Saturday, October 6, 2012

Another October, Another New Yorker Festival: Tales Out of School and Fiction Night

Instead of being the reason for the trip to New York this year, the New Yorker Festival is going to conclude it. I've been here five weeks and now have a weekend of Festival events before heading home.

The first two events were last night; first, Tales Out of School, storytelling by several New Yorker staff writers detailing events or anecdotes regarding stories they've worked on for the magazine. I'm not sure what I expected; what I got was five writers whose New Yorker pieces I recall reading, standing at a mic and telling a story. Lauren Collins told a story about the time she threw up on Donatella Versace on the way to Donatella's villa on Lake Como; she made the comment that Donatella was the "Lyndon Johnson of fashion moguls," having ascended to her position via the assassination of someone much more qualified. Rebecca Mead told a story which started with the question, did George Eliot really say "it's never too late to be what you might have been"? - a quote which has been attributed to her; Rebecca thinks not, and doesn't believe the platitude is true (I agree), but told a lovely story about her attempt to find out, the point of which was, I really, really need to read Middlemarch (something Ellen has been telling me for years). Nicolas Schmidle told a story about why he made a gift subscription of the New Yorker to a Russian arms dealer who has recently been sentenced to and is serving a 25-year prison term; Anthony Lane whose movie reviews I totally enjoy, told a rambling, disjointed, almost manic story about how he once shot a movie (meaning, shot a movie playing on a screen with a gun) in such a manner that I wondered if he had snorted a few lines before hitting the stage; it was an interesting example of someone who is extremely coherent, funny, and sharp in writing but who struck me as obnoxious and rather smug in person. And Lawrence Wright told about what it took to get his epic story on Scientology printed, and detailed the events which led to 47 binders (which took up 7-linear feet of shelf space) being presented to him by the organization's lawyers in response to over 900 fact-checking questions asked by the magazine. Introductions to the stories were made by Andy Borowitz who said some amusing things which I can't remember, and piano interludes were played by Leo Carey.
Leo, Lorrie, Julian, Junot

After Tales Out of School, I immediately made my way to another venue to hear one of the Fiction Night discussion with Julian Barnes, Junot Diaz, and Lorrie Moore, which happened to be moderated by Leo Carey (no piano). I read one of Lorrie Moore's books in the 90s and haven't read any of her short stories because I hardly ever read short stories. That being said, I read one of Junot Diaz's short stories in the New Yorker recently and it blew me away. Julian Barnes won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for A Sense of an Ending which as luck would have it, I read two months ago. The title of their talk was Love and Marriage and it was interesting. I met Mai (who I had dinner with on the Upper West Side a few weeks ago) and a friend of hers at the talk. The talk was interesting and was about love, but not necessarily marriage. Nothing earth-shattering came from it, just a reiteration of what I already know, which is love is the most compelling force in the universe. Not really big news, but interesting to hear those three (mostly those two: Julian and Junot) riff on the subject. Mai's friend knew Junot through her academic circles so we met him and his girlfriend after the talk. He was friendly and personable and did the Latin double-cheek-kiss-hello-thing... his roots are deeply Dominican but he grew up in Jersey. I also chit-chatted with Leo Carey for a few minutes since he was standing next to Junot when I was introduced. I told him I had enjoyed his piano-playing earlier that evening and he seemed sincerely pleased by that and was impressed by my ability to get across town from one venue to the other in a tight window of time; I pointed out that he did the same, although I'm guessing a car service came into play for him, as opposed to the sweaty subway.