After a week in Boston I’m now in New York. I was out there just over a week and gave seminar talks at Boston College and Tufts. I also saw a free performance of Hamlet at Wellesley College given by Actors From the London Stage. I studied Hamlet for AS-level English literature, so at least ten years ago I had more than a passing familiarity with the play. Although I watched multiple film adaptions at the time (including Hamlet 2000 which I believe was widely considered disappointing, but has a stellar cast and may be worth revisiting), I don’t believe I ever actually saw it on stage.
It was a pleasant suprise to discover that Hamlet is great. The initial palace intrigue really does work, once you have taken a ten-year-step-back from studying it on the page. It made me yearn for ghosts to return from their horror fiction exile and claim their rightful place in contemporary drama.
I also went for a walk in the woods and met this fellow:
Now I am in New York. The Big Apple, where everything is Big expensive, and I’ve been going on Big walks, and now my Big legs feel like they’re going to fall off. Oh. And everything is Big expensive. It’s like I never even left the airport.
It’s like London with a grid system, less rain, and museums that aren’t free.
I’ve been having a blast here.
On top of my list of things I was excited to do in NY was visit The Strand bookstore. I miss the joys of English language bookstores while living in Israel, and The Strand is the epitome of everything I wanted. Extensive and well curated stacks brimming with wonderful literature. The store’s reputation came to me partly through word of mouth, but also through youtube videos I subsequently stumbled upon. For example:
(The individual featured in this video, Michael Orthofer, is a fascinating figure. He is the editor-and-contributor-in-chief of The Complete Review, an internet passion project dedicated to reading, reviewing and documenting the most significant works of contemporary literature. And I don’t mean just English literature. I mean world literature. The guy is reading upwards of five books a week and reads in multiple languages. He writes on the blog how much of a relief it was that no Nobel prize for literature was awarded this year, leaving him free to dedicate more time to the actual business of reading and writing. The New Yorker ran a profile on him and his obsession. If you are bookishly inclined you may have already stumbled across his website in the past. It is old school, homegrown html at its finest. Take a look at it. It probably won’t surprise you that Orthofer wrote the website in the previous century. I ran into it while trying track down a translation of The Pornographers by Nozaka Akiyuki [I don’t even remember why]. It is hard not to already look on the website with a kind of nostalgia. It seems so far removed from what the internet has become. The whole concept is so insane, non-commercial, personal, and unscalable that it feels like a product of a bygone era. Even our academic webpages are now becoming slick, Web 2.0, bland, templated monstrosities. It is interesting to note, however, that The Complete Review outlasted many of its contemporaries that were more commercially inclined. Like Pets.com.)
Although I am determined to travel light on my north American excursion, I went a little nuts and bought a piles of books. As with all the most dreadfully insane acts, it was of a deeply premeditated nature, with it’s own internal logic and self justification. I bought a bunch of books, but only short books.
I also spent a day in the Met, went to see an adaption of Vonnegut’s Mother Night at 59E59, dropped by New York Public Library to see Winnie the Pooh, walked across the Brooklyn bridge, and visited ground zero.
My seminar talk at Columbia went fantastically well. I’ve failed to take a picture of the chalkboard after any of the seminar talks I’ve given so far, but there is still UIC. And I’ll probably scan or photograph my notes as well.
As my trip progresses and my final return flight approaches, so Halloween also approaches.