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Grolier, Koch, Kidd, Horowitz, Budman & Oklahoma!

Literary Tourist in New York – Day 2

Next morning I headed over, on the overhead ‘subway,’ to the Grolier Club to take in the Peter Koch retrospective in advance of interviewing him at 10am. I followed the chronological exhibit around the room taking notes, 

and then walked over, past Central Park, to the New York Athletic Club where Peter was staying. It’s funny. Whenever I’m in this part of town, I’m reminded of the fact that I was conceived here – at least according to my father. I think they stayed at the Plaza Hotel (not sure which room). 

(Whichever it was, I don’t want to know). 

I called up to Peter’s room and he came down to meet me. He looked very dapper. I was particularly impressed with his Mephisto sandals ( gotta get me a pair a those). Peter had been undergoing treatment for an aggressive form of cancer, but had decided to stop it during his visit to New York and the Grolier symposium he was participating in. He was in good form despite the health issues. Listen to our conversation here:

 

It was a bright sunny day, which added to the feeling of exhilaration I felt, and feel, after engaging in an interesting conversation – knowing that I’d captured it. I really do feel most alive when I’m sitting down talking with people who love books. 

I jumped on the subway and got off at Union Square 

where I met Dorothy for some street meat.

She’d spent the morning at The National Museum of the American Indian before stopping in at the nearby Nordstrom Rack. The meat wasn’t the best, but I didn’t care. Just being with my daughter on an adventure, basking in the sunshine, was delightful. There was even a book vendor close by. 

Problem is, I didn’t like the fact that he hadn’t priced anything. Just as I don’t like buying from gas stations that fail to post their prices. 

After saying our goodbyes, I made my way uptown again to Random House HQ and Chip Kidd’s office. It reminded me of Steven Heller‘s. Lots going on. Both are collectors, of a sort. In Steve’s case, a reformed collector.

I sat down, took a few photos, and, as you’ll hear, closed the door, before embarking on a discussion that starts off by referencing Chip’s French-kissing Neil Gaiman on-stage. Listen here

 

After our talk I cut across the street and walked past the restaurant where we’d shared drinks with Sonny Mehta the evening before. The sun was hitting it square on, which made for a much happier photograph than the cloudy one I’d taken the previous day.

I hopped in a cab – got stuck in rush-hour traffic – then walked the final leg of the journey to the 911 Memorial Museum where I caught up with Dorothy. Can’t say I was overwhelmed by it. Lots of cement, some twisted steel, part of an airplane, the wreckage of a fire engine.

I’m afraid it left me cold. After exiting we made our way over to the pool/fountain/memorial where we spent five minutes together in silence. I found it much more moving.

Next stop was Oklahoma! The performance was pretty good. I’m glad we went. Not nearly as good as the production of Porgy & Bess that my wife Caroline and I had seen several years earlier, but still, solid, classic fare. There were some familiar songs, along with plenty of energetic dancing, and – wait for it – a serving of chili and cornbread on stage for audience members at intermission. Just before rushing back to our seats I was seized by the urge/need for a margarita. Turns out the bar actually served them. “That’ll be $27 American” said the chap smiling at me from behind the counter after he poured it. We even got to keep the plastic glass.

I liked the way the director cast a black woman in one of the lead roles, opposite a white guy. It added an interesting layer of complexity. Aside from an oddly delirious modern dance routine that intruded rather jarringly, and nonsensically, into the action, the play was pretty good. Excellent energy in the room. Nice $27 buzz too.

The following morning it was back to the Grolier for interviews with Jerry Kelly, a much respected calligrapher and book designer, and Bruce Crawford, current president of the Club. We met in the Phillipps room, named after Thomas, the fanatical 19th century book collector. There’s a glass doored closet in the room that houses a bunch of his collectibles (they look like beat up rolls of wall paper, truth be told).

Here’s my conversation with Jerry on some great type and book designers

And here’s Bruce with everything you wanted to know about the Grolier, and a bit on collecting Charles Dickens

After our conversation Bruce showed me the Club’s 100,000 volume library with its great collection of “bibliographies, histories of printing and graphic processes, type specimens, and fine and historic examples of printing, binding, and illustration.” It’s particularly strong in the literature of collecting and the book trade, including book catalogues of all types. Library holdings are listed in the online catalogue. Bruce also introduced me to Grolier librarian Meghan Constantinou and we had a good chat about various antiquarian book dealers who specialize in books on books – a particular collecting passion of mine.

The Grolier Club is pretty close to Glenn Horowitz’s office, so I thought I’d pay him a visit. I’d interviewed him the last time I was in town about his extraordinary Bob Dylan archive/George B. Kaiser Tulsa deal. Glenn is one of the top brokers of literary archives in the USA. Well, after this deal, I think we can safely say, in the world. You can listen to how this fascinating story unfolded, here:

Glenn promised to hook me up with various people in his bulgingly – rotund – rolodex, and I’ve taken him up on his offer. It’s hard not to enjoy conversation with Glenn. He’s gold for gossip too. Just like the best literary reads. Speaking of great antiquarian book dealer catalogues, many of Glenn’s have been designed by the aforementioned Jerry Kelly. In fact Glenn put me in touch with Jerry. Anyhow, after our first encounter, Glenn, as I was making my way out the door, casually offered a whole box of them to me. I demurred at the time, not wanting to drag it with me over to the train station. I’ve regretted this ever since. I wonder if the offer still stands?

From Glenn’s I headed for Grenwich Village where I was scheduled to meet Matthew Budman, author of Book Collecting Now. Prior to hitting his place I stopped off at this eastern European restaurant for a bowl of borscht. I sat beside a little waterfall. It was very peaceful. Just what I needed after a morning full of such excitement.

After a lively conversation with Matthew – his foot may have been hurting, but his brain sure wasn’t – listen here:

it was over to this pierogi place that Dorothy had picked out (pierogies are one of her favourite foods) – it had begun spitting rain as I entered Matthew’s apartment building. By the time I left, it was pounding down. I got soaked despite taking a taxi most of the way. It was still raining pretty heavily by the time we left the restaurant. A dark and very windy evening it was too, with a wild sort of slightly dangerous Singing in the Rain vibe to it.

…to be continued.

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