The Laborious (Boring?) Lit Life

the art of fielding The Laborious (Boring?) Lit Life“You should write about how boring BookExpo America is,” New York literary agent Ira Silverberg told Transom. “Yeah, right,” we thought.

But then there we were, at a BEA  kick-off party thrown by Flavorpill and Electric Literature at Le Bain, on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel, which someone remarked was like standing atop a giant Kindle. From the massive device, the expansive views of the ghostly spires of fogbound Manhattan were lovely, but few noticed.

“The problem with New York publishing is that everybody is looking at each other instead of the view,” lamented Mark Krotov, an editor at FSG. If only! The real problem, as we saw it, was that you had to buy your own drinks.

This posed a particular problem for the novelist Chad Harbach, who was standing on the Astroturf next to his agent, Chris Parris-Lamb. Mr. Harbach was prepping to give a two-minute speech at a dinner thrown that night by Little, Brown in honor of his first novel, The Art of Fielding, which is to be published in September. It took Mr. Harbach nine years to finish the book, which was famously rejected by the industry’s top agents before being rescued and sold at a six-figure premium by Mr. Parris-Lamb, who was eagerly telling anybody at the party who would listen that they should read it. But even after all that, the prospect of two minutes of stand-up filled Mr. Harbach with dread.

The answer was drink, of course. Transom accompanied Mr. Harbach to the bar, where he put two whiskeys on his agent’s tab. We took the advice of the magnificently named Italian novelist Francesco Pacifico and ordered something called a “Paris Spritz.”

“It’s Italian,” he said. “Except for the olives.”

Those two olives turned out to be our dinner.

The other problem with certain New York publishing parties, as the writer ZZ Packer observed while waiting in line at the rooftop crepe stand later: you have to buy your own food. “All I’ve had today is a half-caffeine latte” she cried. “I am a starving artist!”