Friday March 20th, 2009

Lethem Recommends a Fellow Brooklynite

28007166Last night, I was browsing in a neighborhood bookstore with a friend. I looked at the two or three shelves that the store has reserved for the New York Review of Books imprint (which brings back, in handsome volumes, lost classics and curiosities), and we had the following conversation:

Me: I’d like to have a feature on the site where someone reviews all of the books in the NYRB series one at a time, kind of like that one guy does with the Criterion Collection.
Friend: Yeah, that’s not gonna happen.
Me: Why? Because there are too many of them?
Friend: Yes, there are too many.
Me: Well, maybe it could be more than one person reviewing them.
Friend: Now that’s an idea.

An idea for another day, surely. For now, I’m interested in L.J. Davis’ A Meaningful Life, which NYRB published last week with an introduction by Jonathan Lethem. Lethem grew up down the block from Davis in Brooklyn, and was friends with his son, Jeremy. The entire introduction can be read here. A taste:

L.J., by refusing to blur the paradoxes of racial and class misunderstanding in idealist sentiment, was “un-PC” before there was such a thing. By being so, he turned some of his neighbors against him, exemplifying a loneliness he, from evidence of his books, already felt as a innate life condition. That he also chose with his wife to adopt two black daughters to raise in his brownstone alongside their two white sons is a fact that still stirs me in its strangeness and beauty. I remember thinking even as a teenager that L.J. had made his home a kind of allegory of the neighborhood as a whole, perhaps partly in order that he might refuse to stand above or apart from it. Then again, with characteristic dryness (unforgivable in the eyes of some local parents), L.J. once awarded a friend of mine and Jeremy’s the Dickensian nickname “Muggable Tim,” and recommended we avoid walking the streets with him. When after thirty-odd years of personal shame at such stuff I finally managed to open my mouth in The Fortress of Solitude, I had L.J. to thank.