January 12, 2016
It’s on its way. It’s big, it’s bonny, it’s existential, it’s rectangular, and it’s been five years in the making. Within its pages, someone gets punched in the street, someone else makes sad remarks about a lump of sugar, another person is chased by imaginary lobsters, and three people drink apricot cocktails in a mood of uncontainable excitement. Yes, it’s my new book At the Existentialist Cafe, telling the story of twentieth-century existentialism through a blend of biography and philosophy. It is coming out in the first few days of March from Chatto & Windus in the U.K., Other Press in the U.S., and Knopf in Canada.
There are two versions of the cover, depending on country. Here they both are.
I’ll be talking about the book at festivals and other events in various places this year. Watch this space for details as they arise..
July 31, 2015
May 18, 2015
May 15, 2015
Another pile. This time it’s of books that I’ve been reading about New York while being in New York. The hard-to-see two in the middle are Luc Sante’s Low Life: lures and snares of old New York, and Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, about music in the city from 1973 to 1977. The latter has a great cover: I’m trying to resist colouring it in with crayons rather than reading it.
Jerome Charyn’s War Cries Over Avenue C is an interesting one, a feverish, Burroughsian tale set in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side – the area covered by Avenues A to D, inserted before 1st Avenue. I read this when it came out (in the mid-1980s), and thought it was great. Now I’m not so sure, but what I do like is the short introduction excerpted from The Manhattan Spy, a guidebook by Doris Quinn. Doris is a louche and wayward guide, a female Joseph Mitchell who briefs us on the differences between the avenues in Alphabet City, and hints at secrets behind the closed, graffiti’d shutters. On Avenue A:
You can pick your own Russian beanery. Sit and have some stuffed cabbage, say that Doris Quinn sent you, Doris from the Spy. They’ll treat you to golden pancakes, drop a strawberry in your tea, and you’ll think that Avenue A was your own fatted calf.
On Avenue C, she speculates about what goes on in the abandoned Talmud Torah school on Avenue C where a “Saigon Sarah” presides and holds a mysterious after-hours club. But when she knocks, Saigon Sarah refuses to let her in or speak to her.
Jerome Charyn is quite a character himself. He’s written almost 50 books in 50 years, is very big in France (where he lived for a long time), and has also been a table tennis champion. Don DeLillo once said that Charyn’s book about the sport, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, is “The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong.”
April 30, 2015
Does reading fiction make us better people? I was asked this question by Nigel Warburton for the excellent new debate forum at Aeon Ideas. I argued contrariwise, but I also loved Tony Bradman’s argument in favour. I especially like his image of fiction as a flight simulator for the emotions. Read it all here.
It seemed appropriate to illustrate this with my recent to-be-read pile . After taking the photo, I dismantled it, read some of them, put some on the shelf, took some back to the library, and left some to seed a new to-be-read pile.
April 28, 2015
It’s no accident that “New York” and “walk” rhyme. Well, for a Brit they do. Not for a New Yorker. Bang goes that theory.
April 27, 2015
April 16, 2015
So this is me for the next two months! Very excited to be here.
March 29, 2015
If you are in New York next week, and feel so inclined, do join me at the Live from the NYPL series on Easter Monday, April 6, at 7 pm. I’ll be talking with Rebecca Mead, New Yorker writer and author of the fascinating My Life in Middlemarch. It should be a great evening – at least I’m planning to enjoy myself! See more information and book tickets here, at the NYPL site.
November 18, 2014
Here’s a link to the latest issue of the journal Republics of Letters, featuring a forum on the essay genre. As well as fascinating contributions by other writers on a range of essayists, there’s one by me, “Reverie and Ambush: on the influence of Montaigne.” It’s about Montaigne and one of my favourite French writers, Francis Ponge.
If you don’t know Ponge’s extraordinary, precise prose poems about things – oysters, cigarette ash, pebbles, snails, candles, soap – I’d recommend seeking out his Le Parti pris des choses (Siding With Things). Try this: a bilingual French/English version of his “L’Orange” (“The Orange“). It will have you peering very closely at the pips next time you squeeze your morning OJ.