Arts & Culture

Can Sophie’s Choice Be Me?

Paul Auster, widely regarded as one of the most respected writers in the world of confusing, existential meta-narratives, promoted his newest book, Travels in the Scriptorium, at the Union Square Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York City. The event … Read More

By / February 7, 2007

Paul Auster, widely regarded as one of the most respected writers in the world of confusing, existential meta-narratives, promoted his newest book, Travels in the Scriptorium, at the Union Square Barnes & Noble bookstore in New York City. The event was part of the company’s "Upstairs in the Square" series, and was broadcast both on FM radio and through a live internet datastream. As an added bonus to anyone who likes foxy literary chicks who can sing, Paul Auster’s daughter, Sophie was in attendence to promote her new CD with band "One Ring Zero." From what I understand, she’s being lauded as a "cult sensation" in France. Which is appropriate since she’s only nineteen. (Says Izzy, "Nineteen? I’m pretty sure she’s older than that. She’s in college with my brother! She’s got to be like… twenty.")

The evening started out promisingly, with an exceedingly cramped room full of sweaty (and therefore smelly) modern literature nutjobs. I guess I’d be sweaty, too, if I was physically trapped in a bookstore with an inextinguishable sexual attraction to the word "Author’s Foreward."

Things started to spiral drastically out of control, however, when emcee Katherine Lanpher took the mic. Apparently, she hosts all the "Upstairs in the Square" events. It was kind of like having your genial, creepily religious, overweight neighbor Mrs. Kravitz hosting the town Chili Cookoff, except instead of it being a cookoff, it was a radio book reading by Paul Auster and his daughter, and instead of you being able to go play frisbee with your friends so you don’t have to hear her, you are bound in place by a throng of fanatical literary cosmopolitans. It was very similar.

Anyway, my point is that Katherine Lanpher was an obnoxious host; she interrupted Mr. Auster mid-sentence, patronized him and the crowd, and asked nonsensical music questions to his daughter. When told that Sophie would be singing a song with lyrics penned by her father: "What was the hardest part about singing songs written by your dad?" Sophie’s response: "Uh… Nothing."

Auster’s book at least sounds interesting. It’s about a character in a story being written by guy in a book that’s being either read (or written. I don’t remember. Possibly both.) by an old man who is alone in a room. I enjoyed the parts Auster read, but usually these moments were immediately soured by more inane chatter from Lanpher.

In between the questions and the readings, Sophie Auster and the One Ring Zero boys performed a few songs. One Ring Zero, famous for playing the claviola, is a two-person band composed of Michael Hearst and Joshua Camp. They are classified as a "lit-rock" band, which means their songs don’t have choruses, they abstain from all drink except absinthe, and they look like pasty middle schoolers with costume facial hair. They met up with Sophie Auster one day, presumably while lounging around eating grapes at her family’s Park Slope home, when they realized that their sex appeal alone was not good enough to sell the band.

Sophie turned out to have a full, beautiful, voice, though unbecoming of her young age. When she stood up to sing, I watched her in awe. It was like the whole world had stopped for one moment, the lights had dimmed, and the room had been illuminated only by her phantasmagoric radiance. I stood in silence, as did she, as if the only two people that had ever existed were she and I. I vowed then that by the end of the night, she would be mine.

A little while later the whole thing bookchat/concert ended, and Sophie was hurried off the stage, most likely to go underaged-drinking at Heartland Brewery down the block.

It was suddenly as if the only two people that had ever existed were me and someone else. Someone who wasn’t Sophie Auster.

I grabbed a book (The Book of Illusions, luckily a Paul Auster novel), and headed to the book-signing queue. I was standing there not more than ten seconds when a very tall man in a crewcut approached me. "Hey," he said. "I’m Tony."

"Hi, Tony."

"Listen, can you hold my books? I gotta run out for a second."

"Okay, Tony."

I went back to waiting, but soon found myself in conversation with these two girls behind me. "Do you like Paul Auster?" they asked me.

"I guess."

"How long is this line?" one asked.

"I don’t know."

"Can you go check? I’ll hold your place," she said.

"Okay. Can you hold my book?" I asked. "And Tony’s?"

"Sure," she said. And I went to go find out how long the line was (long), thinking that it was as if there were only three people who had ever existed: me and these two girls. Gradually, that train of thought got the best of me, and the rest of the conversation was very awkward until the Gestapo-like Barnes & Noble staff separated us, mercifully.

I next found myself seated next to a very quiet, very pleasant, gigantically tall young woman. After a few moments of silence, she asked me, "Do you think they’ll let me take a picture with him?" in a heavy but intelligible accent.

I told her I thought they would, and asked her where she was from.

"Germany," she said. Just my luck. The conversation went well, with only mild awkwardness when I tried to explain where I worked.

"Uh, it’s called Jewcy. With a J-E-W. That spells ‘Jew.’ It’s a Jewish magazine. I’m not Jewish."

She looked at me with great determination, and I felt myself getting red. "Is this girl one of the good Germans, or the bad ones?" I asked myself. "Why isn’t she responding? She’s going to gas you."

"And how many people work in this company?" she asked, looking relieved that she had finally found the right words. I was relieved, too. That she wasn’t an antisemite. That I hadn’t made any Holocaust references. That this all had stayed in my inner monologue (until now).

We talked easily for a few moments more. When I disparaged the emcee, the German girl described her as "very American." Then we reached Paul Auster’s table. I offered to take my new Teutonic friend’s picture with the author, but a little Barnes & Noble gnome jumped out from behind me shouting, "No pictures with Mr. Auster, sir! Mr. Auster cannot pose for any photos." Stupid Americans.

"Smile," I said, stepping aside. The picture came out well, with her beaming and Paul Auster looking down at someone else’s book, and I came to believe that maybe there were, in fact, only two people that had ever existed: Paul Auster and the German girl.

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