The Daily

Ask The Paris Review

Self-Help Books; Writerly Watering Holes

September 30, 2011 | by

I know that I am not alone in sometimes craving nothing more than a nice, long browse through the self-help section of the bookstore. But I know that I’m alone in admitting it to The Paris Review! My question is, do you know of any authors writing in the self-help genre who have elevated the form and who you would qualify as literary?
Stan Hope

Let your self-help freak flag fly! I’ve already had occasion to recommend Love and Limerence, by the late Dorothy Tennov. It’s a book about what to do if you find yourself in love. This is my favorite self-help book, and I think about it often. An informal poll of The Paris Review office reveals that everyone has been telling us to read The Artist’s Way (“you can skip the spiritual parts”) but that none of us has read it.

I used to frequent Chumley’s and the Cedar Tavern. (I even went to the Algonquin once, thinking that it would be a glamorous throwback, but it turned out to be a tourist trap.) Lately even the White Horse Tavern is overrun with investment bankers. It’s awful. What is the ideal place to spend a few hours drinking—and still feel a hint of New York’s rich literary past—this fall?

It may be a little low on mystique, but if you’re in the Village and want to drink in the company of writers, you can’t go wrong with Cafe Loup. It’s crawling with them—and there’s always plenty of extra martini in the shaker. If you’re hungry, order the fries. In Boerum Hill, writers—those who can still make the rent—tend to congregate at the Brooklyn Inn (a bar that features in Jonathan Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn). I’ve never been to Scratcher, in the East Village, except when some writer was having a party there—but I’m told it’s hard to tell the difference. If you’re headed uptown, there is always the Carlyle, a perennial tourist trap that happens also to have a wonderful bar, one celebrated in several poems by Frederick Seidel, including For Holly Anderson.”

These days I am often sandwiched in between an iPad and a Kindle on the subway. My urge is to whip out a book and very obviously read it. Any advice for those disheartened by finding themselves increasingly among e-readers of various stripes?

You said it: whip that sucker out.

Have a question for the editors of The Paris Review? E-mail us.



  1. Dahlia | September 30, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    Work Sex Money by Trungpa

  2. Neil Griffin | September 30, 2011 at 2:23 pm

    This is the second advice column about good NYC literary bars. Some love for LA bars to read a book in the next column? Do those exist?

  3. Lorin Stein | September 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    No doubt! We will have to debrief Sadie Stein when she gets back from her West Coast launch of the fall issue.

    In the meantime, perhaps you can advise?

  4. Mackenzie Beer | October 2, 2011 at 6:34 pm

    I LOVE LA: The Wellesbourne, The Library Bar, The Varnish, Chez Jay’s (during the afternoon). It’s no bar, but it’s nice to smuggle a bottle of wine onto the meditation barge at the Self-Realization Fellowship Lake Shrine on Sunset off of PCH (So LA). There’s also the Royal T Gallery with has great food and bright light in Culver City (plus Japanese anime-style maids will bring you your liquor/tea). The Ghetty Villa is beautiful, they have a great wine bar and little gardens to hide in. The Bourgeoise Pig is perfect for pretending you’re a famous screenwriter, or the reading rooms at UCLA for pretending youre still a co-ed. But, my favorite is the Russian tea room at the top of the Museum of Jurrasic Technology (free cookies! And a sleepy dog to stare at you while you read). Then, there’s always beer and the beach.

  5. The Smalls | October 3, 2011 at 5:16 am

    I do sort of wonder if those who find e-readers obscene or provocative have thought about why peope use them. Personally, I have an e-reader because I simply can’t fit any more books in my very small apartment, and prefer to use the space for beautiful hardback books and read the equivalent of mass-market paperbacks and library books on my e-reader. Also, when travelling, carrying thousands of books in something that weighs a few hundred grams sure beats lugging them around in physical form. Sure, you don’t get the smell and tactile sensation that you get from paper, but visually the text is not that different. Furthermore, surely reading on an e-reader is better than not reading at all? But do whip out your books on the subway. The more readers the merrier.

  6. Sadie Stein | October 3, 2011 at 11:08 am

    Mackenzie, thank you! They are all in the notebook!

    Re:e-readers, I recently saw a quote from the proprietors of the wonderful Greenlight Books in Fort Greene, when asked about moving into e-books: “we’re selling books, not paper.”

  7. Ana | October 3, 2011 at 11:21 am

    These seem like good bar suggestions, but I would still hesitate to walk into any of these places with a laptop and actually commence writing — they seem more like the sort of place where writers go after getting their daily achievements out of the way.

    What if I need a place to drink and write in Manhattan? Any suggestions?

  8. Lorin Stein | October 3, 2011 at 11:36 am

    Drinking and writing at the same time, eh? I’ve seen laptops at Vandaag, in the East Village, and have edited a couple of manuscripts at their bar — but this was always over breakfast. For evening work, try the back room at Botanica.

    As for e-readers: the smell of books has never been high on my list of favorite things. And I do see the advantage of traveling light. But the “old” technology seems perfectly good to me, too — and much more attractive and intriguing. I’ve spent too long thinking about book covers to give up now.

  9. Literary Man | October 3, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    Cafe Loup is great. Good cold martinis. Cheap and delicious brasserie food. Can usually walk right in and get a good table. Writers, agents, and editors often intermingling at the bar or good greeting each other from across the room at different tables. Met the EIC of New Directions last time I was there and just BSed about books right there at the bar. Excellent NYC gem.

  10. Doug | October 26, 2011 at 3:40 am

    Someone who can’t find a bar in New York reads too much.

  11. Facebook Likes | January 5, 2012 at 10:55 am

    Cafe Loup, one of the better literary establishments, to relax and open a book.

Leave a Comment