As fantastical as cities like ash-Sham and al-Quds had seemed from the caravan men’s tales, the Jinni doubted that they’d been half so wondrous or terrifying as this New York.
The literature: David Mitchell’s THE THOUSAND AUTUMNS OF JACOB DE ZOET (in honor of Proof Reading’s 1000th follower!)
The libation: This is a Proof Reading original, a little something we’ve conjured up for you, dear readers, to mirror the intersection of Dutch and Japanese culture in Mitchell’s exquisite novel. Mix four parts shōchū, two parts fresh lemon juice, and two parts cinnamon syrup. Shake with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and lemon peel. Sip while you contemplate the Dutch East India Company’s monopoly over the cinnamon trade during the 18th century. (I mean, you don’t have to. It was just an idea.)
Meanwhile, your sommelier will raise a glass to you tonight to thank all one thousand of you for being here. Yes, you. Especially you.
Photo © LAT
I love you guys a lot. Also I really want to take a bartending class now.
The literature: Donna Tartt’s THE SECRET HISTORY
The libation: I hesitate to recommend wine, dear reader, solely on the basis of the consequences of Henry & Co’s bacchanal, but with proper supervision, mulled wine IS the best possible pairing for this wintry novel. Insulate yourself from the neverending winter that took such a toll on Richard with a mug or three this evening, wrapped in a cozy blanket in a warm room (ideally one with an intact roof).
Pour a bottle of red wine (err on the fruity side) into a small saucepan along with 4oz bourbon, 5 star anise pods, 5 cinnamon sticks, 2 tsp sugar, and a good length of orange peel studded with cloves. Stir together over low heat until the sugar is dissolved and the wine is warm through (but don’t let it boil!). Strain and serve in your hand-warmingest mug, garnished with a cinnamon stick. Maybe keep a sober friend around, just to make sure you don’t disappear off into the woods.
Photo © GSO
Can you tell it’s really cold in my office today?
The literature: Lorrie Moore’s BARK
The libation: One could, we suppose, celebrate the first new Lorrie Moore story collection in fifteen years by shoving a lemon meringue pie in one’s own face, as does a character in “The Juniper Tree.” But we really can’t endorse that, as a) it’s difficult to read when one has pie filling in one’s eyes and b) one risks getting pie on one’s book, which is unforgivable.
Instead, stir together 1.5 oz limoncello, 1.5 oz vanilla vodka, and 1 oz lemonade. Pour into a martini glass rimmed with crushed meringue crumbs for a lemon meringue martini. It’s still a little risky, as one may get crumbs in one’s book, but it’s still a far sight better than pie.
This charming little book by the inimitable Bob Boyle (supersillyhappy) is on sale TODAY! It is my very very favorite thing I ever worked on at harpercollinschildrens. You should buy it for anyone you might know in the 4-8 set, or anyone who likes cute things, compromise, friendship, and/or robots (that should cover everyone you know, really). Check it.
If you were alone when you were born, alone when you were dying, really absolutely alone when you were dead, why ‘learn to be alone’ in between? If you had forgotten, it would quickly come back to you. Aloneness was like riding a bike. At gunpoint. With the gun in your own hand. Aloneness was the air in your tires, the wind in your hair. You didn’t have to go looking for it with open arms. With open arms, you fell off the bike.
The literature: Andy Weir’s THE MARTIAN
The libation: Should Mark Watney ever make it home from being stranded on Mars after an near-catastrophic accident, he’ll certainly need a stiff drink. But serving him a cocktail called a Red Planet seems a bit cruel, so let’s just enjoy it ourselves while we’re waiting, and serve him maybe just a beer or something simple and inoffensive.
Add 1oz Campari, 3/4 oz Grand Marnier, and 1 oz grapefruit juice to a rocks glass filled with ice. Top with club soda. Garnish with orange wheel. Keep both feet planted firmly on Earth, raise a toast to Mark, and enjoy.
Photo © FSE
I get really proud of myself when I can match the drink to the color scheme of the jacket design. (Say it with me now - nerrrrrrd.)
Q:How do you get a job in publishing?!
FADE IN – EXTERIOR, DAY.
Helicopter shot of New York, at some indeterminate point in the next four or five decades. The sky is grey; the season, winter. The city is much the same, but also significantly different. For one, it’s a total dystopia now in, like, a bunch of different ways that’ll be made really clear. Trust me.
YOU begin to narrate in V.O., over an elegantly lit slow-motion montage; really arty shit.
