Reading Lips

Does New York need another library? The kids behind the Accompanied Library seem to think so. The Morgan, Society and Mercantile-not to mention the multiple branches of the NYPL-notwithstanding, Accompanied claims it is the city’s first library “dedicated purely to literature.” And some bigwigs in the book world, like The New Yorker’s longtime poetry editor Alice Quinn, Bomb magazine editor and founder Betsy Sussler, novelist Jonathan Ames and notoriously skeptical Knopf editor Vicky Wilson seem to have swallowed their pretensions.

The Accompanied Library is located in an elegant space at the back of the National Arts Club, part of a chunk of apartments-37, to be exact-designed as “creative spaces,” but really below-market rentals for the club’s members to live in the cushy environs of Gramercy Park. Roomy and bright, the spaces are filled with original details and in reasonably decent repair. Several years ago, the club’s president, O. Aldon James, found himself embroiled in a minor fiasco as the Manhattan district attorney’s office raided the N.A.C. for non-payment of sales taxes (his brother and longtime club resident, John T. James, pled guilty in 2003 to evading taxes on jewelry bought and sold by illegally exploiting the club’s nonprofit status) amid allegations that several tenants weren’t being charged to reside there. A spokesman for the D.A.’s office told The Observer that the club is now in compliance after paying fines last year for not charging an occupancy tax to residents. Nor has the imbroglio stopped the club from reaching out to young idealists. So when Brooke Geahan, Iris Brooks and James Fuentes waltzed into the N.A.C. on March 1 with the idea of building a cultural empire (library and magazine), they were granted their wish.

“A library is just as exciting as any disco or nightclub,” said O. Aldon James. And, of course, it helps to have some connections. One of Ms. Brooks’ family friends, the architect Jacqueline Miro, alerted the girls that a space formerly occupied by the sculptor Chen Chi had been vacated, and Ms. Geahan’s friend, Timothy Nye (philanthropist, media mini-baron and Uris scion), owned an apartment next-door and an upstairs gallery. “You’re supposed to list your artistic accomplishments when you apply,” said Ms. Geahan. Somehow, the projected venture was accomplishment enough.

Both 26, Ms. Geahan and Ms. Brooks are two charming young ladies-as Alice Quinn might describe them. Small and well-proportioned, they possess that distinctly elusive quality of good hair. Ms. Geahan is from Arizona, middle-class and studied the violin seriously until she left for college. She doesn’t speak in specifics-almost as though English is her second language-but is fiercely determined. Thoughtful, more assuredly eloquent, Ms. Brooks is from New Orleans, heiress to rather bohemian parts of a Texas oil-and-gas fortune (“I did the whole debutante thing,” she said-despite the fact that her parents, Dalt Wonk and Josephine Sacobo, are bona fide eccentrics), and studied dance rather intensively until she went to college. Co-founder Mr. Fuentes, a New Yorker, runs the Chelsea gallery Lombard-Freid.

Around 11 months ago, the trio began to collaborate on Accompanied, a venture designed to fill a void. It’s a void they still aren’t able to articulate.

“After leaving school, I really felt a lack of places to go to talk to people …. I wanted a forum to talk about things,” said Ms. Brooks, searching for words. Ms. Geahan summed it up more succinctly: “Unless you spend money, you can’t take a book home from Barnes and Noble’s.” Indeed. “Writers should be near their bread and butter”-books, she meant, not paper coffee cups and green straws. “The Society and Mercantile Libraries always close too early. There was never a place downtown to go and read. And I didn’t have friends with Park Avenue flats with big libraries. I wanted my own place to go.”

In the library’s brightly renovated space at the National Arts Club, the towering bookshelves are only a quarter filled, mainly by a haphazard mixture of books donated by friends and family. There are a number of separate rooms with fireplaces and one rusty, claw-footed tub in the bathroom. The trio single-handedly renovated the space themselves after star architect Thierry Despont dropped out of the project (differences with his daughter, Catherine Despont, who was originally on the editorial board, may have been the reason). It is calm and uncluttered, just right for drinking milky coffee and musing on the only chapter of A la Recherché du Temps Perdu one has read or heard about. Not that one would need to read the rest of Proust’s opus-as long as it can be discussed. After all, with its Sunday-brunch fixtures, the library is, much like Ms. Brooks intended, somewhere to go and “talk” to people. Reading-well, that may be a secondary activity: Ms. Brooks and Ms. Geahan claimed that they’re too busy to read at the moment, although Ms. Geahan has succeeded at getting through Moby-Dick.

“By getting people to our space, literature will become more acceptable in a social context,” Ms. Brooks said. “We would like our friends to go to a reading instead of an art opening.” Ms. Geahan chimed in: “There are major problems with the literary community; it is failing to attract the community at large.”

