Gotham Diary:
26 September 2011

By the time Kathleen walked in the door on Saturday afternoon, I had whipped the apartment into amazing shape. Everything — everything visible — was in order, and I Puritani had just come to its triumphant end. In the luxe, calme, et volupté that remained, Kathleen and I sat down to a pot of tea in the living room. Kathleen showed me her London photographs. It was the first time that I’d reviewed photographs on the back of a camera, and at first I balked, preferring to look at them in larger format, but Kathleen was eager to share, and, she does, after all, take great pictures, so I got into it. Most of the shots were of her room at The Rookery, a boutique hotel just up the road from Smithfield Market. The furnishings were plush to an almost Victorian degree, banishing the spare chill that must have hung about the rooms when they were new, sometime in the reign of George II or his grandson, and the tiny fireplaces could hardly keep up with the drafty windows, and there was no indoor plumbing. It was very cozy. But so, very frankly, was the room that we were sitting in. The apartment didn’t look at all shabby in comparison. Feeling very snappy about our living arrangements, I went over to Fairway to pick up a few things for the simple dinner that I guessed Kathleen would like best, and then, back in the kitchen, I let it all go to my head. I decided to make an omelette in a non-non-stick pan. I must have thought I was God.

Here’s how you save an omelette that, sticking to the pan, has degenerated into a dog’s breakfast: In a clean pan, melt some butter over moderately high heat and pour in two beaten eggs. When the eggs begin to set, spoon in as much as you dare of the revolting mess of Omelette #1 into what will be Omelette #2. Don’t expect this emergency procedure to deceive anyone; aim, rather, for something on the order of an egg taco. It will taste fine. There are people who make omelettes in non-non-stick pans all the time, but you are not (yet) one of them. Be happy with your cozy apartment.


Because Kathleen was tired after her trip, and Will was recovering from a mystery fever, we did not get together yesterday. While Kathleen read an napped, I read and read. I was determined to be done with The Submission. I can’t remember the last time a novel made me feel so bad about the world. Although smart and extremely well-crafted, The Submission is an aesthetically cynical portrait of a cynical society. No! I’ve got that exactly wrong. There is no society in The Submission. What’s aesthetically cynical about the book is that each and every one of the characters is stuck in his or her character. No one connects. Instead, the various ways in which different types of people fail to connect are paraded coolly along a fashion-week runway. Amy Waldman’s world is devoid of the two essentials that I’m dumb enough to find growing on trees in mine, humor and generosity.

As soon as I was done, I grabbed the latest issue of LRB, which I knew had a review of The Submission, and Christian Lorentzen, whose take on the book was no more positive than mine, soon restored my spirits.

Reading The Submission, I often had the feeling that the novel was written by the New York Times itself; that Waldman has so thoroughly internalised the paper’s worldview that she can’t see things any other way. The Times tends to flatter its readers in the way it writes about their educations, their ambitions and what they spend their money on, while gently stoking their anxieties – about surly Islamophobes from New Jersey, their children’s safety, or cancer. In newsprint these tropes tend to be submerged under the weight of actual events  Mebut they are all too conspicuous in the long march of a novel.

This wasn’t what I’d been thinking exactly, but it wasn’t at all inconsistent, and I remembered howling and scowling, just a few hours earlier, when Kathleen read aloud a disgraceful Styles piece by Bruce Feiler entitled “Snooping in the Age of Ebooks.” 

For his part, Dr. Gosling recommended seeking out three places in a home if the bookshelf was not revealing. First, any space where a person retreats to be alone. “That might be a potting shed, a home office or sewing corner,” he said. Second, bedrooms. He recommended paying particular attention to headboards, pillows and what people keep at their bedside. Finally, photographs. Dr. Gosling was struck, for instance, that my wife and I have no photos at all in our living room, suggesting we use the space for “down-regulating” or retreating from others. In my home office, meanwhile, I have numerous photos, all featuring people, from my children, to my family, to me with friends around the world. Alone in my office, he concluded, I seek contact with others in what he called “social snacking

Ew! This is why I don’t start the day with the Times anymore. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t wish that the Times would go away. What’s wrong with the Times is the complete absence of competition for the “newspaper of record” title. They’ll print anything these days.

(I exaggerate, of course. Kathleen brought a copy of the Daily Mail back from London, leading me down unimagined avenues of “Svengeance.”)