Out To Lunch

Noon-time nap at the Central Park Zoo

Which reminds me of that old joke.

“What do you like best about your job?”


Yet, it is glorious being outdoors for that precious hour between noon and one o’clock, soaking up the greenery inside this splendid park, a mere two-minute walk from my job.

Each Monday through Friday, it’s just me and the polar bears, my cheese sandwich and a book. Seated on an oak bench enveloped in the shade a flowering crabapple tree, I nibble on the cheddar, sip my complementary workplace coffee, and read.

Recently, the book was The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Shine. I’d hitched onto a library queue of considerable length — 157 readers long — and waited over a month or so before it arrived at my library.

For the most part, it was worth the wait. Big-hearteded and warm, it’s the story of a 70-something, well-heeled Jewish woman (as in: multi-room co-op on Central Park West) whose husband leaves her for a younger woman. As a result of the divorce, she is forced out of the apartment. The trophy wife moves in with her wizened better half.

But, all is not lost. She is offered a place to stay by an avuncular close relation. Accompanied by two adult daughters, who are going through life changes of their own, they all move into this family “cottage” in Westport, CT. A protracted slumber party ensues.

Yes, Wesport, CT, you heard right. So…don’t cry for me, Argentina. We should all be so miserable.

For about three-quarters of the book, I was thoroughly engaged. The writing is funny, heartfelt, smart. But, then, my interest began to wane. Primarily because I saw the ending coming from a mile away and prayed the author wouldn’t go there, or there, or there.

What a disappointment when she did, she did, she did. Tying up all the characters’ lives into a neat little bow, just so. A shame, because Shine is a good writer. A shame for me, anyway. Maybe you don’t agree.

The Strand outpost on Fifth Ave.

Shine’s book notwithstanding, all most definitely was not lost. Near the entrance to Central Park, The Strand bookstore has had this little outpost here for decades. In case you don’t know it, their main store is downtown on Broadway near 12th Street. 18 miles of books, claims their slogan. Worth a visit, definitely.

Looking for something new to read as I awaited the arrival of the next book on my library queue, I stopped at the outpost to browse their sidewalk tables, which were crammed with an eclectic, literary selection of used and discounted books. Many posts ago, I think I mentioned how enchanted I was with Colm Toibin’s latest novel Brooklyn. I’m still haunted by the story and its characters. I find myself thinking about it when I least expect it.

For me, that’s a measure of a good book.

Anyway, during my browsing I happened to come across, of all things, a copy of Toibin’s very first novel, titled The South. He wrote it while in his thirties.

I snatched it up for a couple of dollars. He’s a marvelous writer. The prose is sensitively wrought, spare yet dense, compassionate and warm without being treacly, which I’ve found to be so characteristic of the Irish, as a people. In both novels, he is writing from a woman’s POV — and he’s astoundingly good at it.

Toibin is becoming my new favorite writer. I can’t wait to read more of him.

Coincidentally, during that same browse fest at The Strand, I came across a book I’d not heard of by my old favorite writer, Paul Auster, called A Man in the Dark. Bought it, too.

And how could I leave without picking up the essay collection I found stacked next to it, by Joan Didion (it’s called After Henry). It’s an older volume of hers, but it is new to me.

Last but not least, a slim vintage paperback by James M. Cain (of The Postman Always Rings Twice fame) caught my eye. Particularly its hand-painted cover. The title? Jealous Woman.

And it reads just like a Bogey and Bacall movie, Sweetheart. Fabulous.

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