One of my favorite things about living in Brooklyn is the way people just leave their old books out on the street, sometimes with a sign marked “FREE” but often they are just left in piles on stoop steps or on the sidewalk. It’s as if the books are an organic thing, actually growing out of the borough and spilling onto the streets.
Over the past month or so I’ve been taking photos of them when I see them. Summer is high season for free books:
Here’s a laundry basket of books I came across early yesterday afternoon. It had a particularly good selection, a mix of fiction and nonfiction. I couldn’t resist taking Steve Martin’s memoir, Born Standing Up. While I was going through the stash, a woman on her way to the airport stopped to find something to read for her trip. (In case you’re wondering, she took The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time.)
This was the first photo I took, in late June. I think this was once a glorious stack of books and these are the picked-over remains.
Here’s a sun-dappled collection of golfing books.
I liked this precarious-yet-orderly display of literary memoirs and fiction.
And here is Tom Wolfe perched a top a defunct gas fuel dispenser. Note the real estate advertisement behind it. This gives a pretty good picture of what’s going on in my neighborhood right now.
These were all fantasy titles, including five A.S. Byatt novels, all in hardback but missing their dust jackets. It made me curious, what happened? Was this person a huge Byatt fan and then suddenly got sick of her?
This batch was just down the street from the fantasy harvest.
Something forlorn about these three. I think they are likely the leftovers of a much larger selection.
This isn’t the world’s best photo, but the mix of pregnancy and travel books made me laugh. It seems to say, “We had a baby, so we won’t be traveling anymore.”
A great piece of place-based photojournalism from our former Dispatches editor, Hannah Gersen.
Django: Elegies and Improvisations with Small Boats.
When a boat dies, you usually have two choices: pay hundreds of dollars to have it hauled away, or let it molder and sink into some secluded corner of the yard. A quick tour of my wife’s parents’ town on the South Shore of Massachusetts, where I moored my boat, would suggest that the latter is the norm: those husks and dark prows entombed in plain sight beside rotting cordwood, abandoned swing-sets. Last year, when I discovered that the oaken keel of my sailboat had rotted irreparably, I embarked on my first experiment with time-lapse photography. I rented for twenty dollars a “reciprocating saw”—the contractor’s principal instrument of demolition—known as a Sawzall. After positioning my iPad on a kitchen chair in the driveway of my in-laws’ home, then unraveling forty yards of extension cord from the garage, I plugged in the nasty tool—part torpedo, part robotic swordfish—and grimly laid into the carapace of the little boat over which I had worried and fussed for almost ten years.
Read more of Ralph Sneeden’s longreads feature on the life and death of a boat.
I’ve come to a club called the Rose Bar with friends.
The place is perched on an outcropping of rocks overlooking the stormy Atlantic Ocean in Casablanca. On the patio, which opens to the sky, sticky drops of rain fall from the dark and sparkle in the club’s slutty pink and blue lights. Glass retaining walls block the spray from the waves that crash against the rocks below.
My friends and I work as Fulbright scholars and foreign service officers – a group of young ex-pats who wouldn’t belong in a place like this in the United States. The Rose Bar has white leather furniture, security guards with earpieces and suits, Jags and Beemers in the parking lot, and outrageously priced drinks with flagrant, edible garnish. The club has an address on the Corniche, the French-erected walkway along the ocean where the city’s once glitzy hotels and clubs make their homes. The places passed their prime long ago and remind me of boozy movie stars who haven’t aged gracefully – shabby, but resembling beauty. Unlike the other places, the Rose Bar clings fiercely to the idea that she is not a seedy nightclub. …
Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, Natalie Storey walked into The Rose Bar. Read more of her new dispatch from Casablanca.