When I was young, I didn’t wonder where the cameras came from.
CREEPY SHOTS OF CREEPY CAMERAS MOUNTED ON EVERY TELEPHONE POLE, TRAFFIC LIGHT, AND BUILDING FAÇADE. HEY. SHOTS OF CAMERAS. DEF META SOMETHING. FILE AWAY.
I didn’t wonder who controlled the world. We just called them The Big 5.
COLD IMPOSING SHOTS OF FIVE MASSIVE SKYSCRAPERS THAT TOWER OVER MANHATTAN. ALL SMOKED GLASS AND CURVILINEAR ANGLES. LIKE SOMETHING OUT OF A BATMAN MOVIE. HEY THEY COULD TOTALLY GO H.A.M. ON THESE IN THE BATMAN VS SUPERMAN MOVIE. LIKE A BATPLANE SUPERMAN DOGFIGHT OR SOMETHING. AW MAN.
But I always wondered where my books came from.
SEQUENCE OF YOU FLIPPING THROUGH YOUR FAVORITE BOOKS. YOU’VE GOT BOXES OF THOSE FUCKERS. NOVELS YOU’RE EMBARASSED TO ADMIT YOU LOVED. ONES YOU STOLE FROM YOUR EXES. SOME MALCOLM GLADWELL YOUR MOM GOT YOUR FOR CHRISTMAS. AT LEAST ONE THING BY TONI MORRISON. SOME LEFTOVER LITERARY ANTHOLOGIES BECAUSE YOU CAN’T BEAR TO THROW OUT SOMETHING ON WHICH YOU SPENT SO MUCH MONEY.
And one day, I decided I was going to find out. Because I was going to make books.
INT: DAY, at YOU’s apartment. It has a big stack of unopened mail addressed to the person who lived in the apartment before YOU, which looks like it might have important stuff in it like bank statements and so on, so YOU don’t throw it away, but YOU don’t have the previous tenant’s contact info, so it piles up, and YOU hate her a little more every day. YOU’RE weird like that.
In the apartment stands YOU and LOVE INTEREST. You and Love Interest are fighting because of the love You and LOVE INTEREST share, a love that just shatters nuance and is remarkably chaste. LOVE INTEREST is giving YOU a hard time about leaving on an adventure into the surrounding dystopia.
Just let me go, Love Interest!
I mean it! This is wrong, this idea. You’re putting yourself in danger! You know what the Big 5 will do if they catch you?!
I don’t know, but it’s my vaguely sworn duty to find out.
I don’t even know anymore.
EXT, DAY: The streets of New York. YOU meet up with several other cool characters in the trip across the dystopia and toward the Big 5 to determine where books come from and how to create them. There’s an English major who feels corseted into a particular skill set. There’s someone from another industry who wants a break from certain layers of the real world. There’s a lot of women. There’s a lot of insufferably awkward guys who don’t know how to change a tire.
SHOTS OF ADVENTURES; A GUN BATTLE WITH AGENTS OF THE BIG 5, WHICH ARE CALLED “INTERNSHIP HIRING MANAGERS”. ULTIMATELY YOU AND YOUR TRAVEL COMPANIONS LOSE THE GUNFIGHT AND THEY SEIZE AND MAKE AWAY WITH YOUR TIME, ENERGY, MONEY, AND CERTAINTY. THOUGH SOME OF YOU MAKE IT OUT OF THIS FIGHT OKAY.
SHOTS OF YOU AND YOUR COMPANIONS ATTEMPTING TO INFILTRATE THE PUBLISHING INDUSTRY BY FILLING MORTAR SHELLS WITH YOUR RESUME AND SHOOTING IT AT EVERY VULNERABLE TARGET. RATHER THAN HEAR EXPLOSIONS, YOU HEAR FORM REJECTIONS.
SHOTS OF YOU TRYING TO NETWORK YOUR WAY IN BY BEFRIENDING AGENTS OF THE BIG 5, TAKING THEM TO COFFEE AND LUNCH. ULTIMATELY, ALL OF THEM SHRUG AND SAY “HEY, SORRY, I DON’T REALLY KNOW ANYONE IN THAT DEPARTMENT.”
SHOTS OF YOU AND YOUR COMPANIONS FINALLY JUST HOOTING YOUR WAY UP THE CORRIDORS OF THE MAIN SKYSCRAPER, WHERE YOU REACH A MASSIVE DOUBLE DOOR. IT REQUIRES A BADGE TO GET IN SO YOU GUYS WAIT UNTIL SOMEONE COMES OUT, AND THEN YOU ALL BURST IN.
