I write at The Hungarian Pastry Shop. It’s on the Upper West Side in Manhattan, at the corner of 111th and Amsterdam, across the street from St. John the Divine. Tourist buses are always parking in front of the famous cathedral, though in my opinion they’ve actually come all this way to visit the Pastry Shop.
Some of us go every day. My spot is at the last table, end seat, between two wall lamps. It’s the best light in the room. Several published writers work here. I derive inspiration from just seeing them. However, the two people I miss most when they’re not here are Jeffrey and Michael.
We three trade manuscripts. A writer needs a reader. Jeffrey and I write fiction. His is dense and profound. Right now he’s enthralled with the style of Thomas Bernhard (Woodcutters), the Austrian writer of the ’50s and ’60s who takes his readers deep into the narrator’s mind and exposes him to dark confessions.
Michael writes nonfiction. His current book is about–well, I won’t give it away. Suffice it to say the essay has taught me a new adjective: Sartrean. Reading his work is not easy. What do I know about philosophy and existentialism? I have a loose philosophy of life, and I know I exist, but that’s about the extent of it. Fortunately, Michael is a clear and evocative writer.
I just finished critiquing the essay he’s working on. He wants the response of an average reader. (I’m very average.) Just when I’ve scribbled in the margin something like, “This paragraph is too abstract, where’s the” — I won’t give it away — he begins the next paragraph by bringing me back to the important little — we’ll have to fill in the blank after publication. It’s as if he’s clearing a path for me as I read. It’s also true that I’m anticipating where he’s going. We’re in close communication, the reader and writer, sensitive to what each other might be understanding or misunderstanding. He’s writing good exposition, and I’m doing a good job of following. (It’s called reading carefully.) Just when I think I’ve lost him, or he’s lost me, we take a bend in the road and I see we’re together after all.
I’m off to the Hungarian Pastry Shop. I hope Jeffrey and Michael are there. I’m waiting for the next chapter of Jeffrey’s novel. I’ve e-mailed him mine. Soon we’ll sit at one of the little tables and read and talk.