Robin Shulman’s favorite books about food and the Big Apple

Posted on: Tuesday, October 16th, 2012
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In her book, “Eat the City,” Robin Shulman explores the trend towards urban agriculture in New York City, introducing readers to a host of DIY’ers who plant, cultivate, refine, brew, pickle, ferment, fish, butcher and harvest their own food and drink. As Shulman explains, what some are calling a hipster trend is not new. Using historical records, Shulman details how the citizens of New York have kept bees, raised chickens and planted gardens since the city’s founding, undeterred by the city’s dwindling farmland, the industrial revolution, pollution and concrete.

In this episode of Stacked Up, the author reveals some of the books that inspired and informed her book. She gives high marks to the whopper,  Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898   by Edwin. G. Burrows and Mike Wallace. Although the book is more than 1,300 pages long, it fails the doorstop test because, according to Shulman, it’s “almost never boring.”

Another recommendation from our visit with Shulman is the memoir,  Day of Honey, written by Shulman’s friend and fellow Middle East correspondent Annia Ciezadlo. While covering their war-torn beat, the two reporters found themselves wanting to write about food. Their desire was, as Shulman put it, “to write about the small human ways that people sustain themselves and not the way that people destroy themselves.”

Infinite books

Posted on: Sunday, March 18th, 2012
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Jennifer shows her grandmother’s bookplate from the first edition of “The Catcher in the Rye.”

Jennifer Gilmore swears that she has read “at least half” of the David Foster Wallace novel, Infinite Jest, which is a lot more pageage than many owners of the tome can claim.

Not only has she read most of the books that she owns, she identifies many of them as favorites. Given her enthusiasm for the thousand or so books in her library, it’s no exaggeration to say that Jennifer is the quintessential lover of bound books. Years from now, it’s likely she will still own her collection of first editions (including many handed down to her from her grandmother).

Because of her strong connection to books made of paper, Jennifer says she will probably never enjoy reading from an electronic device. “I am so old school,” she says, “I need to physically hold a book in my hand.” The idea of bound books becoming obsolete or rare objets that are collected like LP’s, she says, “would make me so sad.”

“These are such an important part of my life.” she says, pointing to a pile of books on her table. Her gesture carries a sense of protectiveness, as well as pride, towards her keep.

Her nostalgia for books in the face of their possible demise does not make her any less realistic about the fact that eBooks are on the rise. She expresses her concern that if publishers produce more eBooks than bound books, the high cost of eReaders would prevent people without the means to buy the gadgets from reading. So the egalitarian in her also resists the notion, for now, that paper books will become rare or obsolete.




Stacked Up is going to TV!

Posted on: Sunday, January 8th, 2012
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This just in: Stacked Up makes its New York City local television debut on NYC Life beginning this Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. We recut our writer profiles as two-minute gems that show off the best moments of our interviews. You can find the entire lineup of episodes here. The show will also be available on the NYC Life on-demand video player.

The Stacked Up Team is excited to bring the series to a wider audience. When we launched this site in the fall of 2009, one of our goals was to bring the show to television. A second goal was to watch Stacked Up in the back of a taxi. We’re thrilled that both have become a reality, since NYC Life recently launched a second channel on Taxi TV. We’re also thrilled to be the only program about writers and books in the NYC Life lineup this season.

Here’s the Stacked Up TV Schedule:

Where: NYC Life, Channel 25 (see carrier listing)
Premiere: Wednesday, Jan. 11 at 10:30 p.m.
Re-encores: Fridays at 10 p.m., Saturdays at 10 p.m.
Daytime re-encores: Varying week to week

If you’ve never traveled to Channel 25 on the television dial before, you’ll be surprised to find a trove of great shows produced by and for New Yorkers. NYC Life Explores art and culture, entertainment and lifestyle, history and education in New York City.  The channel is managed by NYC Media, part of the Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and the official TV, radio and online network of New York City.

Music is an important element of Stacked Up TV.  Arthur Yoria’s energetic riff from the song, “I Told You Not To Write Again,” sets the perfect tone at the open of each episode. Other artists who have generously donated their sounds include Kaiser Cartel, Lee Bob Watson, Aaron Ross, TRANSpHaT, and The Celebrity Pilots (courtesy of Sunken Treasure Records). We thank each of our featured artists for allowing us to use their work, and encourage you to explore more of their awesome music!