A BROAD WAR ROOM-STYLE CIRCULAR TABLE LIKE THE ONE IN THAT MUSE VIDEO. ONE OF THE BIG 5 STANDS, IN SHADOW, AND A SKELETAL HAND CROOKS FORTH.
JOYCE CAROL OATES:
Joyce Carol Oates! You’re one of the Big 5?
JOYCE CAROL OATES:
You know it, you sorry bastards.
YOU (turning and pointing to the person next to her):
And you! I know you…
JEFF BEZOS IN A ROBOTIC EXOSKELETON:
Yes, that’s right. Boosh. (SPEAKING INTO A CHEEK-MOUNTED SATELLITE PHONE) No, I said send the delivery drones to Paramus, not Pakistan! Goddammit Barack, what the hell do I pay you for?!
And the rest…
A FRANKENSTEIN MONSTER COMPOSED OF SEWN-TOGETHER PARTS OF E.L. JAMES, JAMES PATTERSON, NORA ROBERTS, AND THE CREATOR OF BOOKSCAN WHOEVER THAT IS, STEPS FORWARD. IT IS NOT PRETTY LET’S JUST SAY THAT.
FOLLOWING THIS HIDEOUS MONSTER IS ALICE MUNRO, WHO AS WE ALL KNOW IS AN ASS-KICKING NIKITA-STYLE UNRELENTING SEXUAL AND MILITARY FORCE WITH WHICH TO BE DEEPLY RECKONED. SHE CAN SPEAK A DOZEN LANGUAGES AND BREAK DOWN A .50 CAL RIFLE IN SOUTH OF 45 SECONDS. I’M GONNA SAY SHE’S PLAYED BY HELEN MIRREN OR SOMEONE ELSE THAT PARTICULAR LEVEL OF OLD-HOT.
ALICE MUNRO: Ugh. I came back early from Electric Zoo for this shit?
THE LAST OF THE BIG 5 STANDS FORWARD. HE’S A NONDESCRIPT LOOKING DUDE WEARING A BEIGE SPORT COAT.
Who are you?
I’m Bob Singh. I’m the head of the committee that decides which crime and romance thrillers get advertised inside subway trains.
Shit, we are dealing with the most powerful people in publishing.
JOYCE CAROL OATES (Cackling as only she can):
And before we kill you and all the people you love, especially your LOVE INTEREST? Will you fear us then?
I know you’re more powerful than me! And that if you were a realistically depicted dystopic government, things would be a lot more boring and bureaucratic, but I just want to know one thing! Where do books come from?
THE E.L.J.J.P.N.R.T.C.O.B. MONSTER SHUFFLES FORWARD.
GLARGH. In the before time, people read book. They read book and then go do stuff. But we die if they no read! SO WE MAKE THEM READ.
YOU: What do you mean?!
Don’t you get it, kid? We couldn’t figure out a way to make people keep reading the books we were publishing, so we forced them. This dystopia you fought your way through? It was created by a massive collaborative social engineering push by publishers! We bought the federal government. We bought all the retailers. We bought everything. Think of all the dystopia books we publish. And how many you buy!
True, I do have like a shelf’s worth, total.
And that’s because you live in a dystopia! Nobody remembers, but people got over dystopian fiction like five years ago when they all decided to be a little less escapist and more optimistic and stuff. But you can’t make Hunger Games money with cozy mysteries and such, so we shut that down. And we created a dystopia so you’d know who was truly in control. And keep buying the books we churn out. In a few years, we’re gonna do mermaids. It’s gonna be all mermaids, trust me. Mermaids all up in your lives. We’ve got our best genetic engineers and our most mediocre authors working on it.
So to get a job in publishing you have to…create a world in which people want to buy books? That seems perverse.
Kid, there’s not enough wiggle room in any of our budgets to allow for relaxation and stagnation anymore. This isn’t some 1980’s-style five-martini-lunch make-a-comfortable-living Last Days of Disco publishing world. If we’re going to end up in the black, we’re going to have to literally move heaven and earth to do it. Every time. Even the runaway successes and instant classics become what they become due to all the work of the people who made sure tha finished manuscript prototype to China and said “make me a certain number of thousands of these!” And then shoved it down every retailer and press agent’s throat.
Well, can I get a job then?
ALICE MUNRO (gesturing to someone offscreen):
Can I get a double Laphroaig and some fucking smokes here, please?
