I’m a journalist and book author. My last book, St. Marks Is Dead, a 400-year history of the street where I grew up, came out last November, and will be out in paperback in November 2016. (Come to the paperback book launch in Brooklyn!) It was named one of the best books of the year by Kirkus, Orlando Weekly, the New York Post, and the Boston Globe, and got some very nice reviews as well as a Village Voice cover story. My next book, Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give, a collection of essays about marriage, based on a popular story I wrote for the New York Times Modern Love column, is due out on May 16, 2017.
Poignant and witty essays on the beautiful complexity of marriage.
Inspired by her wildly popular New York Times essay “The Wedding Toast I’ll Never Give,” Ada Calhoun provides a funny (but not flip), smart (but not smug) take on the institution of marriage. Weaving intimate moments from her own married life with frank insight from experts, clergy, and friends, she upends expectations of total marital bliss to present a realistic—but ultimately optimistic—portrait of what marriage is really like. There will be fights, there will be existential angst, there may even be affairs; sometimes you’ll look at the person you love and feel nothing but rage. Despite it all, Calhoun contends, staying married is easy: just don’t get divorced. Wedding Toasts I’ll Never Give offers bracing straight talk to the newly married and honors those who have weathered the storm. This exploration of modern marriage is at once wise and entertaining, a work of unexpected candor and literary grace.
Available now for pre-order via Amazon.
I reviewed the new Tama Yanowitz book for the New York Times Book Review: “Look for the helpers” in times of tragedy, Mister Rogers advised. “If you look for the helpers, you’ll know that there’s hope.” The calamity-prone author Tama Janowitz employs an opposite strategy, focusing on those she believes are out to get her and nurturing a gimlet-eyed loathing for her fellow man. “Try as I might,” she writes, “for me, other human beings are a blend of pit vipers, chimpanzees and ants, a virtually indistinguishable mass . . . sniffing their fingers and raping.” Read the rest here.
So began Bill Clinton’s tender, rambling speech last night at the Democratic National Convention, a speech in which he described his wife Hillary as a natural leader, an excellent mother, and “the best change maker” he’d ever met. “I married my best friend,” he said.
It was a reminder that the Clintons are still together after 45 years of marriage, in spite of all the public humiliations they’ve faced. They’ve outlasted the Gores, the first two Trump marriages, and the first two Gingrich marriages. Could the Clintons be — and having grown up in a culture where their relationship was often a punchline, I never thought I’d say this — good marriage role models? Read the rest here.
The Book of Common Prayer offers an intercession for “our families, friends and neighbors, and for those who are alone.” We tend to put the alone in this separate category, but for Olivia Laing, “the essential unknowability of others” means that to be human is to be lonesome, at least sometimes. So why don’t we talk about it more openly? “What’s so shameful,” she asks, about “having failed to achieve satisfaction, about experiencing unhappiness?” This daring and seductive book — ostensibly about four artists, but actually about the universal struggle to be known — raises sophisticated questions about the experience of loneliness, a state that in a crowded city provides an “uneasy combination of separation and exposure.” Read the rest of the review here.
Largehearted Boy asked me to do one of that site’s cool “Book Notes” playlists for St. Marks Is Dead. You can read the whole thing there, or here, now with video of kids singing “Welcome to NY”:
Because I wrote this book on my laptop at too-loud coffee shops and too-quiet libraries, for three-plus years I used iTunes as a white-noise machine. Music I liked and knew well enough to tune out was ideal, so I shunned the new (with a few exceptions, like Wussy) and stuck to standards like Guided By Voices, Drive-By Truckers, Ass Ponys, Old 97s, The Rolling Stones, plus a playlist of songs that mention St. Marks Place by name. On a couple of book-tour stops, friends have covered some of these songs, and it has been a particularly delirium-inducing experience to hear—at the same time that this book I had in my head is suddenly out in the world—the songs I had on repeat in my headphones performed out loud, too.
“Avenue A,” The Dictators (+ cover by the St. Marks Zeros)
Handsome Dick Manitoba is quoted a lot in my book, and this song about the crème brûlée-phase of the neighborhood to me is the quintessential St. Marks Place-of-2015 song. I like the idea that it’s all over when you see a Range Rover.
“Detachable Penis,” King Missile (+ cover by Neal Medlyn, aka Champagne Jerry)
This silly song was on pretty much every indie mix tape exchanged in the early-1990s East Village. I miss the 24-hour diner Kiev, which is where I used to go for eggs in the middle of the night. It’s also where John S. Hall wrote this song. (more…)
I waxed all romantic about the seedy Mid-Manhattan Library.
“…While each of these branches has something unique to offer, the one I keep circling back to is the Mid-Manhattan. I tell myself it’s because they have an incredible selection of books in open stacks, cheerful librarians and guards, and a surprising trove of city services (last year, I applied for my IDNYC there). But really I think it’s because of the library’s waiting-room-at-the-end-of-the-world sense of freedom. I gave a book talk there recently, and it was one of the most engaged crowds I’ve ever spoken to. One woman in the front row cheered as if she were at a rock concert. To me, she exemplified the Mid-Manhattan spirit: a little daffy, infinitely welcoming.” Read the whole thing here.
Here’s a story I wrote for The New Yorker online about the tragic closing of St. Mark’s Bookshop, the bookstore where as a child I bought kid books and as a teen I discovered zines and as an adult had for a brief, shining moment their bestselling book.
A few days ago, a fifty-per-cent-off clearance-sale sign appeared in the window of St. Mark’s Bookshop’s modest storefront on East Third Street, and this time it is really the end. The long-struggling store owes as much as seventy thousand dollars in back rent to the city, plus significant sums to publishers and wholesale distributors. According to the New York State Department of Tax and Finance, it faces an open warrant due to almost thirty-five thousand dollars of unpaid sales tax. Bob Contant, the store’s only remaining owner, told me that the business’s accounts have been frozen thanks to a creditor’s lawsuit; an investor who came on briefly as C.F.O. has also sued the store. The local landlord and longtime St. Marks Place resident Charles Fitzgerald has cooked up a plan to start a new bookshop in the space, which he says would be viable if investors were willing to put up two hundred thousand dollars. Even if that plan comes to fruition, though, St. Mark’s Bookshop as we know it is officially going out of business. This week, friends dropped by to pay their respects, while bargain hunters streamed in to pick the shelves clean. Read the rest here.
Owen Egerton at KUT interviewed me for his books podcast, The Write Up. He also says some really nice things about it in his write-up:
“It’s her observational skills mixed with the passion of devotee that makes St. Marks is Dead such a fun read…The book covers four centuries worth of cultural upheaval, urban growth, musical uprisings, and front-stoop conversations. In the weeks since its release, St. Marks is Dead has garnered rave reviews and critical accolades including being named an Amazon Best Book of November 2015 and Best Nonfiction Book about New York by the Village Voice. On this episode of The Write Up, Calhoun discusses what inspired her to explore the history and influence of St. Marks Place. We touch on issues of gentrification, the complicated politics of place, and the reasons three square blocks have influenced the cultural history of a nation… Best of all, Calhoun shares her unbridled enthusiasm about discovering the colorful and complicated individuals that have populated St. Marks. Saintly poets, larger-than-life gangsters, hippies, hipsters, beatniks and Beastie Boys all take the stage as we discuss her fascinating book.” Listen to it here.