Making a writer’s museum out of a sublet

Posted on: Sunday, May 15th, 2011
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It goes without saying, Stacked Up knows the allure of visiting the domestic spaces of living authors. But a dead writer’s house? Why would anyone set foot in one of the 73 writers’ house museums across the country?

Anne Trubek answers this question in her witty book, A Skeptic’s Guide to Writers’ Houses. One day last winter, she joined us in a little experiment. Anne reached out to Dave Cullen, author of Columbine, to see if he was game for playing possum. We charged Anne with the task of evaluating Dave’s place to see if it could stack up against writers’ house museums across the country.

A self-proclaimed skeptic, Anne finds it hard to make the connection between a dark, musty set of rooms and the vivid prose of our most revered authors. As she points out, if you love Huck Finn, you’re not gonna find Huck there in Mark Twain’s kitchen. Though Anne’s eyes might remain dry while a fellow visitor’s well up in Langston Hughes’ study, she gets it. Like the authors’ works, we experience their homes in our own personal way. And a physical visit to these places, like the act of reading, allows us to make our own internal connections.

New York City is arguably the country’s literary capital but the cost of real estate is prohibitive for writers’ house museums. Dave, who’s fairly new to the city, was living in a sublet. Anne faced a big challenge indeed in curating his scant belongings into a top-notch museum.

At first glance, Anne didn’t find much in Dave’s apartment to put on display. Still, she riffed brilliantly on his vitamins and bran cereal. Her tone shifted in Dave’s office when her eyes fell on the journals of the Columbine killers. She had a physical reaction and had to steady herself in front of what she described as “powerful paper.”

Coincidentally, the Stacked Up interview happened a few days after the shooting of US Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Later that afternoon, Dave would be making a television appearance on a news program to discuss the tragedy. He was in demand as an expert who could make sense of the motives of the young gunman from Tuscon and talk about what he learned from Columbine survivors about their healing process.

At the end of her tour, Anne expressed hope that some day in the future, Dave will stand out as one of the writers who helped contextualize the violent events very much present in our lives at this time in history. She declared his home not quite a museum, but a sublet with potential.

Mr. Funny Pants gets serious about books

Posted on: Thursday, February 24th, 2011
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In his debut book, Mr. Funny Pants, comedian Michael Showalter makes a lot of jokes about how unliterary he is. The star of MTV’s “The State” and co-writer of the cult film, “Wet Hot American Summer,” gives the impression that he’s barely cracked a book in his life.

In his “About the Author” section (not to be confused with the “About Bea Arthur” section) Michael lists important facts about himself:

Favorite Author: F. Scott Fitzgerald
Actual Favorite Author: John Grisham
Truthful Actual Favorite: Sports Section

We knew Michael was (probably) joking, but we also wondered just how much he would actually have to say about the books on his shelves. What if he didn’t have any? (Books, not shelves.) And assuming he did, what if he really didn’t read more than the first ten pages (another claim in the book)?

Michael took us by surprise. Literally, he made us jump by coming up behind us after we rang his front doorbell (he’d been digging his car out of the snow.) He gave us a truly compelling and fun stack. Not only did he have books in built-ins, books in the bathroom (two to be exact, both open, spine up), and books in his bookbag, he clearly had books in his heart.

That’s the thing about reading a comedian’s ironic, semi-autobiographical book – you just can’t be sure which statements to take with a grain of salt. Michael admitted how much he liked John Grisham, but he didn’t seem to have
just one favorite author. Whistling Eleanor Rigby in four-part harmony? Now that’s another story.

A comedian walks into a bookstore

Posted on: Sunday, January 23rd, 2011
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We don’t usually think of writing as a public performance. Even if a writer makes a habit of scribbling his laundry lists in coffee shops, he’s not usually sharing his drafts with the world.

But then we met author and comedian DC Pierson. DC is a special breed of storyteller who regularly walks a tightrope that stretches between himself and his audience. He performs improv comedy. His tools are adrenaline, imagination and nerves of steel.

