In a tiny, cluttered, and yes, pizza-smelling office on Chrystie Street on Friday night, a group of sweaty thirtysomething men and heavily eyelinered young women gathered to celebrate the publication of a "pamphlet." The work in question resembles a foreshortened Zagat guide filtered through a Brooklyn-ey design sensibility; it contains two transcribed discussions that some very wise people had about what they wish they'd done differently in college. "I wish there were something else I was good at, just a little bit," the author Rebecca Curtis says in one of these discussions. "And not for the money, but just to be able to dip into something else, just to re-engage with the... the other world, the one that's not the literary world. Almost to perceive it better." But this party was not the place to find that other world, or even to acknowledge its existence.
n+1 editor Keith Gessen held court behind a makeshift bar strewn with beer bottles and pizza boxes, tufts of black chest hair peeking from the unbuttoned collar of his American Apparel polo, making sure the undergraduate-looking girls got as many beers as they needed. He was also quick to point guests to the box of copies of "What We Should Have Known," which is being distributed free to college freshmen and 18-year-olds with proof of ID.
In this pamplet, Keith himself expresses regret that he ever attended college, a sentiment later echoed by Siddharta Deb, Rebecca Curtis, and Ben Kunkel. Ben also dismissively calls college "summer camp." These people's other regrets include having read Paul de Man before Wordsworth and Deleuze before Proust and having read Frederic Jameson instead of Perry Anderson. The pamphlet is 126 pages long. However, it only takes 5 minutes and 52 seconds to listen to the song "Common People" by Pulp in its entirety.
"So you're the bartender?" I asked Keith. I wanted a beer. "So you're a yoga teacher?" he countered. This neg immediately attracted me to Keith. Mystery knows what he's talking about with that shit. For a moment, I was charmed by Keith's big, wide-eyed face, his lips perpetually curled in a smirk of what is either amusement or disdain. But then he tried to explain to me why "Indecision," his pal Kunkel's debut novel, is a good book—apparently, I had missed the point and failed to see that Ben was satirizing 28-year-old navel-gazing boys who've read too much literary theory.
It is always so helpful when friends of authors whose books you didn't like explain why said books are good!
In a corner, debut novelist Porochista Khakpour huddled with novelist Alexander Chee, whose second book is nearly finished. They were talking about how some of their students are so dumb it's sad (they both teach writing). An Observer intern wandered around, asking people, "Will you give me a quote?"
Who is that pale woman who keeps giving me the hairy eyeball? I wondered aloud to a friend. It turned out to be Carla Blumenkranz, the n+1 editorial assistant who's best known for her in-depth takedown of American Book Publishing, based on her experience as an intern at Plume. At that commercial publisher, she discovered a stunning truth: Editors try to find marketable authors, because they would like to publish books that people will actually purchase! For shame.
She has just completed an essay about this website for n+1's next issue, so I suppose it isn't surprising that she didn't want to talk to me. Sometimes it's so much easier to perceive things from a distance.
*Keith Gessen, 'What We Should Have Known: Two Discussions,' 2007, n+1 Research. p. 118.