Eat Me Bailey!

Last night Tobyjoe and I headed to BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music) to see an interview with Jonathan Lethem. The night was fantastic. We ran into Mia and Charles which was a pleasant surprise as Mia had said she wasn’t planning on going. We sat with them and sipped wine (maybe a little too much wine) and ate a fine meal cooked up by BAM and included in our ticket prices. The evening was absolutely worth the 41 bucks. And I think these events might become my new Rock Show. No one spoked when he read. NO ONE. And everyone knows how speaking during any performance makes me feel.

Mr. Lethem began the evening by reading from a novel that’s supposed to be released in March. While he read, I began to wonder about good writing. There were a few times during his reading where certain word clusters seemed stressed out. It’s as if they didn’t really belong together. Had I been reading this to myself, silently, I may not have noticed. But hearing him read it out loud, hell, hearing anyone read them out loud, didn’t quite sound right but overall, it had us laughing out loud. And that’s a very good thing. And I totally want to know how one kidnaps a kangeroo.

I do, however, believe that if a piece of fiction doesn’t read well out loud, it’s probably not very good. I stand by that criticism. I also realized I had a really hard time focusing on the actual content when I looked at him. It helped to focus on a spot on the floor. Weird. I also noticed that I read way too fast as Mr. Lethem’s cadence was much slower than what I generally use in my head. I’m going to try and slow down a little bit from now on. We’ll see how that works.

After he finished the reading, he was interviewed by Jessica Hagedorn. He spoke about being Jewish and growing up in New York City. He talked about his bohemian parents and how he attended Quaker meetings. At that point, Tobyjoe looked back at me and smiled because I have been contemplating and threatening him with joining the Quaker Church. (Oh, to sit in silence for a long while.) Mr. Lethem talked about the inspiration behind Motherless Brooklyn as well as Fortress of Solitude. There were moments where what he was saying was unbelievably funny.

At the end, they gave the audience a chance to ask questions. Perhaps it was the wine, maybe it was the mushrooms I had eaten, but before I knew it, my hand was in the air.

Yes. What is you favorite part of Brooklyn? What is your favorite section?

His favorite section is Dean Street and State. His favorite section is where he grew up. (Looking back, I should have added a clarifier and asked him what his favorite section of Brooklyn was OUTSIDE of where he grew up. But, oh well. I’m most impressed with my suddenly ability to actually speak up in front of hundreds of people. Where did THAT come from?)

After the question and answer part of the evening, we were able to get our books signed. I, of course, forgot mine at home. So I purchased two new ones. I picked up another copy of Motherless Brooklyn, which plan to give away on and I picked up a copy of The Disappointment Artist for myself.

Since I was drinking wine I got chatty and asked him too many questions when he signed my book. I asked him when he wrote – what time of day. He said first thing in the morning. I asked him before or after he brushed his teeth and he said after. I asked him if he drank coffee when he wrote. He said he gave up coffee. I suck. Truly. The good news is, he meets so many people at every reading that I don’t think he’ll remember my stupid ass.

The Motherless Brooklyn book sports an “EAT ME BAILEY!” written by none other than Lethem himself. And as soon as I figure out HOW to give it away on Spread, I’ll let everyone know.


  1. I don’t know if I trust an author to be the best reader of his or her own work. There is a big difference between writing well and reading out loud well. But if something is poorly written, it can certainly sound terrible.

    Many years ago I had the dubious misfortune of being asked to read another writer’s work out loud at a memorial fundraiser for his widow and child (he had died unexpectedly at the age of 40). His friends had gathered to read his work and works in progress, and I was asked to read a really poorly written early draft of an autobiographical short story. I spent days editing it and reworking it and fixing grammatical and stylistic errors because I simply could not see myself reading what was handed to me. It was embarrassingly bad.

    Unfortunately, when I showed up at the reading with my edited manuscript, I was shocked to discover that the original that had been handed to me was reproduced in a collection that had been printed for that occasion (and from which others were reading their assigned pieces). So rather than read what I had hoped was a much-improved, albeit not authentic, version of my friend’s story, I read the original draft that had been printed and distributed to the audience. It was a painful experience in so many ways. A refugee from the genocide in Rwanda, he was capable of brilliant work, but his battle with fatally high blood pressure and the debilitating effects of its medication significantly eroded his abilities as a writer. The piece I ende up reading, I felt, showed him at his most tragic, and not what I had hoped approximated him at his best (although he was really a better writer than I).

    Come to think of it, I haven’t done much work in fiction since then. It was at the end of my academic career (during which I had done quite a bit of writing and editing of fiction), and I was already consulting to IT departments. Shit, now that I think about it, I think that the rewrite of his work (in 1998), may have been the last fiction I have ever written. Hmmmm … there’s a story there.


  2. Thanks for sharing! Holy crap, what a massive amount of helpful information.

    I hadn’t thought about it that way. Perhaps that’s why it seemed weird at times?


  3. Charlie, I’m sorry to hear about your friend. The event sounds hard and horrible.


  4. Your comments reminded me of listening to various authors read their works- David Sedaris and Amy Tan come to mind. (both were wonderful- one reader gave Sedaris cookies while he was doing the signing- who does that?!?)I find that after hearing them read, the tone of the reading in my head changes as well.
    kind of like beating a drum in your own apartment.


  5. raphaelle, I imagine that once his book is released, I’ll probably try and read it with the same cadence as he had. However, that’s not until March! I might totally forget by then…


  6. It was lightened by the fact that much of the work that was read was funny and smart. For many, the event wasn’t as painful as it was for me. And for some, like his wife, I’m sure it was far worse, although she was quite gracious and grateful for helping us honor her husband and his work.

    Like almost everyone else I knew at that time, I’ve lost track of his wife. I heard that their little boy had some significant developmental problems (he was my son’s age). I don’t know what has become of them.


  7. I thought you didn’t want to go?

    I highly reocmmend The Disappointment Artist. I’ve read much (although not all) of Lethem’s books and I think his writing improves immensely with each output. It took me nearly two years to get through The Fortress of Solitude, but it was so worth it. (It’s the closest thing that I’ve come across that describes what my area of Brooklyn must have been like before the gentrifiers.)


  8. I never want to do anything after work. But I do really want to do things after work. It’s the way it is here in NYC. You work really hard and fast and then you hit a wall called home.


  9. And apparently the movie Motherless Brooklyn is still being made….


  10. i liked your questions. to me, it was important to learn that he wrote in the morning.

    such a EAT ME BAILEY lovely evening


  11. i liked your questions too.
    i loved ‘motherless brooklyn’ but ‘fortress of solitude’ was tough going. too much painful stuff in that one.
    man, i miss brooklyn. i really do.


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