Last year, just before he gave a reading of his novel, The Boy Who Couldn’t Sleep and Never Had To, we followed him around the Brooklyn bookstore PowerHouse Arena. Basically, we turned on our cameras and pressed record. What transpired was half an hour of stream-of-consciousness brilliance about the art books and other titles on the store’s shelves.

DC was familiar with a number of the books there. But that didn’t matter. He could just as easily talk about books he hadn’t read, Whether the subject was Madonna, T.C. Boyle’s sexual plotlines, or running into Sloane Crosley at the Random House offices, he didn’t break his deadpan delivery and we didn’t stop laughing.

When our time was up, he ran out to get a slice of pizza before his reading. We were tempted to follow him and keep recording.

Julie Klam’s before and after

Posted on: Sunday, November 14th, 2010
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Along with a terrific cover featuring a walleyed Boston Terrier gazing straight into the camera, Julie Klam’s recent book, You Had me at Woof, has a subtitle that cuts to the quick of the story. “How Dogs Taught Me the Secrets of Happiness” is a before and after tale. In the book, Julie chronicles how the adoption of her first dog and and her subsequent work with a Boston Terrier rescue group opened the door for more lasting and satisfying relationships with humans.

When we interviewed Julie for Stacked Up, she told us a number of before and after stories. She talked about finding her own voice as a writer after she changed her focus from scriptwriting to essays and magazine articles. She talked about how landing her job as a writer for the popular VH1 television show, Pop-Up Video, made her feel legitimized as a writer.

And in talking about a book that she’s kept on her shelves since high school, Julie again touched on the theme of personal growth that drives her new book.

“As a teenager, I was not a great reader,” she said. “I really liked beauty books.”

After a minute’s search, she pulled out a worn copy of a makeover book by fashion photographer Francesco Scavullo, Scavullo Women.

“They were very dramatic makovers,” she said, flipping past photos of celebrities such as Brooke Shields and Farrah Fawcett. She stopped at Scavullo’s makeovers of non-celebrities and explained why these images fueled her teenage dreams.

“I was feeling very much like a “before” all my life,” Julie said, “A lot of the people in this book were models, but I think it just made me feel like there was possibly an ‘after.’ I guess I was just hoping that I had an ‘after’ coming.”

Exploring the edges with Diana Balmori

Posted on: Saturday, September 11th, 2010
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Spending a couple of hours with Diana Balmori is like putting on a pair of future goggles. When you leave her office, you see the landscape differently. And not just because the High Line towers outside her door and illustrates her point about integrating green space in urban areas. You start to think how easy it would be to tuck some plants in the dirt here, drop some grass seed on a rooftop there. The cityscape could be so much more sustainable and so much less monotonous if we invited nature in rather than paved it out.

In 2009, Balmori’s designs for green rooftops and other ideas for sustainable landscapes earned her a spot on the Utne Reader’s list of “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Your World.” Next month Yale University Press is publishing her new book that’s part call to action and part meditation on how we live called, “A Landscape Manifesto.” She boils down her philosophy to 25 points. Topping her list is a statement that could easily apply to other facets of life: “Nostalgia for the past and utopian dreams for the future prevent us from looking at our present.”

Some of the more radical ideas that Balmori expresses also make a lot of sense. Like un-daming rivers and planting banks to accommodate a river’s ebb and flow. Incorporating waterways into cities rather than fencing them off. And creating more spaces like New York’s High Line that bridge the gap between cities and nature.

Architects and landscape designers have a reputation for amassing huge libraries (as shown by another Yale University Press book, Unpacking My Library.) The office of Balmori Associates is no exception. Balmori’s collection ranges from poetry to engineering. Her most prized book, a gift from her father, is a yellowed edition of Tacitus published in 1644.

We wondered if being a landscape designer naturally lends itself to the study of a broad range of subjects. This led to a discussion about the famous park designer Frederick Law Olmsted, who pursued careers as a journalist, farmer and public speaker in addition to creating New York’s beloved Central Park.

“I think it is something that has to do with landscape,” she said, relating Olmsted’s pursuits to her own intellectual curiosity. ‘It unites a series of fields. I think it gains from a broader look, rather than a very narrow academic path.”

