BookStalked: Roxane Gay

Roxane Gay is an internet force. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t see people retweeting, sharing and mentioning her works. Roxane’s output is staggering, and I’m constantly impressed by how she can expound brilliantly on everything from politics to Step Up: Revolution. Her first book, Ayiti, a collection of works about the the Haitian diaspora experience, was recently published by Artistically Declined Press. Roxane also teaches at Eastern Illinois University and holds down editorships at PANK, The Rumpus, and Bluestem. Whew. Despite her busy sched, Roxane was kind enough to share a few reading tales, which are unsurprisingly awesome. Read on to for a Twilight recap event, salvation from a Dostoyevsky fan, and the magic of Scott McClanahan.

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BookStalked: Amanda Bullock of Housing Works

Remember back in my first BookStalked post when I said I’d be interviewing not just authors, but also various other important/cool folk in the New York lit scene? Without further ado, allow me to introduce Amanda Bullock, the Director of Public Programming at the popular non-profit Housing Works Bookstore Cafe. I’ve always appreciated Housing Works for hosting such a fun variety of events—from panels to concerts to Moth StorySLAMs to Friday night happy hours. And there are also, of course, the great readings—in just the past few weeks, Patti Smith, Ben Marcus and Sara Benincasa have all graced the stage. Amanda has some amazing stories from her time as director (including, yes, public urination), shared after the jump.

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BookStalked: Jenn Northington of WORD

I went to my first reading in New York (where I awkwardly accosted Jami Attenberg) at WORD about four years ago. These days, I find myself there multiple times a month, due to the event coordinating efforts of Jenn Northington. Both coordinator and bookseller, Jenn has cemented WORD’s reputation as a Brooklyn institution due to the consistently awesome quality of its events. In her “free time,” Jenn co-founded Bookrageous, a Twitter hashtag that has morphed into a popular podcast and site. She also writes for Book Riot, and has quite the following on Twitter. I knew Jenn would have some great tales—but couldn’t have guessed that one of them would involve knife-throwing at a children’s event. More after the jump!

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BookStalked: Myla Goldberg

Welcome to BookStalker’s newest feature: BookStalked! Every week or so I’ll be asking an awesome author (or bookstore owner, or reading series coordinator) to tell me about some of their fave and/or traumatic reading experiences. First up, we’ve got the magnificent MYLA GOLDBERG…

Most published writers are somewhat sociable (I rarely leave a reading muttering, “Man, what a jerk”), but Myla’s one of the most friendly and down-to-earth I’ve come across. Author of the beloved Bee Season, she’s also written about the 1918 influenza epidemic (Wickett’s Remedy) and her experiences in Prague (Time’s Magpie). Her newest novel, The False Friend, centers on the mysterious disappearance of a woman’s childhood friend. Myla kindly answered my three questions about some of her most notable and bizarre reading experiences:

  • What’s one of the most memorable readings you’ve given and why?

"I was reading from a particularly gruesome section of Wickett’s Remedy, which is about the 1918 influenza epidemic, and someone in the audience actually had to leave the room in the middle because I made her feel like she was about to faint.  Perhaps it’s awful of me to say that was a total thrill…but that was a total thrill.”

  • Any particularly intriguing (or conversely, awkward) audience questions that have stuck with you?

"Hmm, how about an awkward audience request?  You know how at the beginning of a book, the author gets to dedicate a book to someone—like, say, their family, or their children, or their dearest friend in the world?  Once when I was signing books after a reading, someone wanted me to cross out the person the book was actually dedicated to and put their name in instead.  It was kind of nice to be asked something that I could refuse so easily, with absolutely no remorse.”

  • What’s a reading that you’ve attended that you’ll never forget?

"Getting to see David Foster Wallace read from Infinite Jest.  It’s not that he was electrifying as a reader—most authors aren’t—but I was so incredibly excited by that book and by his writing in general that it was deeply meaningful to be able to attach a face and a voice to the work.  I stood in line afterward and got him to sign my copy of Girl with Curious Hair—which I totally forgot I had done until I opened it up this year and saw his signature there, which felt like seeing a ghost.  I didn’t know Wallace outside of his writing, but I miss him.”

Thanks so much, Myla!

If you’re interested in more, check out my BookStalker writeup of one of Myla’s readings and my quick review of The False Friend.