And how do they intend to bring literature to the masses, to enlighten New Yorkers in this video-saturated age? Book parties. “It’s unusual for a literary book to have a party,” Ms. Brooks explained. “When an artist has a show, the gallery has a private dinner and party for all the artist’s friends. You just don’t see the author celebrating! One has to support the arts in a way that’s also celebratory, that’s vibrant and fun. It’s not that I want everyone hanging off the chandeliers-but authors deserve to celebrate. That’s why we’re offering 25 book launches a year. Authors should apply and say why they think their book deserves a party.”

As for her own prose, there is none at the moment. Ms. Brooks claims that Accompanied is too much of a time commitment for any serious writing.

And the magazine is still in the works-its first issue won’t be ready before late spring 2005. Ms. Quinn, who edited the fiction section of The New Yorker for a good 15 years, followed by a 17-year tenure as its poetry editor, hasn’t seen any of the magazine’s templates. “It remains to be seen whether they have an editorial vision,” she said.

Ms. Brooks explains that the magazine’s idea is not to confine itself to “an exclusively literary form …. It’s going to be fun, not unbearably intellectual. It’ll have a literary bent, a sense of humor, without sacrificing any of the smartness of it.” They cite The Paris Review and Flair as well as early inceptions of The New Yorker as inspiration, although they agree that The New Yorker “has stopped addressing people like us, in the way that it once did.” Ms. Geahan described it as “a lifestyle magazine with a literary twist.”

Most intriguing of all-especially in a city that abounds with pretentious creative types publishing literary magazines on iMacs in their bedrooms-is how this untested trio managed to raise money in the first place. They’ve registered their venture as a nonprofit organization, with an income mainly generated by private and corporate donations, well-heeled benefactors and a benefit staged last March in the Gramercy Hotel. And Mr. Nye’s 20 21 foundation acts as an umbrella organization for the library and magazine. “The library is a beautiful complement to the more artistically focused nature of 20 21,” he stressed. “It gives Gramercy that sort of destination feel. They are creating an atmosphere, and no community thrives without an atmosphere.”

Board member Alice Quinn agrees: “These girls have very nice style and tremendous drive. It’s just a lovely, cozy space. When you have an event there, it’s like being around a hearth. It felt very jolly. What could be better than having writers bring people in the space?”

-Jessica Joffe

Crying Wolfe

Tom Wolfe fans packed into the Neue Gallerie on the night of Nov. 8 to celebrate his new novel, I am Charlotte Simmons. But out there, all over New York, were critics and detractors-people who just don’t like Tom Wolfe for one reason or another. Maybe they remember how he barbecued William Shawn and The New Yorker magazine in 1965 in The New York Herald Tribune, or eviscerated Leonard Bernstein a few years later in “Radical Chic.” Maybe it was his cheerful attacks on modern art (The Painted Word) and modern architecture (From Bauhaus to Our House). Then there was his Harper’s essay in 1989 on the state of fiction, which caused great outrage in the literary world and led to a public feud between Mr. Wolfe and his “three stooges”-Norman Mailer, John Updike and John Irving. Or maybe it’s just those white suits he wears.

“Maybe it’s you get it or you don’t get it,” said writer Charles (Chip) McGrath, who recently profiled Mr. Wolfe in The New York Times Magazine and who worked at The New Yorker during the Shawn era. “I would like to think that that has blown over. He was certainly persona non grata for a long time. You couldn’t mention his name in The New Yorker when I was there. There was one guy, I forget who it was, who had the copy of ["Tiny Mummies! The True Story of the Ruler of 43rd Street's Land of the Walking Dead" and "Lost in the Whichy Thickets: The New Yorker"]-it was sort of samizdat. They had been Xeroxed countless times. Periodically you’d go and you’d read it, and it felt like the baddest thing you could do at The New Yorker in the mid-70’s was to go and read those pieces.

“Some of it is part of his shtick, and he brings it on himself,” Mr. McGrath continued, speaking of the reaction some have to Mr. Wolfe. “He once said that he wore the white suit because it annoyed people. And one of the puzzles about this guy is he’s very shy-he’s an incredibly well-mannered, polite man-and he loves to tweak people. He loves a good feud. Yes, he lives for the feud.”

Former New Yorker editor Tina Brown echoed her former colleague.

“I think literary feuds are what all should be doing,” she said. “It’s better than having feuds about, you know, politics. It’s a good time for some nice literary dust-ups. It means you care about books.”

“Wolfe is arguably the finest writer in America today,” said American Spectator editor R. Emmett Tyrrell. “So I can understand why Norman Mailer would be offended. I think you could call it pencil envy.”

“He enjoys the criticism; he loves the fight,” said Mr. Wolfe’s wife, Sheila. “I think it depends upon the milieu: If he’s writing about architects, then he likes to tweak the architects. If he’s writing about artists, then he likes to tweak them. I don’t know if he’s celebrated anybody, has he? Oh, he celebrated Ed Hayes!”

Mr. Hayes (a.k.a. Tommy Killian in The Bonfire of the Vanities) said his friend was a great writer and a great man. “I think any great man has enemies, and I think that in most cases his enemies only make him greater,” he said. “I mean, I have enemies and I’m quite proud of them. If you don’t have enemies, you haven’t done anything in your life.”

