Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Alan Kaufman reads 1/17/2012 at The St. Mark's Bookshop

The Saint Mark’s Bookshop, Tuesday evening January 17, 2012.

A reading by Alan Kaufman from his latest book, Drunken Angel.

Sometimes I don’t know why I do it, sometimes I do. Ron Kolm was introducing Alan Kaufman who was going to read from his newest book, a memoir called Drunken Angel (Viva Editions, 2011). It was supposed to start at 7PM, a stupid ass time for a guy who has to get back to northern Westchester at a reasonable hour on a Tuesday night because he hopes to get up at 4:30 to work out, especially since I’ve never been to a reading that actually starts on time, even when the reader’s there, the master of ceremonies is there, and the person responsible for planning these events was ready to start at 7PM.

But there I was, and early too, because I had time to kill and I didn’t want to kill it in a bar. One thing I can attest to: there is no way a half hour in a bookstore is ever wasted. I browsed, I found a translation of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel, The Master and Margarita that I didn’t even know existed – and can you fucking believe they don’t even put the translators’ names on the cover, as if they don’t matter - so I’m putting their names here in big heavy italic type: Diana Burgin and Katherine Tiernan O’Connor. Of course I bought it and it was only six bucks! Talk about not wasting time or money in a bookstore.

At the register I got into a conversation with the cashier, who didn’t know they had the book, and this woman who also worked in the store. We talked about the book, the various translations of The Master and Margarita and whether or not a character’s name - Bezdomy, should be transliterated or translated – her opinion is to translate the name, and other Russian novels that could use a new translation. I told her I was a former bookseller myself, she said “you escaped but you have to wear a tie.” I told her it is my choice to wear tie and jacket, and that I rather like it. Then she turned around and put a copy of a novella, The Duel by Anton Chekov that she translated into my hand. What can I say but "wow!"  So her name goes here too, in big heavy italic type: Margarita Shalina. You just got to hand it to independent bookstores. The people who work there are often as literate and literary as the customers.

Then Ron came in with Jim Feast, Clayton Patterson and Alan Kaufman.  I got introduced to Alan a couple of times and we started taking pictures. Clayton’s a videographer who’s done some important work on the Lower East Side and the East Village. More people came in, and I don’t want to slight anyone by not naming them all, but it was like a love feast of Unbearables and a few miscellaneous others. One person, a customer who wasn’t there for the reading, stood in back and after the first piece, put herself in a chair and stayed until the end. I asked her what made her decide to stay and she said “it’s interesting.”

Ron was at his self-effacing best and didn’t take too long to let us hear Alan’s biography. I won’t say I heard it all before, but if I took it in pieces, I could use each piece in the biography of someone else I know. This isn’t to slight Alan, but rather to point out that at a certain point I have crossed paths with so many people in Bohemia, too many of whom have not survived, that I can’t say I hearing it didn't make me a little sad. Alan said that when he comes back to New York City, he takes a little private tour to revisit the places that could only matter to someone who fell down drunk near or in them.

Alan’s reading was good. Drunken Angel is memoir and judging from the parts he read, he’s pretty harsh on himself. He was an alcoholic and now he’s in recovery. It’s a long tough road, and I hope it’s one he stays on. He seems to have hated himself pretty badly for a pretty long time, and this despite managing to get some books published, serve in the Israeli army, and hold down jobs when he was between periods of serious drinking. If you don’t have the stomach for the vomit, the blood, the beatings and the blackouts, it might be more than you want to handle. And he seems like such a nice Jewish boy from the Bronx.
The St. Mark’s Bookshop is a terrific store. They are struggling, as so many independent bookstores are in this era of e-books and Amazon. They carry things I’ve seen nowhere else. They have the guts to put a Susan Sontag remainder in the textual criticism shelves alongside current and backlist titles that remain in print. They invite people like Alan in to read. They carry poetry and translations of literature. If you are in the city and you like books, do yourself a favor and drop in. And do them a favor and buy something there.

Oh yeah, did I mention I took a few photos? I guess you figured that out already. And I hope one of these days I get around to putting captions under some of the photos so you know the difference between Shalom Neumann, Ron Kolm, Clayton Patterson, Steve Dalachinsky, Jim Boyette, Susan Scutti and everyone else there.
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