opened the window wide and flung the water outside. I couldn't see what happened, but the kids' yells told me my target had been hit. I heard them talking about their soaked socks, bags, sandwiches and other possessions. Who knew that one cup of water could cause such a deluge?
Of course they figured out I was the one who had soaked them and they were smart enough to figure out my apartment number. They rang my buzzer repeatedly. I ignored it. As I breathed in the still-smoke-filled air in my apartment I thought I should let them suffer for a few minutes. Not my most mature moment, I know, but it was satisfying nonetheless.
Finally, my guilt got the better of me and I decided to go down to talk to the girls and apologize. Sort of. "I'm sorry if you all got wet," I said, "but I was just minding my own business and watering some plants on my window sill. It must have spilled."
One of the girls yelled at me. "What are we supposed to do? We have to go back to school all wet!"
"So what?" I said. "That's not my problem."
The kicker to the whole thing is that I actually wound up feeling even more guilty after the girls walked back to school. I realized I hadn't taken one last step before resulting to my water-based activism. I was dissapointed in myself. Why hadn't I driven one more mile on the high road before taking the off-ramp to immature town?
I looked up the number of the high school and called the vice principal. She said she couldn't do very much about their smoking, but she has asked me to call the next time they are in the area because she "really wants to get them" for playing hooky.
For one of the best anti-smoking stories ever, read this account from Francis.
Who is the idiot who allowed this photo to be a) taken and b) published in a magazine?
It's featured in this week's New York magazine as part of a feature called A Voyeur's Scrapbook, which takes "a peek inside the personal spaces of some public faces." It also makes some personal information available to the public. It's not easy to make out from the online edition, but in the print version Kate Spade's driver's license number and home address are clearly visible for all to see. It's not exactly the equivalent of a social security number and DNA sample, but I'm guessing this is not info anyone really wants to have printed for public consumption.
Did we really need to see that Kate Spade keeps - shock! - a driver's license in her handbag? Stars! They're just like us! They have state-issued identification!
The book's cover image is now up on the listing at Amazon.com. The book's release is starting to feel more real every day.
Visiting the post office on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope is an exercise in patience that even Tibetan monks or devotees of Sri Chinmoy would have a hard time enduring. For a neighborhood that has a reputation as the home of so many freelance writers and other at-home professionals, Park Slope is horribly underserved by a tiny and filthy post office. Thousands of customers must buy stamps, mail packages and conduct other postal-related businesses in a space smaller than most city bedrooms. The branch rarely opens on time and frequently closes early. The clerks spend more time gossipping than they do working. Those with epilepsy are advised to stay away as the flourescent lamps and slow ceiling could induce seizures in the healthiest of human beings.
Today, the line seemed especially long, probably because I was there at about 12:20 PM. I usually try to get to this particular post office shortly after it opens in the morning to avoid any sort of crowd, but today I had spent the morning making the last edits on my book before it goes to print and wasn't able to get out of the house until the afternoon.
When I entered the post office, a line of people was already snaked around a table in the middle of the skinny waiting area and out of the door. I knew the wait would be at least twenty minutes, but my manuscript had to go out today so I joined the line. At least ten people were in front of me, and within a few minutes of my arrival five more people joined the line behind me. Only two of the post office's four windows were staffed by clerks and one was busy weighing and affixing postage to thirty padded envelopes and ten small packages from one customer, who settled in for his wait with a copy of the Wall Street Journal and a cup of coffee as his transaction was being processed. At the adjacent window, a young mother began her transaction, her infant boy sitting in a Maclaren stroller parked to her right.
I looked toward the door and saw the line continue to grow. Each person who joined the line bore the same resigned look on his face as if he had gone through his own Postal-themed stages of grief before committing to the wait: denial ("There's no way this line could take so long"), anger ("What the fuck? Why is this line taking so goddamned long?"), bargaining ("Maybe I can ask them to open up another window"), depression ("How pathetic is it that I have so much free time to wait on a line at this disgusting post office?"), and finally acceptance ("I gotta mail this letter, so what other choice do I have?").
One woman walked in, pusing a stroller in which sat a very cute girl of no more than one year. This mom did the same double take everyone does when they walk into the post office. "Whoa, look at this line," she announced to the people already in line.
Her shock, however, wore off when she saw the woman currently conducting her business at the front of the line. "Sarah," she called out. The women clearly knew each other and were soon exchanging cheek-kisses and bright-eyed smiles to each other's child. It was obvious that the women had not expected to meet each other at that moment in the post office. It was the type of chance meeting that I imagine happens a thousand times a day in a neighborhood with as many young parents and stay-at-home-mommies as Park Slope.
After catching up with her friend for just a minute or two, the woman who had just walked in walked back to her stroller, grabbed a small padded envelope from a pouch on the back, and strolled up to the front of the line. "Could you mail this for me?" she asked her friend, handing her the envelope and a few crumpled dollar bills.
"Sure," said Sarah, but she refused the money. "I'm charging it, so just pay me back outside."
Nobody said anything, but the people in line were clearly agitated as they watched this happen. Who did this woman think she was? Why did she get to skip ahead while the rest of us had to continue our waits? Still, most of the people probably had the same thought in their heads that I had in mine: who wanted to be the person who yelled at two moms in front of their kids?
As the post office was only the first of many errands I had to run today, I was almost annoyed enough to speak up. I looked at the large envelope in my hand. "Excuse me," I imagined myself saying, "but could you mail this for me, too?" If they protested I might have replied, "I'm sorry, but had I realized that having a baby would have given me a pass to the front of the line I would have borrowed one from a friend and brought it with me." Entertaining my innner jerk was the only way I could keep myself from exploding at these two women.
With her envelope handed off to her friend, the woman who had just walked in went back to her stroller, stepped on the levers to disengage the wheel locks, turned around and went outside, parking her kid and herself right in front of the post office's windows.
What bothered me so much was the arrogance of the mom at the end of the line. To assume that her time was more valuable than the time of the almost twenty people ahead of her was the height of arrogance. Would it have been more difficult for her to stand in line than the old man who leaned on his cane and shuffled ahead with some difficulty as the line inched forward? The elderly woman pushing a granny cart probably wasn't so psyched about having to stand up for so long. Who knew what priorities the other people in line were shuffling around in order to endure this wait?
It's not that I think women with children don't deserve special consideration - I give my seat up to moms on the subway all the time - but the assumption that such consideration should simply be expected is arrogant and rude. If the women had asked a favor of everyone in line I'm sure most of us would have gladly let them go ahead. The fact that they didn't irked people more than the extra minute that was added to everyone's wait as a result of this woman's flouting of the pact all people enter into when they join a line.
Lines are great equalizers. Except for the people on either extreme - right near the front or at the very end - everyone, regardless of personal circumstance, has to wait for more or less the same amount of time. It doesn't matter who you are; I wait, you wait, everyone waits, unless I can make my case to everyone in line and not simply the one friend I have at the front.
Contrary to a recent New York Times story, it's not the size of the stroller that's the problem, it's the size of a person's sense of entitlement. If you can't be polite, I don't know what kind of consideration you deserve, especially since I frequently see many moms in the very same post office making the best out of a bad situation. Some of them figure out how to entertain their kids for twenty minutes. They set down a bag of Pirate's Booty and a coloring book in front of their kids and join their place in line like everyone else. As my sister, who shares my frustration with the entitlement of so many city parents, likes to say, "It's not a disability, it's a child."