Last night J. Courtney Sullivan, co-ed of Click and author of Commencement, and I went to see Nicole Krauss and Cynthia Ozick read at the 92nd Street Y. The first thing that I noticed, as I settled into my seat and took a deep breath, was that I rarely go hear people read anymore, especially from novels. The act of sitting there and simply listening–with no visual entertainment, no humor or hijinks–is something I don’t do enough. It requires a certain level of attention that I want to keep cultivating.
My one irritation of the night, I have to say, was Nicole Krauss’ false modesty. She came out on stage and immediately talked about how surely everyone was there to see Cynthia, not her, and she was shocked to find that there was a line of people who wanted her book signed, and on and on. This is a woman whose second novel, written when she was just in her late 20s, went on to become an international bestseller. If you haven’t read A History of Love, do not delay. It is one of the first books I’ve ever read that, upon finishing, I literally wanted to turn to page one and start all over. This is a woman whose recent book, Great House, was reviewed on the front cover of the New York Times, featuring a picture of her. Is her success so overwhelming to her that she feels the need to diminish it? Is it a gendered thing? Would her equally celebrated and successful husband, Jonathan Safran Foer, have done so much self-effacing banter before launching into his reading?
Krauss’ reading, nonetheless, was gorgeous–a contemplation of death and parenthood and memory. Just beautiful. Cynthia Ozick was delightfully funny and seemingly un-phased by her own success. She read a really funny section from her new novel, Foreign Bodies, that had everyone giggling–particularly at the descriptions of an American teenage guy in Paris in the early 50s, trying to live a romantic literary life. Ozick takes delicious aim at those who have unexamined privilege, the “lords of the world,” as she put it. I thoroughly enjoyed her work.
The evening ended with a Q&A with both of them. It was fun to see two women on different ends of the career spectrum be so smart and collaborative and funny together. With all the talk about intergenerational divisions, these two women read beautiful work and shared the stage, it seemed, quite happily. They honored one another in wonderful, little ways.