Eat: The classic breakfast sandwich: bacon, egg, and cheese. The bacon is hidden, but I was pretty proud of my bacon-lattice, so I’ve included a picture of it below (it’s super easy to do; just weave it together before cooking it). It definitely increased the structural integrity of my sandwich. Not pictured: Cholula.
Drink: Intelligentsia Organic La Perla de Oaxaca Mexico, brewed in a Chemex. According to Intelly: “A syrupy sweetness is balanced by tart red apple with hints of vanilla and spice.” I think the flavor profile is perfect for Autumn mornings.
Read: I finally finished Georges Perec’s Life: A User’s Manual (Have any of you read it? I’m dying to discuss with someone but can’t find any friends who have read it), and have moved on to Tom Barbash’s Stay Up With Me. I’ve only read the first story so far and can’t really comment on the collection as a whole, but I did see Barbash in conversation with Mary Gaitskill at McNally Jackson the other week.
The discussion began with the New York Times review of the book, by Clancy Martin, which is what had drawn me to the event in the first place. The review’s opening paragraph:
“If your best friend has just had his heart broken, give him a copy of Tom Barbash’s new collection of stories, ‘Stay Up With Me.’ Inscribe it: ‘Everybody in this book is worse off than you.’ Barbash’s characters are lonely, unhappy and at least temporarily ruined. And yet there’s something addictive about these stories — like potato chips or a stiff drink.”
[An aside: I realize that I am not painting a particularly flattering image of myself in this post: without friends to discuss the books I read, heart-broken, lonely, unhappy, at least temporarily ruined, and binging on literal and/or metaphoric chips and scotch. I promise that only some of these things are true. For example, last night I went to City Center's annual Fall for Dance with my friends Lauren and Joelle (and their lovely parents, though I'm devastated to have missed their dad's impression of one of my modern pieces after the show) and was reminded why it is customary to applaud at the end of a performance because the dancing was so exuberant we couldn't help but clap with glee.]
Gaitskill brought up the review in the context of the like-ability of Barbash’s characters; Martin says that we see these miserable characters and do not feel sorry for them because we think they deserve their unhappiness. Gaitskill and Barbash talked about how they don’t really consider the like-ability of characters when they are writing (in fact, Barbash described a time when a character was too like-able to the point of being merely obnoxious, and he had to go back and deliberately make him less appealing), but I think to discuss schadenfreude in the context of like-ability alone is to limit the discussion. Based on the one story I read, Barbash’s real strength is to show that you don’t have to dislike someone to experience schadenfreude with regards to their ruin, and likewise, you don’t have to like someone to feel genuinely bad for their misfortune. Schadenfreude is so alluring, I think, because watch the failures of others unfold reassures us (in an admittedly perverse way) that we are all vulnerable to hitting rock-bottom. Certainly, some of us seem to speed downward more willfully than others, but there is selfish comfort to be found in knowing that bad luck and poor decisions are not any individual’s burdens alone.
After swimming through Perec for so long, Barbash’s clean, elegant realism is a refreshing shower, and I’m looking forward to reading the reset of the collection. What are you reading right now?