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Posts Tagged ‘The Wizard of Oz’

The Wizard of West Fifty-seventh Street

March 29, 2012 | by

Robert Silvers in the New York Review offices.

Our Spring Revel will take place on April 3. In anticipation of the event, the Daily is featuring a series of essays celebrating Robert Silvers, who is being honored this year with The Paris Review’s Hadada Prize.

My first encounter with Robert Silvers was with his sonorous and elegant voice, with its precise, slightly British diction. It must be said that most of my encounters over the years have been with the voice rather than the man, as we’ve met in person only a few times.

I first heard the voice in the summer of 1988. Back in the States after my first year of graduate school at Cambridge University, I somehow landed a job in the advertising department at The New York Review of Books. I can’t imagine I came by it entirely honestly, but I have no recollection of whose kindness may have opened the door. This was at the old address, 250 West Fifty-seventh Street, where entering the offices felt somehow like slipping in a back door, because you were immediately dwarfed by books. Mountainous, heavily laden shelves overhung the narrow, dark corridors, and people scurried quietly among them as if in fear—fear, I always thought, that like Leonard Bast they would be crushed by knowledge.

In the several months I worked in those offices—in the domain of Catherine Tice, at the elbow of a brassily confident assistant named Kim—I never laid eyes on either Bob or Barbara. (I had, on the other hand, many mad and wonderful conversations with the late Bob Tashman, who roved the office with apparently much time on his hands and who, although balding, had an impressive corona of hair emerging from his shirt collar. His long-worked-upon American Decameron, alas, we will never now see.) Bob and Barbara’s offices were down long tributaries of the book-lined hallways, unenterable by the likes of me. But I did, upon occasion, hear the magical voice. It was like hearing the Wizard of Oz. Whether he was speaking on the telephone or to an assistant, his interlocutors were inaudible, the authority of his inflections absolute, and his physical presence purely notional. Read More »

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The Corner Booth

November 29, 2011 | by

I became a writer because I was raised at a diner in rural Pennsylvania.

My parents opened the Chestnuthill Diner the first week of August 1984. The diner arrived the summer I turned five, and I watched, gaping, as its twin sections were maneuvered from flatbed trailers onto the concrete foundation that had been poured weeks earlier.

I celebrated my fifth birthday in a corner booth, pleased by the shiny chrome and flame-red seats, the flurry of waitresses rushing past in their brown-and-white striped uniforms, the tables bursting with customers. That was the first day the larger world opened up to me, the realm outside school and playmates, where real life really happened—the swear-laden frays between the cooks masked by radios blasting heavy metal, the combined whiff of grease and lettuce as the produce deliverymen wheeled their hand trucks in the back door, the coolness of the dough resting in the kitchen.

After school, on weekends, and for the next six summers, I would enter the back door of the diner on the heels of my mother, who trundled her coin bags, bookkeeping ledgers, and payroll checks. Past the bright bakery where dinner rolls and pies cooled on the racks, around the corner of whirring compressors and my grandfather’s work bench—he kept himself busy part-time as our fix-it man—stood the basement offices. Read More »

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