Have you read A Tree Grows in Brooklynby Betty Smith? It’s one of those classics that you think everyone has read. I picked up a copy in a free book pile (score!) on Norman Ave and got instantly hooked. After asking around, ALOT of people haven’t read it, either!
If you haven’t read it – YOU SHOULD! Especially if you live in Greenpoint or Williamsburg because the entire story takes place here at the turn of last century and the descriptions of the area, with references to places like Cheap Charlies (perhaps at a different location with surely a different sign) are unbelievable!
It’s a great summer read in that I have been reading it all summer, but that’s what makes it great, nothing really happens, but everything happens to Francie the main character who grows up poor in Brooklyn and aspires to become a writer. After putting it down for a bit, you can just pick it right back up and begin where you left off, like having coffee with an old friend.
You know the old expression – there goes the neighborhood. Nowadays in North Brooklyn, that sentiment is in the air when new high rise condominiums go up or when the hipsters move in. Robert Anasi’s latest book, The Last Bohemia: Scenes From The Life of Williamsburg, describes a time in our neighborhood’s recent past when North Brooklyn wasn’t a destination for artisanal restaurants and a good investment for foreign millionaires, but a long and sometimes scary ride on the L train to a place filled with drugs, prostitution, affordable housing and for Anasi, freedom: “a city you didn’t have to be rich to live in.”
Robert Anasi will be giving a reading at Word (126 Franklin St) tonight Tuesday, August 14, 2012 at 7pm.
This week I’ve spent my morning commute time on the B62 reading Michael Ian Black’s new memoir You’re Not Doing It Right and laughing out loud with impunity. You see, Black’s new book inspires this kind of public behavior. Thoughtful, incredibly honest, and hilarious all at the same time, you will most likely see yourself in many of the chapters with titles like “I Love You Two” (about taking the dive into your first big time committed relationship) and “F*** You, Alan Alda” (about questionable 1970s parenting practices). This sketch comedy artist, actor, pop culture commentator, and writer known for his deadpan delivery actually does have emotions, conflicting ones he explores with great humor.
I stopped in at Word Brooklyn this past Wednesday night where Black sat down with conservative blogger/Twitterer Meghan McCain (not a typo) to talk about this book and the one they are currently writing together, America, You Sexy Bitch. I asked Black a few questions before the event.
HWF: This is the kickoff for your book tour, right? MIB: Essentially, yes. I did a small thing last night in New Jersey, but I’m not counting it.
HWF: Why choose Word? MIB: My publicist picked it, I had nothing to do with it [Note to self: Writers with publicists don’t organize their own book tours]. But I wish I could take credit for it, it’s a lovely bookstore. I think she picked it because it’s just a good, indie bookstore.
HWF: Do you have a connection to Brooklyn? MIB: I’ve shot a lot in Greenpoint. I shot my series Stella here so I’ve spent a fair amount of time here.
Heidi: You’ve pulled off so many different things in your career — sketch comedy, acting, you’ve written books. Why title your newest book You’re Not Doing It Right? MIB: The book is less about my career, it has nothing to do with my career, and everything to do with my marriage, and being a father and feeling somewhat incompetent in those pursuits, and I don’t often recognize the person who is living the suburban life that I am living. I sort of envisioned myself living in some place like Greenpoint, and you know, having sex with hipster girls well into middle age, possibly until I’m elderly. In which case I would have sex with my caregiver. I did not imagine that I would be married now thirteen years, two kids, living in the suburbs, driving a BMW, and moreover, loving it. Loving that sort of yuppie lifestyle that I despised so when I was growing up.
Heidi: So in writing your book, what did you learn about how you ended up there? MIB: I learned that all the steps I’ve taken in my life in the personal realm have belied the image I had for myself as this bohemian nomad. I never was that even though I desperately wanted to be that. I envisioned myself as something other than what I really am, which is a kind of monogamous homebody. This process brought this to the fore, that I am the most conventional conservative domesticated person that I know. And it’s sort of nice to embrace that.
Heidi:There’s a chapter of your book called “I Hate My Baby”. Can you tell me about it? MIB: So yeah I hated my baby because he was colicky, and miserable, and consequently I was colicky and miserable as a result of his existence. I don’t know that I was emotionally prepared for fatherhood. I don’t know that anybody is emotionally prepared for parenthood. Particularly when it is so unpleasant right out of the gate. There are people who talk about their angelic babies and we didn’t have one of those. We had a nightmarish hellion. So for months it was just sleepless night after sleepless night, as he would just wail and bemoan his fate, and there was nothing we could do to alleviate that, and that thought “I hate my baby” was in my head ninety percent of the time.
