Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tours of Literary New York

Last weekend the New York Times published a much commented upon piece of putative travel journalism, "A Critic's Tour of Literary Manhattan," by staff writer/editor Dwight Garner.  Even my mother sent it to me.  Garner is a very fine critic, but his travel reportage here is rather curious.

As a former editor myself of an effete New York literary magazine... The Paris Review... which is neither in Paris, nor does it review anything... I did in my time many a tour of such literary haunts, and of course I have an opinion.  In his article, Garner details the sorts of places patronized by well-educated, white, writer types in their late thirties and early forties (ie, people like him)... and then he throws in the Algonquin Hotel for historical perspective.  It's a nice selection, and gives an amber-hued picture of a world and life that is changing as print moves to digital. 

Somewhat, missing, however, are where today's twenty-something writers gather (I'm not telling... by which I actually mean they haven't told me).  And there's no mention of where an older crowd might congregate, such as Elio's, the Upper East Side restaurant started by a waiter from Elaine's, still a "local" for Nicholas Pileggi, Gay Talese and others, especially since Elaine's restaurant has closed.  And, incomprehensibly, no mention of Elaine, the den mother over five decades for comers in the quality lit game.  Many an eve, at the end of book party, my old boss George Plimpton would pipe up to a group of staffers and young writers, "What say?  Shall we go to 'The Fat Lady's'?" and off we'd be to the northern, and not particularly glamorous, reaches of Yorkville.

Lastly, there is no mention in Garner's piece of Brooklyn, where most writers now live and drink and dine.

As one commentator on the piece observes:
There's a sweet kind of denial in going to Manhattan to report on literary nightlife. It's like going to Coney Island looking for freak shows. Or heading over to far West Side to do a report on longshoremen.  Times change, but not at the Times? 
Still, during my most recent visit to New York last month I happened to gather with a few friends at one place mentioned in his piece, Cafe Loup.  I also made a few new friends there.  What's more, I spotted the current Editor of Paris Review, one Lorin Stein, who is doing a superb job.  Attempting to do our part, our group closed the place at 2 AM... on a Monday.  Cafe Loup seems better than ever.  New York is all right too.

Read Dwight Garner's literary tour here, and take it with a grain of salt, and leave a comment there... and here too.

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