New York’s grand repository of millions of used and rare books has been the venue for readings by dozens of notable writers over the years, and many have stayed for the conversations recorded here.
Upstairs in the Rare Book Room of the celebrated Strand bookstore, Paul Auster and Edward Albee talk of the salutary influence of Samuel Beckett, Leigh Newman remembers life in Alaska, and Tina Chang says that her 3-year-old son “likes to write poems.” Renata Adler notes the drawbacks of composing on a computer, Blake Bailey contemplates the art of biography, and Robert Pinsky considers required reading. Charles Simic is recorded paying tribute to the venerable shop in which he spoke, and this text is, in a way, a celebratory literary salute to the Strand’s vitality. Favorite authors—very few found on bestseller lists—are a common refrain, and the contributors cite a wide variety of work from a diverse selection of essayists, poets, dramatists, memoirists, novelists, and graphic novelists. The colloquies lean a bit toward the arcane, in the best Paris Review–esque tradition. The artists speak of their first novels as learning experiences, of how much work and time writing can take, and of the construction and final trimming of poetry. They touch on psychotherapy, imagination, and inspiration as well as techniques, work habits, gender, and race. Friends talk with friends, and questions from the audience are entertained. Other contributors include George Saunders, Hilton Als, Junot Diaz, Rivka Galchen, Hari Kunzru, Rachel Kushner, Téa Obreht, Alison Bechdel, Katie Roiphe, D.T. Max, Tracy K. Smith, Mark Strand, Charles Wright, A.M. Holmes, David Shields, and Wendy Lesser. As it must be, the conversations do not avoid solipsism. They are, after all, writers talking shop.
An array of authors edifies their fans at the home of the flourishing last survivor of Gotham’s grand old Book Row.