A dozen or so people were lined up to pay their respects to Mr. Wolfe, who was wearing a double-breasted white flannel suit, blue striped shirt, periwinkle blue tie and faux spats shoes. He said he’d “heard” about a few critics and admitted he did like to infuriate certain people on occasion.

“But I can’t assume the persona,” he said. “I was so grateful to Bill Buckley when he described me as the matador having tea with his mother. I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

-George Gurley

Rebels and the Rapture

After presenting the Legendary Newshound trophy to Helen Thomas at Glamour Magazine’s Women of the Year Awards on Oct. 8, Sam Donaldson came bounding into the makeshift pressroom at the American Museum of Natural History.

“All right, Ms. Thomas, why’d you steal the money?!” he shouted at her, bizarrely. “Answer the question! What’s wrong with you?”

“When did you stop beating your wife?” she yelled back.

“I haven’t!” he retorted.

Once the two calmed down, the first lady of the press told The Transom her feelings about the next four years. “Pain, pure pain” and “outrage,” she said. “I think we’re in a dangerous period.”

Mr. Donaldson, however, cast a kinder eye over the W. presidency. “I’m from West Texas-El Paso-and I spent the first 26 years of my life out there, so I know this young man. If you’re walking down a trail in West Texas and you see a rattlesnake-POW!” he shouted, pointing a “finger gun” at the startled group of reporters. “You don’t stop to consider ‘Is that rattlesnake really dangerous?’, and you certainly don’t stop to organize a coalition to deal with the rattlesnake. That would be silly.” He then recalled a speech that J.F.K. delivered at American University when he and Ms. Thomas were covering the Kennedy administration. “The last paragraph of that speech began with these words: ‘The world knows that America will never start a war …. ‘ Well, times change!” he shrugged.

Ms. Thomas continued to lambaste President Bush. “We don’t have any eloquence anymore. We have not had a major speech on this war since May 1, 2003. Nothing is explained. We don’t explain anything while we drop bombs.”

“Bombs away!” Mr. Donaldson crowed.

Others who collected Women of the Year Awards Monday night include Carolina Herrera, who received the Fashion Force award from Katie Holmes; Olympian Carly Patterson, who was honored by Katie Couric; and the crusading 9/11 “Jersey Girls,” who were presented their award by Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi.

To conclude the evening, Jon Stewart roasted his boss, honoree Judy McGrath, chairman of MTV Networks. In addition to the requisite wisecracks (“As I sat here this evening and witnessed this remarkable litany of women, one thing has stuck in my head: ‘The guy who publishes Glamour-is his last name really Wackerman?’ Is that real?”), Mr. Stewart brought some political comic relief: “It was a difficult election, but there is a silver lining. Understand that when the Rapture comes-when Jesus comes-and the righteous are lifted into Heaven, then the Democrats will regain control of the Senate.”

-Noelle Hancock

Milla: Crack Is Still Back

Actress and L’Oreal model Milla Jovovich had a scare last year. “It was third-degree pre-cancer,” Ms. Jovovich told The Transom at the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund gala. “I have to say that without this organization and the information they’ve given me, I wouldn’t have asked my doctor for the test that found it. Everyone’s at risk.” She’s now getting check-ups every four months. “It’s another cross we have to bear on top of our periods,” she said of ovarian cancer.

On Nov. 4, Ms. Jovovich, Donna Karan, Peter Boyle, Tommy Hilfiger, Lesley Stahl and model Natalia Vodianova (the wide-eyed minx currently staring out from the cover of W) showed up within the pink-hued walls of the Metropolitan Pavilion, where Trudie Styler accepted an award from the foundation before the Village People performed.

Ms. Jovovich sported a fluttery blue-and-peach floral dress that she was auctioning off to benefit the foundation. It was from the spring collection of Jovovich-Hawk, the clothing line she started with design partner Carmen Hawk, whom she’s known for 10 years. They’d just sold their second collection to Fred Segal. “We’re working with one seamstress out of my kitchen right now, so it’s very mom-and-poppa right now, but that’s what’s great about it. It’s very personal.”

Ms. Jovovich recalled the time she got a little too personal at the Cannes Film Festival for the premiere of her movie, The Fifth Element. “I wore this incredible Galliano outfit that, like, hardly covered anything, but covered exactly what needed to be covered, and it was really uncomfortable to wear all night. Then the back split open and Demi Moore stitched it up in the bathroom.”

While the burgeoning designer claims she pays no attention to which way the sartorial trade winds are blowing (“I read more Scientific American than fashion magazines, so I don’t even know what the spring trends are right now!”), one trend she was sorry to see was fall’s rising waistlines. “No matter how big your butt is, hip-huggers always accentuate. I don’t care what anybody says, if you have that little butt crack showing, that plumber’s butt-that’s the sexiest thing.”

-N.H.