The Times has sent critic Dwight Garner on a literary tour of New York in order to answer novelist Gary Shteyngart's immortal question, Can New Yorkers still throw a good party with only a bottle of shampoo? The answer appears to be "maybe," if you are in Brooklyn and allowed to smoke and are also in a coffee shop.
As a Californian, I am of course legally prohibited from publicly stating any opinion about New York City, but that doesn't mean we can't still have a good time following Dwight on his journey.
Not long ago I installed myself at the Algonquin, the Midtown hotel where Dorothy Parker, Alexander Woollcott and others once traded juniper-infused barbs, and used it as a launching pad to crisscross the island for a few days, looking to see what's left.
Dorothy Parker was the first female American writer. She invented self-deprecation and that strange, self-recriminating sense of anticipatory regret one feels after turning down an invitation. For thirty-nine years she lived in the Algonquin bar, where she sat at a table made of aphorisms and threw quips at passing waiters, killing several. She also invented moving to New York from somewhere else, gay men, and irony, which she later bequeathed on her deathbed to Fran Lebowitz in 1967.
Daniel Halpern, the publisher of Ecco Press, suggested that the Internet has obviated young writers' need for companionship, gossip and consolation. He added: "The passion my generation felt about poetry and fiction has gone into food, I think, into making pickles or chocolate or beer."
I remember, and it was not so long ago, when the London Review of Books actually published literary criticism. Now it's just cover-to-cover recommendations of the best sauerkraut bicycle delivery services.
[Jimmy's Corner] is also where the staff of The New York Times Book Review, where I was an editor during the 2000s, gathered regularly for cocktails and for drinks-worthy special events, like the time Cormac McCarthy appeared, blinking like a mole thrust into the sunlight, on "Oprah."
That was such a strange and wonderful interview ("like seeing Emily Dickinson resurrected at the Super Bowl halftime show," as Austin Allen put it). There's nothing like watching a woman who grew up poor and is now wealthy beyond the fever-dreams of kings discuss money with a man who was so devoted to writing novels in self-imposed penury that his wife left him after he refused to get a day job. How many tries did it take you to get through The Road? I had to put it away at least four times.
I ended my night at Lolita, on Broome Street in SoHo, recommended to me by friends. It's a languid, sprawling space, with an excellent pink cursive neon sign in front, where most of the women looked like extras from an episode of Lena Dunham's HBO series, "Girls." I would report to you the books they were carrying, but the only readers in the bunch were grasping Kindles. When it's no longer possible to tell what attractive young women are reading, part of the romance of Manhattan is gone. It's time to move to Sheboygan and open a deli.
According to Yelp, there are four delicatessens in Sheboygan, WI, although one of them is also a coffee shop and another appears to be a fish market. Of the remaining delis, one is unrated and the other has only one two-star review. There's certainly room for growth.
The Strand's current boast is: "18 Miles of Books." (I am old enough to own a T-shirt from when it was merely "Eight Miles of Books.")
How old are you in Strand book miles? What does your official Strand T-shirt say? Were you given your commemorative Strand T-shirt at birth, or did you wait until you were old enough to buy one of your own? How lonely would you say you feel whenever you go to the Strand, compared to everyone else there? Are you part of the loneliest 10 percent? Loneliest 20 percent?
I'd been hearing good things about the Dalloway, a new restaurant and cocktail lounge on Broome Street in SoHo that channels the spirit of Virginia Woolf. It's a lovely space, lighted largely by candles, with a vibrant and nearly all-girl bar scene (the owners are out and proud lesbians) downstairs. I was carrying a biography of Martin Amis while sitting at the bar upstairs, and a woman said to me: "I had dinner at his place the other night." Which, as these things go, is a respectable conversational opener.
I can only hope there will be a follow-up interview with this woman, because I want to know everything about that dinner. With any luck it will be the first entry in the new series, "Things Martin Amis Has Said Over Dinner to Probable Lesbians."
"My advice for aspiring writers is to go to New York," Mr. Kirn said. "And if you can't go to New York, go to the place that represents New York to you, where the standards for writing are high, there are other people who share your dreams, and where you can talk, talk, talk about your interests."
Find your New York. Is your New York the Internet? Is it pickles and chocolate and beer? If you are under thirty, it almost certainly is. You are probably eating pickles right now, if you are not too busy making pickles to eat later. Find your Internet pickle-and-beer artisans and sink into the brotherhood of talking about food. This is your literature; this is your immortality.
Do not try, as Will Ferrell does in the movie "Elf," to enter Manhattan by walking through the Lincoln Tunnel.
[Image via AP]