Still a comic by their book

Posted on: Tuesday, September 14th, 2010
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Ernie Colón, left, and Sid Jacobson, show off two of their books

Since their early days working together at Harvey Comics in the mid-50s, Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colón have collaborated on a number of works, including Richie Rich (Sid’s creation) and Casper the Friendly Ghost. They also worked on non-fiction titles, which Sid sees as the foundation of the duo’s recent work creating graphic histories.

“Growing up in the industry at Harvey, they had an educational department,” Sid says. Slim volumes on military courtesy and how to vote came off the same presses as Little Dot and other titles featuring wide-eyed kids.

When Sid and Ernie talk about the buzz generated by their 2006 best-seller, The 9/11 Report, they express their shock that so much attention was given to the graphic format itself. Critics praised the authors, Ernie says, “As if we were pioneers.” Sid sets the record straight. “We were just copycats,” he says, smiling at the irony of being lauded for inventing the thing he’s done for more than half a century.

Their graphic biography of Anne Frank marks the 50th anniversary of the opening of the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam. The book covers the story of the Frank family beginning with the meeting and courtship of Otto and Edith Frank, and continues through the war when Otto Frank recovers Anne’s diary from Miep Gies.

One little-known fact that Sid discovered in his research is that Miep Gies, one of the group of people who hid the Frank family, kept Anne’s diary safe throughout the war and handed it back to Otto Frank without reading a word.

Ernie describes the story of Anne Frank as a “painful sequence of events most of us are familiar with,” but a story that deserves to be re-told. Re-telling the story was difficult for him. “The closer I got to the end,” he says, “the harder it got.”

Last March, the authors spent a week together revising their manuscript. Sid flew out from L.A. and stayed at Ernie’s house in Long Island. They have the easy rapport of old friends and collaborators. When they talk about the work, Anne Frank jumps off the page.

Illustrator Ernie Colón works on the manuscript for Anne Frank: A Graphic Biography

“Pick a panel,” Sid says, at the start of a work session.

Ernie turns to his screen and pulls up a page featuring Anne.

“This is the one where she’s daydreaming about slapping this guy,” Ernie says, shaking his head. “She was a corker, this kid.”

Show us your shelves, er, Kindle

Posted on: Wednesday, July 21st, 2010
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lee_muppetLast winter when we first asked Jennifer 8. Lee to show off her shelves, she said that she didn’t have any books. She had moved recently and put her book collection in storage. Our reaction was, “Cool!” Our very first eBook interview. Then we brainstormed concept shots to cover Jenny’s lack of shelves.

Our bookless Stacked Up episode was thwarted in the months that passed before the actual interview. Jenny 8. had accumulated some books from colleagues and friends. (Math whiz that she is, maybe Jenny can calculate how many books on average a former New York Times reporter receives each month.)

kitkatSo while the video includes some beauty shots of bookcovers, we weren’t able to show you our Japanese KitKat tasting (the soy sauce and wasabi flavors stood out) or the complete collection of Star Wars figures that came with Jenny’s furnished apartment (including the elusive Boba Fett).

Instead we got a glimpse of the eBook lifestyle. No cramped bookshelves, but also no reading in the bathtub. Lots of free sample chapters, but no subway conversation-starters without bookcovers to attract strangers. (Although perhaps right now a developer is putting the finishing touches on a Kindle case that shows a digital cover image of the last book open on the device.)

Jenny also talked about how she buys more books than before with her Kindle. This puts her in good company, given Amazon’s big news this week that eBooks are outselling hardcovers.

As Jenny says, “Books are big. And they’re heavy.” To that we would add that they are not a prerequisite for a great episode of Stacked Up.

The freewheelin’ Susan Orlean

The freewheelin’ Susan Orlean

Breakin’ rules, praisin’ Faulkner and raisin’ chickens.

A staggering work of unliterary genius

A staggering work of unliterary genius

Michael Showalter’s debut is all about the funny.

The Lives of Books with Abigail Thomas

The Lives of Books with Abigail Thomas

In which the author explains how books about real life are better than fiction.

Alphabetizing with Darin Strauss

Alphabetizing with Darin Strauss

A reformed slob turned Dewey-Decimal devotee.

Tayari Jones on the so-called “southern aesthetic”

Tayari Jones on the so-called “southern aesthetic”

A southern writer debunks a literary stereotype.

Looking good

Looking good

Saïd Sayrafiezadeh can and does judge books by their covers.

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