Heidi: You reveal a lot in this book. Do you think it will change people’s perceptions of you going forward? MIB: I don’t know how other people will see me. It certainly will and has affected the work I’m interested in producing. At least right now. I find that mining my own shit is helpful creatively and it’s interesting to me not so much because I’m interested in myself, but because I think the lessons that are applicable to me are applicable to everybody. I think I can be illustrative of how to do that. Who knows. I still feel like most of the time, I’m not doing it right.
If you want to laugh during the work day follow Michael Ian Black on Twitter. Read more about him here.
I love meat and don’t feel guilty about eating it. I also love my body and the planet and know that too much of a delicious thing is never good, so I focus on the vegetables in my life. When I do cook meat, I know that the outrageously priced meat I can’t afford is raised ethically, sustainably and locally, and because it’s so pricey I don’t prepare it very often. But when I go out to eat I feel like I have a deep obligation to order meat, rationalizing that I never make it at home. Why would I make a burger when I can get my favorite burger (with truffle fries) from Five Leaves? Or Chicken Fried Steak from Roebling? Or whatever they scribble down at Diner? The problem here is I usually miss out on fantastic vegetable dishes. It would be nice to know that when I eat meat out (and veggies), they hold up to my own kitchen standards, especially since the prices always do! That is what I like about Clean Plates Brooklyn: A Guide to the Healthiest Tastiest and Most Sustainable Restaurants. It explicitly says “For Vegetarians and Carnivores” on the cover! Eating meat can be healthy and sustainable, even eating meat out, and now I have a decent pocket guide for Brooklyn. I don’t know about you but I have eaten at some downright gross vegetarian restaurants, where it seems like they are playing food dress-up rather than serving me a wholesome meal. Just because it’s vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s good for you and Clean Plates recognizes this. In order to pass the rigorous Clean Plates screening process too much soy or fake meat products are disqualifications. They won me over with that. Too much frying also gets penalized, (sad face) as well as too much dairy, veal and foie gras. Flipping through I was happy to find that some of my favorite restaurants in Brooklyn made the cut: Five Leaves, Eat, Roebling Tea Room, Urban Rustic, Rye, Diner, Egg, Farm on Adderley, Northeast Kingdom, Vinegar Hill House, Buttermilk Channel, Roberta’s, Best Pizza and Prime Meats. I cannot wait to try Beer Table, Momo Sushi Shack, Masten Lake, Al Di La and I am definitely ordering a meatball hero from Best Pizza next time I am all the way over in Williamsburg. I was disappointed to see that only three of our Greenpoint restaurants made it: Eat, Five Leaves and Manhattan Inn (where I’ve only eaten grilled cheese late night with sloppy cocktails.) This is the first edition, so let’s hope we get a few more in there for 2013! Perhaps even some Polish restaurants will get reviewed. I appreciate nutritionist/author Jared Koch’s passionate “how-to” approach to healthy eating, with the first 70 pages of his book dedicated to the subject. I learned so many interesting food facts, like lemons actually have an alkalizing effect on your body and vegetable raised without pesticides must develop their own defense systems which benefits our immune systems. I always thought juicing was a bad way to eat a good thing because so much seems lost in the process, but while you lose out on the fiber it’s a really efficient way of getting nutrients into our systems without our teeth and our digestive tracts doing a ton of work. Shame on me for not knowing that although al dente pasta is obviously tastier, it’s healthier because it doesn’t spike your blood sugar level. As far as meat goes, game meat is uber healthy since it eats a varied diet and is less likely to be diseased, while organ meat is the healthiest part of the animal, rather than a steak, which is a muscle. Go liver and hearts! The second half of the book is dedicated to in-depth reviews from well established food critics (some Brooklyn food critics), all of whom must give each restaurant a thumbs up in order for it to pass the Clean Plates test. Here is where we get the mouthwatering descriptions and a good idea about the vibe of each place. These writers do a good job focusing not only on the taste but the experience, which is such a big part of any good meal, especially a restaurant experience. And while I disagree with the “spotty” service at Five Leaves (they can do no wrong in my eyes) I appreciate how honest and informed about food the reviews are. There is a lot of, “instead of this” it would have been better “like this,” which shows an intense understanding of food preparation and flavor combinations. Where the reviews are most successful is encouraging me to eat my vegetables. For example, when eat at Egg (which raises money for the Soup Kitchen and the Automotive High School), I only order the heart attack on a plate breakfasts, “a side of bacon with my bacon, please,” but next time I will order the highly recommended “bountiful and tasty” simple salad or the “firm, juicy, flavorful” kale. Clean Plates opens up my eyes to the healthy and delicious vegetable dishes I normally gloss over because I am trying to do my eating meat out justice. I am glad I have a copy of Clean Plate Brooklyn because when I am in that frustrating “where should we eat?” fog, I can flip through and find something healthy. While a lot of our great Greenpoint establishments aren’t featured, there are many recommended restaurants in Williamsburg and Bushwick, if I want to venture that far! And I suspect by next year, more Greenpoint spots will make the cut.