Reading Francine Prose’s new novel is a little like coming across a box of papers in a dusty attic that have been packed up together because they all, somehow, are connected to a certain person, and sifting through them one by one. Prose’s person of interest in Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932 is Louisianne (“Lou”) Villars, an athlete and a lesbian, a cabaret club dancer and a racecar driver, a trailblazer for women and a spy, a woman who both aids the Nazis’ invasion of France and tortures members of the Resistance on their behalf. Because of this extraordinary set of exploits, and because Lou has been captured in a very famous photograph, someone is writing a biography of her, and the chapters of this biography form the heart of the novel. Interspersed with these chapters are writings of those whose lives cross hers, including the photographer of the famous photo and those in his inner circle. Many of the documents are contemporary with the action, which takes place between 1921, when Lou is ten years old, and 1944, when Lou is killed by the Resistance, though the most significant source, the biography of Lou, written by a woman named Nathalie, has been written more than half a century later.
Read more of Elisa Mai’s review of Francine Prose’s new novel Lovers at the Chameleon Club, Paris 1932: gender-bending, fictional biography, and more.
“All great literature is one of two stories,” said Tolstoy, “a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town.” That year I was going nowhere but the Greek café beside the inner harbor that smelled of fish, though there were no fish. Strangers showed their faces. “Say, Lev, tell me a story, ” I told them. But they told me no stories. My life, I figured, wasn’t cut with great literature. It wasn’t cut with greatness of any kind. Occasionally I cruised out of bounds in a young man’s TwinAir MiTo or an old man’s Bentley. “I am going somewhere,” I told myself, over and over. “I am leaving it all behind,” I said, stopped at a light, in the fug of traffic, in the empire of good enough.
—“Valet” by Will Schutt.
Read more: new work by Will Schutt, Patrick Pritchett, and Kevin C. Stewart, three poets new to the pages of The Common!
I’m here on the patio, no appetite,
drinking a salty margarita. I feel
my liver, ignore it like last night’s
glass of water. I’m tired of writing
you down when I should be writing
poems about place. Dusk hits beyond
the man playing the red accordion
on the corner, and the strays of Iași
bark out a score backed by dissonant
frequencies of the evening bells.
This morning I took a walk and found
a noseless man pumping gypsy love songs
on his accordion. I stared into the holes
of his face and thought about the girl
with the green ribbon around her neck.
Had you read the story backwards,
we might not have lost our heads.
It’s late. What time is it?
I ask a poet who isn’t you.
There’s time enough, he says.
"Bar Poem," by Tara Skurtu.
In May, I was abroad finishing a job, the kind that did not exist when I graduated high school. As I prepared to leave, northeast Ohio, where I grew up, came to me. I would fly down remembered winding gray roads. Sometimes I did this in my dreams. Sometimes the dream was different – I would drive out to the country but turn around because I didn’t know what to do out there, outside a car with only long grass and woods around me and no path to hike. The suburbs were my cradle. In the car from the airport to my childhood home, I realized that what I had thought of as flying was the feeling of the car tugging my shoulders in the backseat as we made familiar turns.
Turns like exiting the highway to the right and stopping at the light. Here the mall stood in front of us, flying a tarp over its windows because, I learned, it had been recently sold to a smaller mall holder. (A month or so later, the tenting was gone.) When the light changed, the curved winding gray roads carried us past the mall, rocking at each street bend to the gentle glowing brand signs that cast light into our window. […]
Read more of Sahiba Gill’s essay on the death—and “artificial eternal life”—of malls across the world, from Ohio to the UAE.
Our first week, you showed me around
your empty capital in a dream. We skipped
Parliament and headed down Calea Victoriei,
lit beeswax candles for the living,
drank jasmine tea at Serendipity, then
a big one hit. I would’ve asked
what happened next, but I was in it, I knew,
I could feel it: you’d have saved yourself
if it weren’t for each day you forget how.
Read more of “Richter Scale,” a new poem-dispatch from Tara Skurtu in Bucharest, Romania.
The Common is featured (via Journal of the Month) in The Boston Globe's most recent Literary News feature! (And alongside Harriet the Spy—a double-honor!)