Oral Fixation: This Week’s Book Events Give New Meaning to “Reader’s Digest”


Jami Attenberg and Teddy Wayne
Pete’s Candy Store
Thursday, 7:30 p.m., free
But speaking of eating yourself to death, the central character of Jami Attenberg’s most recent novel The Middlesteins (Grand Central Publishing) struggles with just that very prospect. The morbidly obese Edie loses her job and her husband, not to mention health, due to excessive weight gain, leaving her–problematically, you might imagine–with food as her one remaining source of comfort. Far from a Lifetime channel horror show, Attenberg manages the subject with compassion and a non-mocking sense of humor. Instead she focusses on Edie’s Jewish family and their strong ties in response to tragedy, creating an interwoven narrative that feels sort of epic in a stark-beauty-of-the-suburban-hellscape type of way. Tonight she’ll read alongside Teddy Wayne, author of The Love Song of Jonny Valentine (Free Press).

Benjamin Lytal
PowerHouse Arena
Thursday, 7 p.m., free
Every teenager has that one, like, really and truly magnificent summer. When you don’t need drugs or alcohol or cigarettes to be happy–but you have plenty anyway–and when your hometown doesn’t even seem all that bad–but you have fun hating it anyway. For former New Yorker staffer Benjamin Lytal, the setting is his native Oklahoma. In his debut novel A Map of Tulsa (Penguin), he portrays the rite of passage through an unlikely couple who meet and fall in love on the late ’90s music scene. Of course, tragedy and the siren song of New York eventually pull them apart, but all the real hardcore romanticizing here is directed squarely at the Midwestern city. Lytal will read and launch the book tonight.

Mary Roach
Barnes & Noble Union Square
Tonight, 7 p.m., free
Science writing is hard. One the one hand, it’s those complicated hypotheses and no-shit-grade equations that really give it the meaty factual umph. But on the other, you’ve got to keep it sexy. And by sexy we mean kind of gross. And that’s exactly what Mary Roach does. The pop-science queen is following up her bestsellers Bonk (sex!), Stiff (death!), and Spook (ghosts!) with Gulp (basically, shit!) [W.W. Norton & Co.]. In this newest collection of weird science tales, she travels down the alimentary canal, from eating to digesting to the thing you do after you’re done digesting. Always best when honing in on peculiarities, Roach delves and dissects to reveal why we like the foods we like, how to survive being swallowed alive, the process of eating yourself to death, and the long, very serious history of flatulence research. She’ll read and discuss with cookbook author Ted Allen. You might want to hold off on dinner.

Constance Rosenblum
Book Court
Monday, 7 p.m., free
Sitting in any one of the walk-in-closet-sized hovels that we bust our respective asses to pay rent on, most New Yorkers don’t really contemplate apartment interiors beyond how much we’d like to get ourselves out of them. That’s why we need Rosenblum’s new collection of essays, Habitats (New York University Press). The former Times editor effectively assumes the role of the best real estate broker ever, taking readers to tour the full range of city dwellings from opulent park side mansions to the most shiver-producing low income housing projects. She’s scouts all five boroughs to reveal the extremes of urban living, but also meditate on what it takes to make this place home. Hint: collapsible Ikea furniture. Tonight she’ll read and join in a discussion panel with Benjamin Shapiro and Joel Hinman.

Rayya Elias and Elizabeth Gilbert
Barnes & Noble Tribeca
Tuesday, 6 p.m., free
People always ask us: Why do hipsters hate other hipsters? Here’s the short answer: guilt. Because deep down, every Northern Brooklynite knows that there’s something lacking in this particular wave of youthful rebellion, something we try really really hard to emulate–actual danger. Take Rayya Elias. In her new post-punk-era coming out/drug recovery memoir Harley Loco (Viking) she recounts homelessness, heroin addiction, hairdressing (a paid job, not an internship), and messy bisexual love affairs without a trace of self-pity. After fleeing Syria as a child, Elias spent her early adulthood roving a Lower East Side where mugging was still a thing–and one of the less awful things that could happen in a night. And so, consequently, the dirt and blood and grime make her story all the more glamorous to read. Effortlessly hip. She’ll sit down with Eat, Pray, Love author Elizabeth Gilbert and discuss.