in which the author discusses five books he’d read, if time permitted.
1. The Flatiron: The New York Landmark and the Incomparable City That Arose with It, by Alice Sparberg Alexiou.
The haunting, beautiful Flatiron building: It’ relentless, modern façade rises above the delirious New York skyline like the obelisk in 2001: A Space Odyssey and 2010: The Year We Made Contact. That glor’ous architectural marvel: an icy, unfeeling structure that helped redefine the past’s vision of what the future we are now living would be like. That momentous, monumental work of purposeful art: one of those places native New Yorkers think everyone, even non-native New Yorkers or occasional visitors to Brooklyn or those stumbling off of the BoltBus armed only with dead cell phones and slacks stained with mustard from the oversized $3 pretzel they got in Times Square, knows how to get to, like, Katz’s deli and that block of Indian restaurants somewhere south of Union Square that is either 6th Street between A and B, or 5th Street between 1st and 2nd, or 4th Street between 2nd and 3rd.
2. Sophistication: A Literary and Cultural History, by Faye Hammill.
Though sophistication is an elusive quality that changes with the times and the company one keeps, there are certain standards to which any decent household must attend. I find, for example, that serving cucumber sandwiches with strong English tea always ups the ante during a social call, impressing upon visitors the simple fact that I am a gentleman of no small means, impeccable taste, and indisputable character, even if, later that evening, I get drunk on Manischewitz while discussing unlikely plot twists in Stephen King’s “Dark Tower” septology and insisting that Dr. Dre’s The Chronic “didn’t just change hip-hop, but really changed my life, man — really.”
3. Misty: Digging Deep in Volleyball and Life, by Misty May-Treanor, contributions by Jill Lieber Steeg.
Zen koan: If women’s volleyball is all about sweaty ladies’ titties, is men’s wrestling all about sweaty young gentlemen’s asses and balls? Zen koan’s aren’t supposed to have answers, but, if this one did, the answer should be “yes.”
4. The Spot: Stories, by David Means.
Sometimes, you find a book in the mailroom and, like Audrey at the beginning of Little Shop of Horrors, that book says, “Read me.” Then, you put it on your desk for awhile, and don’t read it immediately, and, the more you look at it, the more resentful it seems at not being read, and it grows and grows in your imagination, becoming metaphorically bigger and bigger and bigger until it comes to symbolize all of the many books you’ve never gotten around to reading and casts a long shadow over your aging PC and becomes a symbol of your own mortality. Know what I mean?
5. Miracle Cures: Saints, Pilgrimage, and the Healing Powers of Belief, by Robert A. Scott.
Did you ever have a physical complaint (a headache, or allergies, or insomnia, or a stomachache, or nausea, or a turned ankle, or menstrual cramps, or a cavity, or depression, or suicidal ideation) and seek the advice of a very cool “alternative” therapist (a chiropractor, or an acupuncturist, or a herbalist, or an energy healer, or a yoga teacher, or a reiki master, or a guru/priest/religious figure) and, when the alternative therapy didn’t work, find comfort in a very uncool “traditional” remedy (aspirin, or Tylenol, or ibuprofen, or Motrin, or Sudafed, or Pepto Bismol, or Ambien, or penicillin, or a tub of chocolate ice cream, or the second season of True Blood, or a breakup with your asshole boyfriend)? Yeah, it’s kind of a bummer, but also kind of like that Cream song “I Feel Free.”