The Club Asks a Question: A Story of the Brooklyn Book Festival in Seven Parts

This past Sunday, the sun was shining, the birds were chirping, and the literati were congregating out on Cadman Plaza. The Brooklyn Book Festival was back, ready to present some of the best works and brightest stars in literary fiction, and take all our money (3 paperbacks for $20? Be still my heart).

We (DD, DR, and later MV) arrived at Borough Hall bright and early to take in a full day of idol worshipping and fangirling over new books that will grow our TBR lists from unfeasible to preposterous. Literary tote bags dangled from the arms of everyone milling about the plaza. I’m surprised we got in at all without New Yorker tote bags, the identification of choice for NYC’s literarily inclined (I always want to ask if they actually read it, or skim the headlines and pretend like they do). As we panel hopped our way into the late afternoon, we gathered some useful tidbits that we happily share with you:


  • New York Times Critics and Editor Panel: We learned that we should all expand our literary taste buds and read more works that challenge us (I believe Dwight called the sixth and final addition to My Struggle “chewy”).
  • The Feminist Future of Fiction: We learned that it is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea to put an empanada truck in spitting distance from an outdoor panel. Because our stomachs will growl louder than the trucks rumbling down Court Street, and we will have to leave the panel early to acquire their doughy, savory goodness.
  • Is the Business Model Good for Politics: We learned that everything is fine, and that we could never imagine ourselves tracking the minutiae of someone else’s life like these biographers do. Their work is seriously impressive.
  • Dystopias of the Patriarchy: We learned that, for some, these events are perfect moments to bond as a couple. I’m talking about the two individuals sitting in the second row who canoodled for the entire 45-minute panel. We’re all very confused, and a little concerned.
  • Tayari Jones and Jennifer Egan In Conversation: The most obvious thing we learned was that these women are goddesses. But of the many gems they shared with the audience, one piece from Tayari stuck with me. It’s advice she give students who are nervous about the response their work might elicit: “Don’t worry what other people think. Nobody’s thinking anything.” And that is liberating.


Possibly the most important lesson we learned that day was having a suspicion of ours confirmed: old men can’t ask questions.

Some can. But many ramble. They explain the thought process behind their question to illustrate how intelligent they are. They ask their question. And then they start to answer it themselves. Or, even better: they use the Q&A at the end of a panel to pretend to be a panelist themselves, commanding the floor for five minutes to express their feelings on a particular issue.

Case(s) in point: During the NYT panel, two separate men in the audience asked how the critics balance their reviews between mainstream, corporate publishing, and smaller, independent presses. They asked this while disparaging massive publishing houses and sharing their dismay that their works had never been published by them (I can’t imagine why, but we wish them the best of luck). Later, a gentleman asked a seven-part question at the Dystopias panel on the role of the artist in our current political climate that said more about how smart he thought he was, than communicated an actual question. When the next person, an intelligent woman, asked the authors how they balance anger and empathy for their characters in their stories in ONE SENTENCE, they didn’t know how to answer. It was that much of a shock.


We, on the other hand, behaved like cultured women. Which is why, at the end of the day, I forced them to take pictures. Because if we didn’t Instagram it, did it actually happen?

Behold, the instas:







But First, The Club Takes a Shelfie

Jane Austen wrote in Pride & Prejudice, “I shall be miserable if I have not an excellent library.” Truer words, friends. Up until recently, my books, and MV’s, were scattered across our apartment. They were on a single IKEA bookcase, tucked into unreachable corners of the living room, and shoved under nightstands in stacks that threatened to topple the furniture. And then, a miracle appeared in the form of another matching IKEA bookcase, magically transported and installed to mirror the existing piece (and by magic, I mean our Dad trucked it in from dirty Jerz and mounted it to the wall. He’s the best.).

The shelves are not organized by the Dewey Decimal System, or any system for that matter. They’re shelved in the order they were pulled from the moving boxes and the piles on the floor. The only design element is a small stack of paperbacks in the middle of a top shelf, which is also home to a framed picture (because I ran out of shelf space for that too).

Nothing quite illustrates the lengths we go to create any kind of space for our libraries like Sloane Crosley’s Virtues of Shelf-lessness, her recent NYT essay on her chosen method of storage: the moldings that frame the ceilings of her apartment. Last month’s author has created what she calls a “sentimental library” along the moldings, a system that catalogs titles based not only on the feeling they evoked upon the first reading, but also the location within the apartment that best matches it. For example: books that inspire are housed near the desk, while books that entertain and relax live above the couch (my question: what goes in the bathroom?).

However, most of us don’t have those desirable pre-war fixtures in our hobbit holes. So here, we share with you: our shelfies, in all their organized, chaotic, postmodern glory (you’ll understand at the end).





Like all things in my life, my bookshelf is organized chaos. I keep the books I’m reading and books I want to read next on my nightstand shelves. Once I’ve read a book, I move it to the living room bookshelves. There are a variety of genres on my bookshelf, and there is only one method of organization- squeeze all the books in until they fit.




Right after college I moved home with my parents, and there my books were mostly organized by when I read them (similar to what Sloane Crosley says in her article) but when I packed up my books to move into the city in 2015, I wanted them to look neater so I organized by color in my first apartment and it stuck! Right now color is the only organizing principle, but I keep a small stack of books that I’m currently reading or need to read in my room and off the shelves (these books shelves are in our common living room area.) Plus library books go on living room ottoman, and stacks of to-be-read New Yorkers are on the chairs near the book shelves, ha!! 




AM calls this work of art “No Frills, Just Adventures.” The cataloging method: “[a] loose width order, only because my OCD will not allow for a larger book to be above a smaller one.”




If there were ever a manifestation of my commitment issues, this would be it. Here is my beautiful, hypothetical shelfie. I shit you not, the tape has been there for 2 months and will stay there as I debate the placement of the shelves for another 6. 


[The books] live under my nightstand and in a cube thing in the hall. The cube is hard to photograph, so here is my nightstand. Big dreams to one day pull the damn trigger on my fear of permanence by way of drilling holes into my wall so that my books have a place to live.

I’ll give you one guess who among us is a professional photographer.


Sloane ends her essay by reflecting on her desire to inflict order on her “shelves.” Maybe she should organize her books alphabetically, or chronologically. Or maybe, she realizes, she already has everything she needs. I tend to agree with her. A lived-in “shelf” is far more personal than a curated, Instagrammable collection meant to impress a critic. Author Tahereh Mafi has said “I love walking into a bookstore. It’s like all my friends are sitting on shelves, waving their pages at me.” I’d to imagine that our books are friends, cozying up to each other to make room for that one book you just had to get from the $1 bin and shove onto the shelf. Because what are books, if not our most loyal companions?

Well, wine is up there too. But books are definitely in the top five. We’re not totally depraved.