BookStalked: Justin Taylor

Justin Taylor is a literary Brooklyn staple, one whose variety of output has brought in a steady torrent of praise. He first edited The Apocalypse Reader, an anthology of stories about the end of the world that includes works by H.G. Wells, Joyce Carol Oates, and Neil Gaiman. His book of short stories, Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever, was a NYT editors’ choice. And his debut novel, The Gospel of Anarchy—about a college dropout who falls in with a group of libertines—has been hailed as brilliant, bracing, and brutally funny. I saw Justin read at an event a few months ago, and I was struck by his relaxed confidence and by how caught up I got in his story. Justin kindly agreed to share some tales about his other reading-related experiences, which include a Bangor, ME jaunt with Gregory Howard, a paperback vs. hardback debacle, and an electrifying Wave Books poetry reading.

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BookStalked: Julie Buntin of powerHouse Arena

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With its 24-foot ceilings, amphitheater-style seating and gorgeous views of Manhattan, DUMBO’s powerHouse Arena is one of the most visually arresting places you can browse for books. The arena was built in 2006 by publisher powerHouse Books, who envisioned it as a hybrid gallery/events space/bookstore. PowerHouse constantly hosts big-name guests (some authors I’ve seen there recently include A.S. Byatt and Jeffrey Eugenides), and I’m always eagerly scrolling through their just-announced events.

Julie Buntin has been powerHouse’s events coordinator for about five months, but she already has an assortment of tales, ranging from dealing with Sandy’s devastating effects to hanging with NYC’s most brilliant to reining in a punk party that got a bit out of control. More after the jump.

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BookStalked: Karolina Waclawiak

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In How to Get into the Twin Palms, a 25-year-old Polish immigrant in LA takes on a new name (Anya) and a new mission: to get into the exclusive Russian club in her neighborhood. Believer editor Karolina Waclawiak’s debut novel has been called a “fresh and bizarre” take on the immigrant story, and her dark humor and engaging prose have landed it on various top-ten lists. (Plus, how awesome is the cover)? Karolina was able to share some fascinating tales of her public reading experiences, including feedback from Polish book clubs and the most memorable reading of her life.

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BookStalked: Carmela Ciuraru

Carmela’s book on pseudonymous authors has been receiving heaps of praise, and it’s easy to see why. Whether relating O. Henry’s ex-con past, Patricia Highsmith’s obsession with snails or Alice Sheldon’s flirty correspondences with women (as James Tiptree, Jr.), Carmela uncovers the good stuff and lets her own enthusiasm and interest in her topic shine through.

Read on for Carmela’s  best reading experiences, an incident regarding an “oddball character” and the author who turned her into a grinning fangirl.


  • What’s one of the most memorable readings you’ve given and why?

“Tough to choose, but I had a blast at McNally Jackson in Soho. It’s one of my favorite bookstores, the event was completely packed, and I was in conversation with a friend, Andy Hunter, who co-founded Electric Literature. I always like my events to be interactive, and we had a lot of fun that night doing a “nom de plume” contest and awarding prizes. But I have to say that I loved each of my NYC events because I’m a frequent customer of all those bookstores: Greenlight, The Strand, 192 Books, and so on.
 
Two other especially memorable events from my book tour come to mind: I’ll always treasure having spent an afternoon with Dick Cavett at the Montauk Bookstore, and reading with Roger Rosenblatt at the Miami Book Fair. I admire both of them, and they were as kind, witty and generous as I could have hoped for. I felt honored to spend time in their presence at these events.”
 

  • Any particularly intriguing (or conversely, awkward) audience questions that have stuck with you?

“Nothing terribly intriguing or awkward occurred at my readings. People always asked if I would ever consider writing under a pen name—answer: probably not—and I was often asked whether the pseudonym is dead. (It is, in a sense, and last summer I wrote an essay on this topic for The New York Times Book Review.)
 
Occasionally, there were charming oddball characters in the audience. At one of my first readings, an elderly man embarked on what seemed to be a ten-minute monologue that touched on, among other things, the current tax code and Bob Dylan. I tried to nod my head and smile politely as he rambled on, but I had no idea what he was talking about. It certainly had nothing to do with my book. And I don’t think he asked an actual question.”
 
[Julia: I was there, and no, he did not!]
 

  • What’s a reading that you’ve attended that you’ll never forget?

“One of the many pleasures of living in New York City is that if you’re here long enough, you will get to encounter pretty much all of your favorite writers and poets. I’ve been thrilled to hear Lorrie Moore, Joan Didion, Zadie Smith, Susan Sontag, Janet Malcolm, Louise Gluck, Jorie Graham, W. S. Merwin, Gwendolyn Brooks, Anne Carson, and so many others read and talk about their work.
 
