Saturday, January 10, 2009

Brazenhead Books: Unassuming Ornery Literary Utopia

Every once in a while you can catch yourself in a moment of contentment about one's station in life, the realization that, "Holy mackerel! This is really happening to me." A moment of realizing that you are in fact engaged in the life you always imagined for yourself as an indignant young person in too- big clothes in the post- industrial wasteland Worcester, Massachusetts. And these are, well, precious moments.

Brazenhead Books on the Upper East Side is a 500 square foot haven of schoolgirl dreams. Proprietor Michael Seidenberg has been in the book business for a while now. Yeah, he and his shop were recently profiled by some rag, the New Yorker, or whatever, yeah he saw some Jonathan Lethem's early career as a shop boy/ 'round the way ingenue, blah blah blah, but these credentials do not enlighten the vast charisma of this fellow, which is to say he is charismatic as fuck. First of all, he has one of those New Yawk accents that are veritably unknown to individuals born after 1975, kind of like Elenore Roosevelt crossed with a shoeshine boy/ newsie and put into the throat of a man missing a tooth with salt and pepper hair.

A good portion is uttered in that accent is quotable. Second to writing in this illustrious publication, my first favorite pastime is eavesdropping. I eavesdropped on a conversation Seidenberg had with a friend in which he explained exasperatedly how to use a rice maker. "First you put two cups of rice into the machine. Then you fill it up with water to the line that's between one and three!" Seidenberg sounds like the kind of kid who would have played stickball in Brooklyn with hooligans in short pants and high tops named Seamus O'Grady and Spuds Vinacelli, but I would venture to say he probably read Nabokav and got crushes on girls and planned a cross country trip to California. In short, the kind of fictional, speculative, bespectacled boy I adore!

How dismayed you are! A bookshop is not a cult of personality! So since it's a bookshop, the prodigious books within are for sale, which didn't even dawn on me as I spent like three hours there leaning and talking. The place is so disarming that it feels like you've just stumbled into an finicky eccentric's closet of crap, except all the books are handpicked by Seidenberg himself, so crap they are not. Nary a chick lit title or a book starring a dog or featuring recipes as an extended metaphor, this place is the anti- Borders. This is a space where you can actually mine a small coal compound of something without having set out to do so, a place you can smoke, a place you can interact with other humans. In short, it is a place where you can revive that rusty lever and pulley you once knew as your imagination. And how fortunate I felt the other night to be leaning up against a wall of books full of history, in a time and place that I had imagined for myself, someday, someday.

Del Gaizo and Seidenberg: National treasures in a moment of repose.


alison c said...

hi! do you have a phone number or email address for Mr. Seidenberg? How does one make an appointment to visit his shop?

Paloma Zenaida said...

hey alison... feel free to email:
have no fear, he is slightly less savage than his appearance suggests, but he will hypnotize you because he is a beatnik, and that's hypnotizing!

alison c said...

thanks so much Paloma! I really appreciate the info and the tip--he does appear a bit intimidating ;)