Well, you’ll have to make a lot of friends in the business. Get your ear to the ground about open jobs and the types of jobs you want. Get a lot of your illusions destroyed about the accessibility of and satisfaction gained from working here. And most importantly, you’re gonna have to commit to a whole bunch of uncertainty as a way of life. But most importantly, you’re just going to have to commit, period.
I guess I can do that. It beats retail and service, though probably not something technical, lucrative, but also environmentally and ethically advantageous. Like writing an app that help you sort your recyclables. Or helps you beat parking tickets in court. Wait, is that ticket one a thing already?
JOYCE CAROL OATES (THUNDEROUSLY):
Then it is decided! Welcome to publishing!
ENTIRE CAST BEGINS DANCING TO ICONA POP’S “I DON’T CARE” WHILE DRINKING MID-PRICED RED WINE AND WATCHING PARKS AND REC.
FADE TO BLACK
I mean, that’s not not how it works.
The literature: Jenny Offill’s DEPT. OF SPECULATION
The libation: Chaos Theory red, decanted into two elegant yet untouched glasses on a linen tablecloth. One sits in front of the woman writing in her small brown notebook, the other draws attention to the emptiness of the place setting opposite hers. She looks up once, an impenetrable expression on her face, downs her wine in one fluid motion, and leaves. As you clear the table you find a small, torn sheet of paper, folded once, under the base of the full glass. It reads, simply: “How unbearable it is that things keep breaking, that you can never outrun entropy.”
Photo © Brown Estate
The literature: Claire Messud’s THE WOMAN UPSTAIRS
The libation: Looking to broaden your horizons while possibly losing just the tiniest bit of your grasp on reality? Enrich the reading experience with a glass or three of Lebanese arak, of the sort that Nora Eldridge might indulge in with the Shahids.Procure a Lebanese brand - Kefraya or similar - and several glasses (traditionally, a fresh glass is used for each new serving). Mix two parts water with one part arak - appreciate with an artist’s eye the way the liquor turns cloudy as the water is added and the anise oil emulsifies - and pour over ice. Never add the ice before the water. That’s an amateur move. Serve with mezze to cushion your tolerance, your boundaries, and your ever-so-fragile sense of self.
Some Lebanese liquor for your Tuesday?
The literature: Adelle Waldman’s THE LOVE AFFAIRS OF NATHANIEL P.
The libation: You’ve gotta go to this party. You’ve cancelled on her last two invitations and bowing out again would be unforgivable. You’re here, your makeup’s done, you’re dressed. You have to go. Under no circumstances can you turn around and get back on the G train and crawl into bed and watch something mindless on Netflix.
You’re standing in the aisle of the faceless neighborhood liquor store on Nassau, staring at the wine selection without registering what’s in front of you, trying desperately to talk yourself into some degree of enthusiasm for the party you’re already late to. The host is a college friend, someone you told yourself over and over you’d stay close with, even as the two of you grew further away from whatever common interests you’d once had. Still, you force yourself to see her a couple times a year out of vague obligation or nostalgia, or something.
You refocus your attention on the shelves of bottles in front of you, trying to find that sweet spot between cheap and drinkable (shoot for something in the range of $2-3 more expensive than the cheapest bottle they offer, then pick the one with the prettiest label - that way people will have something to remark upon even if it tastes awful - and remember, shitty white is always better than shitty red) when the bell over the front door jingles. Two figures enter and suddenly you’re half-turned towards the door, making eye contact with him as he stops short. The girl with him looks a little bit like you, if a more generic version of you, but then again every girl he dates looks a little bit like you, or you look a little bit like every girl he dates, you’re not sure which. She looks from his face to yours and back again, and you see the moment where her eyes change from curious to studiously neutral as she realizes what’s happening.
You stand there, three people looking at each other look at each other, until your lizard brain kicks in and you pull a bottle off the shelf - it doesn’t matter which one, not anymore - and walk purposefully (but not too fast) past them to the cash register. Barely breaking stride, you push a ten and a couple ones at the bored Polish man behind the counter and slide the bottle into your purse as you walk out the door, not waiting for a bag or your change. You know without looking that behind you the girl who looks a little bit like you is turning to him with a question in her eyes, and you know more or less how he’ll answer, and you know as your heels click back down the subway stairs that you’ll drink the whole bottle tonight, regardless of how bitter it tastes.
Photo © Tony Alter
This book is a totally wonderful mindfuck, by the by.