Reading: The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick

This is the sort of book that other women will chat with you about while you're in the bookstore, as you reach across the table for it or wait in line at the register (bookstore checkout conversations being one of life's greatest small pleasures). "I absolutely love it, it was my favorite book last year," one lady said to me and the cashier at the Book Culture on Columbus, and then she told us she works at a different bookstore where Vivian Gornick is doing a reading on Valentine's Day. I was too busy paying to catch the name of this bookstore and can find no evidence online of such a thing happening, but Vivian Gornick would be a real pip to spend V-Day with, that's for sure: sharp, funny, rueful. Regret without whining is always a winning strategy, IMHO. It's the mark of a realist and a fighter, which is the coolest kind of cat to be.

The book itself (yet another memoir) is a slim collection of stories—journal entries, really—that are mostly about walks. I love reading about walks! The walking subgenre of autobiography  is by far my favorite: arm any asshole rambling down a street or trail with a notebook and a pen and I'll probably read whatever they cough up. It's like my kryptonite.

As I saw myself moving ever farther toward the social margin, nothing healed me of a sore and angry heart like a walk through the city. To see in the street the fifty different ways people struggle to remain human—the variety and inventiveness of survival techniques—was to feel the pressure relieved, the overflow draining off. I felt in my nerve endings the common refusal to go under. That refusal became company. I was never less alone than alone in the crowded street.

—

On upper Broadway, a beggar approaches a middle-aged woman. "I don't drink, I don't do drugs, I just need—" he starts. To his amazement, the woman yells directly into his face, "I just had my pocket picked!" The beggar turns his face northward and calls to a colleague up the block, "Hey, Bobby, leave her alone, she just got robbed."

—

At three in the afternoon, a distinguished-looking couple is standing under the awning of the posh Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. The man has iron-gray hair and regular features and is wearing an expensive overcoat. The woman is alcoholic thin, has blond, marcelled hair, and is wearing mink. She looks up at him as I pass them, and her face lights up. "It's been a wonderful afternoon," she says. The man embraces her warmly and nods directly into her face. The scene excites my own gratitude: how delicious to see people of the moneyed classes acting with simple humanity!

Reading: Slice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza by Colin Atrophy Hagendorf

Maybe you heard that it snowed over 26 inches here yesterday. This was true. There wasn't much to do but sit inside and read about pizza, although I also rewatched all of Master of None, plus a movie about the legit origin of General Tso's chicken (spoiler: Taiwan) and another movie about an Iranian skateboarding vampire. Some days are longer than you think they'll be.

The pizza book was a delicious (heh) diversion but reinforced once again the difficulty I have absorbing anything that I read on a Kindle. I appreciate the low-low-LOW-LOW price points on that digital typemanship but man oh man nothing sinks in. I would like someone (not me) to fund a study on why this is, because I read a lot of other words on my iPad and manage to retain them just fine. Is it the action of "flipping" a page rather than scrolling? How the hell could something that stupid possibly matter? I'll admit that I have trouble grounding myself in a digital document that lacks a useful indicator: I'm missing an anchor. I have no concept of what "33% finished" means or what "1 hour 20 minutes left" tells me in the context of reading. Do I need to hurry up? Am I competing with someone? Fuck off! I'm done wondering about this so here we are, finally accepting reality. No more e-books for this hot dog.

Anyway, I liked but did not love this book, is my Goodreads-level assessment, or âť„ âť„ âť„ out of âť„ âť„ âť„ âť„ âť„. As with most "memoirs" that started as blogs, it's a patched-up collection that relies on voice rather than a smooth progression of narrative thoughts. In that respect the narrative is kind of a mess—I still have no idea how he mapped out the stops or exactly which pizzas he preferred—so you're left with nothing but voice, which I accepted and then moved on. In the end Hagendorf seemed like a fun guy to walk the streets and eat pizza with, which is probably all you need since he's not running for president or anything, although my favorite parts were less about finding the perfect slice than learning to appreciate the whole pie (heh):

But I still go to Rosedale at least once a year to visit my best friend's mother, Mrs. Watson, who came to New York thirty or forty years ago. As I observed to the Pizza-Line Bozo about Richmond Hill, Rosedale seems predominantly Caribbean these days—mostly Jamaican and Haitian, I think. When I visit with Mrs. Watson, instead of knishes and black cherry soda we eat beef patties and drink sorrel punch, but the feelings of love are the same. The kvetching is the same, though in a different dialect. The sense of pride in being able to own a home in a nice neighborhood is the same.
Slice Harvester: A Memoir in Pizza
By Colin Atrophy Hagendorf

Reading: How to Cook a Wolf by M.F.K. Fisher

This feels like the right choice for the first book of a new year on a dark night in the dead of winter: written in 1942 as a guide to finding comfort in a time of war and deprivation, it's a bracing, clear-eyed ode to the essential art of making do. While writing about food not as nutrition but a kind of succor—for the body and spirit—she considers both the costs and the rewards of simply "keeping the wolf from the door," crafting a work that's part memoir, part essay, part cookbook, and part no-nonsense self-help bible. There's a touch of Nora Ephron in her voice, and Tamar Adler—or I should say, of her in each of them, as Fisher came first and set the standard. Maternal but sharp, sensible, imperious, generous, and warm: "You will see the world this way, too," is what it sounded like to me, to which of course I answer, Yes, yes, absolutely I will.

If you are not in a state of emergency, but merely living as so many people have lived for many months now, taking sirens in your stride and ration cards with a small cautious grin, you will be able to make very good meals indeed for the people who live with you. As long as the gas or the electric current supply you, your stove will function and your kitchen will be warm and savory. Use as many fresh things as you can, always, and then trust to luck and your blackout cupboard and what you have decided, inside yourself, about the dignity of man.

How to Cook a Wolf
By M. F. K. Fisher