Years ago, when I attended a Toni Morrison reading, I remember thinking at the time how lucky I was to be living in the same period in which she was writing, and to hear the sound of her voice that night, which I could have listened to for hours.
 
Recently, I got to hear Margaret Atwood read, and I learned so much about the craft of writing at that event. She’s been one of my favorite writers for years, so I was excited to be there. She had a sly, mischievous sense of humor, which I loved, and she was very charismatic.
 
I was also impressed to see that although she got lots of silly, irrelevant, and just plain bizarre questions from the audience, she listened patiently to every single one and provided such thoughtful responses.

After the reading, she was incredibly kind to me. I’ll never forget that. She praised the book I had written and asked lots of questions about it. That was quite a surreal, amazing moment, and I left the building with a big stupid happy grin on my face.”

Thanks so much, Carmela!

For more on Carmela and Nom de Plume, check out my first and second BookStalker writeups.

BookStalked: Julia Fierro of Sackett Street Writers' Workshop

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I heard about the Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop shortly after moving to New York. I thought the concept—workshops run out of the homes of lauded authors like Emma Straub, Karen Thompson Walker and Catherine Chung—sounded like an amazing idea. What I didn’t know then (and only just discovered) is that there’s literally one woman behind the operation: founder Julia Fierro. Julia reads all the applications, fills the classes, hires and trains new teachers, teaches her own classes, and consults with students, along with scheduling, curating and hosting the related reading series. Whew! Somehow, in the midst of this (and raising two totally adorable kids), Julia found time to write a book—Cutting Teeth, forthcoming from St. Martins Press in spring 2014.

Without further ado, I want to get to Julia’s remarkable stories about Sackett Street—why and how she founded it, her most memorable experiences, and some exciting upcoming events.

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The Best Books I’ve Read This Year

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Over the holidaze, many a friend asked me for book recs. Since I’ve been remiss in my “Book I’m Into” posts (or…haven’t really started them…but I will! 2014!), I thought this would be a good chance to do an awesome book roundup. Most of these are from 2013, but a few older ones made the list. 

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BookStalked: Caryn Rose

Caryn Rose is one of those awesomely prolific Brooklynites who seem to be living about five different lives. Not only is she a published novelist, she’s also a director of product development at Billboard.com, a music writer, a photographer, AND the founder of a popular blog about….the Mets. (It’s called Metsgrrl.com, because, as she notes on the site, “I’m a cranky punk rock feminist.”) But let’s get back to B-Sides and Broken Hearts. The story concerns Lisa, a woman whose life takes a dramatic turn the day Joey Ramone dies. After a fight with her fiance, Lisa finds herself driving from Seattle to LA to reconnect with friends from the punk rock music scene of her youth. She also meets up with an old crush, a sexy musician who may make it tough to go home again.

Caryn’s always a delight to chat with, and I knew she’d have some great stories from her numerous events. Read on to learn about her brush with stage fright, the most common question she gets asked, and the poetry reading that marked her triumphant return to NYC.

  • What’s one of the most memorable readings you’ve given and why?

“The first time I read from B-sides and Broken Hearts, back when it was still called Joey Ramone Is Dead, will always be the most memorable to me. It was the first time I had read it out loud in public, and it was terrifying. My hands were shaking, even in a half-full basement at WORD. My heart was pounding so hard I was having trouble breathing. But it was the best thing I could have done, because it introduced me to some other talented writers, and it gave me the confidence to not give up on the book even if my agent at the time seemed to have forsaken it.”

  • Any particularly intriguing (or conversely, awkward) audience questions that have stuck with you?

“Everyone wants to know if X is true or Y is true or how much of me is in the book. I am immensely flattered that the story rings so true to everyone but just because I’ve gone to record fairs and can get into arguments about how I want my CD’s filed, I am not Lisa Simon. That can be a tough message to give to someone who read and fell in love with the book or the characters.”

  • What’s a reading that you’ve attended that you’ll never forget?

“In 1993, I had been living overseas for over six years and came back to the States right before Christmas. It was freezing and I was staying with my parents in Connecticut. I was feeling a combination of being thrilled to be home while also feeling completely discombobulated. A very kind friend let me use their apartment over New Year’s so I could escape the family. I went record shopping, had a drink at the Holiday, saw a show out at Maxwell’s, and went to  the St. Mark’s Poetry Reading the next day. I was amazed it was still going on and almost couldn’t believe it when I saw the entry in The Village Voice. To see Jim Carroll and John Giorno and Anne Waldman and all these poets who had been a huge part of my youth was the best possible welcome home I could have asked for.”

