Monday, October 08, 2007

Brooklyn Lit Life: Sarah Weinman

This might sound silly, but maybe not all Brooklynites live in Brooklyn. I know Sarah Weinman, subject of today's interview, from the blogging world -- she's a member emeritus of the Litblog Co-Op -- but over the past year we've had coffee at Gorilla and run into each other at various Brooklyn and Manhattan events, and had great discussions about the possibilities for literature (and bookstores) in the borough. As a crime fiction critic, I feel she's got a great sense of place and atmosphere, and I'm proud to include her in the Brooklyn Lit Life project under her moniker of choice: "Sarah Weinman, faux-Brooklynite."

Brooklyn Lit Life Interview
Sarah Weinman

Describe your particular literary project, and your role in it.

I'm a freelance writer and wear a number of hats. I co-edit GalleyCat,'s publishing industry news blog; I write monthly crime fiction columns for the LA Times Book Review and the Baltimore Sun; I contribute to a number of other publications including the Philadelphia Inquirer, Poets & Writers and Time Out New York; and I blog about crime and mystery fiction at my own site, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind.

Why Brooklyn? What made you decide to live/work here, in both practical and emotional terms?

Here I must confess I am a Manhattanite, living in close proximity to Columbia, but I'm a frequent visitor to Brooklyn and wish I spent more time hanging out in Prospect Park on an almost daily basis.

Is there a Brooklyn sensibility or character? How would you describe it? How does it differ from the character of New York City as a whole?

Like most of New York, Brooklyn seems to be composed of a number of disparate neighborhoods. Park Slope is totally different from Boerum Hill which is totally different from Canarsie which is totally different from Williamsburg. It's easier to raise a family and live - at least by NY standards - relatively modestly. Generally Brooklyn is more bullshit-free than Manhattan, but when there's bullshit, it's at epic proportions.

What about your particular neighborhood? Does it have its own unique character? This can include the kinds of people you tend to find there, particular characters or places that epitomize the neighborhood, etc.

I spend most of my time in Prospect Lefferts Gardens if I'm out in Brooklyn and the more time I spend there the more I love it. Reminds me of my own neighborhood, Manhattan Valley, for its ethnic diversity, neighborhood vibe and complete lack of Starbucks, Bank of America or Duane Reade.

What do you think of the direction Brooklyn, or at least your neighborhood, is going? What does the future look like in terms of economics, demographics, culture, and other changes?

From what I can see of PLG, it's gentrifying but at a slower pace than the rest of the borough. That's because of housing constraints, and there are things I wish were present - okay, a sushi restaurant, sue me - but once the Big Three step in, we're in trouble.

Is there a Brooklyn literary sensibility? Which writers or works most emblematize Brooklyn for you? Which older writers set the tone? Which contemporary writers are you reading with interest?

The funny thing is, even though there are so many Brooklyn-based writers, I'm not sure what the sensibility is. More family oriented, not necessarily. More urban? Maybe. I guess Paula Fox and Jonathan Lethem best encapsulate Brooklyn, with lots in between.

Why do you think Brooklyn has such a dense population of writers? Is there something particularly literary about Brooklyn? Where and how do people read here?

I would guess it's because a) it's cheaper than Manhattan, though who knows for how long b) it feels more like a neighborhood c) where several writers are, more will follow.

What events, series, readings, happenings, places, stores, publications, movements, etc. seem to you currently interesting or important in the Brooklyn literary world? What do you think would make Brooklyn better as a literary place? What does the borough still need? What are the opportunities and challenges it faces?

Well the Book Festival is a good start. A bookstore like what you imagine would be fantastic. Maybe just an increased sense of community and goodwill.

Imagine the ideal Brooklyn bookstore or literary venue, a place you'd like to read on your own or participate in literary community. What would it be like? What would it avoid?

Flippant answer: no hipsters, just genuine love of books. Real answer: Well, a sense of the genuine is important, because what should be primary in everything is the love of books. I like the idea of an airy space, where people can meet and have book clubs and discussions and there's a sense of comfort and easygoing nature. Grassroots, built from the ground up, that sort of thing.


Anonymous said...

There is a duane reede in PLG and there is about to be a sushi restaurant (, but it's still the best kept secret neighborhood in BK!

Sarah Weinman said...

The sushi restaurant has, in fact, opened - it's not bad, but not spectacular. The Duane Reade I have not seen. Perhaps my blinders are on?

Anonymous said...

That bookstore? We have it at the Community Bookstore on Seventh Avenue in Park Slope. Long may it live.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, the sushi restaurant isn't anything to write home about. And there is most definitely a Duane Reade down Flatbush. But who needs that when there's a fab indie pharmacy on Flatbush and Lincoln?