Thanks so much, Caryn! For more on B-Sides and Broken Hearts, see this BookStalker writeup.

BookStalked: Melissa Febos

I first read Melissa’s work in a New York Times essay called “Look at Me, I’m Crying.” It’s a lovely piece about the ways people protect themselves, especially in the crowded streets and subways of New York. Because of the honest lyricism of her writing, I wasn’t surprised to find she’d also written a memoir—although I was surprised to learn it was about her years as a professional dominatrix. Still (or more likely, “hence”), I raced through the book in a matter of days, and it was so fascinating and honest and unsparing that I became thrilled at the chance to meet her (as she hosts a monthly music/reading series in the city).

Melissa was funny onstage and super friendly when I introduced myself at the bar. Months later, she’s kindly agreed to tell me about some of her most memorable reading experiences. Like all her writing, I can guarantee that you’ll be riveted all the way through—from hearing about her dad as audience member, to the acronym she uses for motivation to attend readings, to the lit event where she met someone who changed her life forever.


  • What’s one of the most memorable readings you’ve given and why?

“This going to sound totally uncool, but I will always remember the first reading I gave with my dad in the audience.  The first event on the West Coast book tour for the hardcover of Whip Smart was one my dad set up in his little town on the tip of the Olympic Peninsula. Now, my dad is a huge supporter, and believes in me, but (like most dads, and non-writers) doesn’t quite understand the unglamourousness of publishing. He thinks that being a writer will likely make me rich someday. So, when he told me he estimated an audience of over 100 at my reading, I was all, okay, sure, Dad, and prepared myself to look out at a bunch of empty folding chairs. I couldn’t have been more wrong. The man filled the house, and with an exceptionally warm and intelligent audience. They listened with rapt attention as I described my experiences as a professional dominatrix, and then responded with startlingly thoughtful questions. It was a great way to start off the book tour, and certainly heartwarming that my dad had so talked me up (he made posters!), but also meant a lot because up until that night, my identity as a writer had been, I think, largely abstract to him.  And my book is not the easiest kind of memoir for a father to read, even one as open-minded as mine. He’d never seen me present my own work, or interact with an audience, and I think it really changed his understanding of my relationship to my work, and, perhaps even more importantly, other people’s relationship to it.”

  • Any particularly intriguing (or conversely, awkward) audience questions that have stuck with you?

“I’ve had lot of readers ask, after the reading, if they can call me, because they want to tell me their story. They want to tell me the things they’ve never told anyone. I get emails like this a lot, too. It’s something of an awkward position to be in, because I am actually honored that reading my story inspired them to want to tell their own, and also that they finished it trusting me, a person whom they’ve never actually met. But I do have to gently decline the offer.”

  • What’s a reading that you’ve attended that you’ll never forget?

“During graduate school, I struggled with not wanting go out to literary events, and knowing I should. My roommates and I devised a kind of mantra: JFG, an acronym for “Just Fucking Go.” If we needed it to, once we got to an event, it could easily turn into JFGH: “Just Fucking Go Home.” It totally worked. I’ve seen a great number of memorable readings as a result of JFG, and can probably credit it with co-founding my series, Mixer, too.  Getting really great writers crammed into this little space, with a warm audience, and a couple drinks seems to be a recipe for great readings.  The one that comes to mind at the moment is when Sini Anderson performed. I knew of her starting Sister Spit, and had heard great things about her work, but only knew her casually as my neighbor in Brooklyn. She got on stage with two musicians and no notes, and told a story about wanting to jump out a 9th floor window in SoHo, riding the short bus as a kid, God and goggles, and by the time she finished I was already half in love with her. It’s going on three years since then, and we’ve been living together for two of them, so I guess that reading made a pretty deep impression.”

I’d say! Thanks so much, Melissa.

Check out a BookStalker writeup of a Mixer event here.

BookStalked: Lindsey Kelk

Lindsey Kelk is a delightful human being. I know this from experience, but it’s also pretty easy to see via her hilarious/whip smart site, Twitter, Marie Claire columns, and, of course, her books. A Brit now living in Brooklyn, Lindsey has published six popular chick lit books based on various locations (the most recent being, appropriately, I Heart New York). Lindsey’s a fantastic storyteller, so I was psyched to ask her about her best/worst reading experiences. She came back with some epic tales of being stood up by Helen Fielding, the consequences of tweeting drunk, and how neat it was to meet her hero, Donna Tartt — all after the jump.

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BookStalked: Jason Diamond

Jason Diamond is a true powerhouse in the NY lit scene. He founded culture site Vol. 1 Brooklyn, hosts its related reading series, works at Flavorpill as the New York deputy editor, and writes for pubs like The New York Times, The Paris Review, and The Rumpus. This past May, Jason used his handy distinction of knowing everyone to throw “The Mingle” with friend Ryan Chapman. This networking event was so epic and well-attended that one could barely squeeze in the door. Read on for more about Jason’s fave Vol. 1 events, what to keep an eye out for this summer, and whether writers are prone to trashing dressing rooms.

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BookStalked: Teddy Wayne

It’s not easy to write “funny.” (Trust me, I’ve tried.) Teddy Wayne makes it look like a breeze, from his hilarious “Unpopular Proverbs“ in McSweeney’s to his sharp debut novel, Kapitoil. The book follows Karim, a socially awkward programmer from Qatar, as he helps a firm on Wall Street prepare for Y2K. On the side, he comes up with Kapitoil, a controversial program that predicts oil prices. As Karim ascends through his company, he also gets involved with a female coworker who makes him question his views of the country and himself. The book has been hailed as brilliant, poignant and compelling and has garnered Teddy several Book of the Year awards.

I was incredibly excited to get in touch with Teddy for BookStalked, and he came through with some fascinating tales re: Kapitoil bumper stickers, speaking to a friend’s mother’s book club, and an unforgettable interview with David Foster Wallace.


  • What’s one of the most memorable readings you’ve given and why?

“The city of Bend, Oregon, chose Kapitoil as their book to read through the library for 2011. They flew me out for a few days last April, and were incredible; they’d made Kapitoil bumper stickers, bookmarks, calendars, and they estimated that a few thousand people had read the book. I gave a few readings, but the centerpiece was in front of a lively crowd of about 500 on a Friday night at a theater. On top of it, they were as friendly and welcoming as you could hope a city that read your book would be. It was a bit of a disappointment to return to my drab apartment after that, as I had only 499 people there.”

  • Any particularly intriguing (or conversely, awkward) audience questions that have stuck with you?

“Not at a reading, but during a friend’s mother’s book club, I called in and spoke on speakerphone. The women all asked probing, polite questions, until someone who disagreed with the politics of the novel said something like, “So, what—the book is just saying America is bad, even though we give people like the main character all this opportunity?” I tried my best to answer diplomatically, though in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have punctuated my thoughtful response with, ‘Awk-ward!!!’”

  • What’s a reading that you’ve attended that you’ll never forget?

“I saw David Foster Wallace read at the Strand Bookstore in New York in 2006, and wrote about it for The Wall Street Journal. The reading itself wasn’t memorable, but my brief interview with him after was, to me.”

Thanks, Teddy! For more on Kapitoil, see this BookStalker post.

BookStalked: Courtney E. Smith

Last fall I covered Courtney’s BookCourt event for the release of her book of music-related essays, Record Collecting for Girls. One of the things I noticed about Courtney was that even though she obviously knew way more about music than most, she never veered off into snobbery. In fact, she even read from her “guilty pleasures” chapter (which includes musings on the Pussycat Dolls). I totally admire Courtney for thriving in the still-mainly-male music industry—not to mention her mad music journalism skills and her ability to help discover/break new bands (Death Cab, Vampire Weekend, Justice). After the jump, Courtney shares some of her book touring tales, which include reading for her grandmother’s bridge club, discussing The Smiths with a cover band member, and feeling really bad for a certain children’s book author.

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BookStalker Turns Two! And This Week's Readings

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It’s been a great year in bookstalking, and I think the best part has been adding BookStalked, a feature in which authors and other big names in the NYC book scene discuss their most memorable literary moments. I wanted to share just a few of my fave moments (though I truly love them all!).

I’m so grateful these amazing people took the time to share such crazy, fascinating and moving tales. If you missed any features, be sure to catch up on them here! Also, here’s another top-ten countdown from last year’s B-Day.

This Week’s Readings after the jump.

Photo via drinknectar.com.

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BookStalked: Kris D'Agostino

When you hang out with a lot of literary folk, you tend to get a lot of literary suggestions, but I was still surprised to hear so many friends abuzz over this young Brooklyn author. His debut novel, The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, is a post-collegiate coming-of-age tale, in which twenty-something Calvin drops out of film school, moves back in with his loving yet dysfunctional family and starts working at a preschool for autistic children. Kris’s writing has been hailed as sharp, funny and bold, and he doesn’t hide the fact that he pulled much of the rich material from his own life. I had the pleasure of attending Kris’s fun, free-wheelin’ launch party in March and knew immediately that he’d have some great reading tales. I was right.

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