How to Shop at the Strand (or any good bookstore) with Michael Orthofer & Tyler Cowen

How to Shop at the Strand (or any good bookstore) with Michael Orthofer & Tyler Cowen


If I were to ask myself who are the
individuals I envy, high on my list would be Michael Orthofer. Michael is a man on what some would consider to be an insane quest as someone who is trying to read every
significant novel that has been written. Tyler: So what’s your algorithm exactly?You walk in the door and obviously there are far far far too many books here than you
could just paw through so you have some set of rules or
principles that tell you where to go Michael: Well, I do focus very much on fiction. I
stop by the new book table right up front Michael: The just arrived fiction! Tyler: This may be one of the I three buy -“The Goldfinch”, Donna Tartt Michael: I was thumbs down Michael: Preceding the end of the world Tyler: That’s a fantastic book. Isabel Allende – too sentimental, too simple. Tyler: Oh I’ve ordered this but it hasn’t come yet! Yeah, I ordered it because of you, in fact, so thank you. Michael: Very good. Tyler: It’s Cuban science fiction. Right, Don’t we all want to read Cuban science fiction? Michael: The cover for example… Tyler: It feels drippy. MIchael: It is very drippy Tyler: British covers are much better, in my opinion. Michael: Yes. Tyler: So you’ve looked at this table. I take it
your conclusion is you’re buying nothing. Michael: Making the turn. I still have to see the other side. I also enjoyed the Alejandro Jodorowsky. Tyler: I’ll put this in my maybe I will buy pile. Tyler: You already have it, I take it? Michael: Yes. Michael: Then I usually head down the stairs for
the foreign book section because they also have a quite a large selection of used
French and German books. Here we have the whole French section which is
actually a very good one. They have an extensive French section. The German
section is relatively limited. Michael: Some of the translations… Tyler: Are bad, I think. Michael: Awful! Micheal: And not just bad, but
unconscionable. Tyler: Ah, this one you must already have. Arno Schmidt – Is this a good one? Michael: It’s a fascinating obsessive insight.
Tyler: This is the one that’s here. It will be one of my three. Three – zip, I’m beating you. Tyler: How about this? Michael: “La Comédie du pouvoir” Have you read it? Tyler: No, I haven’t, but if you read it you can then tell me about it. Tyler: This one I’ve never read. Classic Swiss novel, “Der grüne Heinrich” Tyler: Is it good? Michael: Ah… Tyler: That means no Tyler: Probably i’m distracting you so I’ll give you just a minute to pick something out and then i’ll ask
you about it. Do you agree with Susan Sontag? What do you think of Pevear and their translations? What’s your view of Neal Stephenson?
What’s your favorite Dante translation? Do you agree that the French have a
better understanding of what’s profound in Hollywood and American literature than we do? Michael: It’s very hard to pick. Feeling the time pressure now. Michael: The bulk of the time is spent right back
there where all the used fiction is because they’re the books
that really are harder to find generally. Michael: The nice thing about here is that you can
have the old books you have titled which are out of print and also I like that sort of the the fortuity of just falling into
something. I’m almost universally unimpressed by covers. Tyler: I can’t even read
what the title is. Michael: “Librarian” yes – problematic. Tyler: That’s a bad cover. Maybe I’ll make it
one of my three and do some triage in a moment. Tyler: This is a book you surely have an
opinion on. Michael: No, actually Tyler: Possible that it might
be one of your three? Michael: Absolutely, anything in dialogue I’m easily
won over. Tyler: And you thought we could bring Michael Orthofer to the Strand, and he could
find something he didn’t have, but in fact reality is proving otherwise. Michael: I can find many books I’ve never read. Tyler: Not that you want Tyler: Ok Michael, we’ve been shopping. We got
our books. We were allowed three. I’m greedy I took four, but tell us first about your
favorite of the three you bought. Michael: Well I think the one I’m most curious
about because the one I know the least about is “How We Cheat Each Other” by Odd Nerdum, which says six short stories although at this weight I think that those are rather
impressive short stories although it is limited writing on the page. But yes, you
you handed this to me Tyler: I figured it was your style. Long book, complex, puzzling. Michael: And also in dialogue, which I’m a sucker for novels
in dialogue and stories in dialogue so I’m very curious about that so I’m very
pleased that you did to pick this up and put this in my hands. Tyler: My favorite of what
I got, you put in my hands more or less and that’s Arno Schmidt. It’s a German book about Karl May who
is a German author who wrote a lot about the American Indians and there’s a
long-standing fascination in Germany about him and Schmidt has this
magnificent work coming out in translation I believe in September, which
you’ve done more to promote than anyone else and then here’s one of his weird, offbeat works about Karl May and there it was, how could I turn it down? Michael: All right, you also suggested this to me.
Françoise Giroud: “La Comédie du pouvoir” and yes this is actually more of a
mystery title so I’m very curious with an apparently political novel and I’m very curious to see what becomes of it.
Tyler: I eagerly await your review. “M Train”, Patti Smith. I like her music. It won a
National Book Award I saw it there. It was an impulse buy. I’d
actually not bought it for over a year up until now give or take. But here we go that was my
number two pick. Michael: Amazing restraint. My final pick was Scarlett Thomas, “The Seed Collectors”. She’s a British author who actually
started out with a crime series, but she writes these wonderful literary novels.
“The End of Mr. Y” is one of my favorites and this actually came out in Britain last year and there was quite a bit of talk and shock on the internet
that she originally couldn’t find an American publisher for it even though
she had done quite well with her books in America. And finally Soft Skull Press
recently came out with it so I’m very much looking forward to reading that. Tyler: And I
have a Russian novel “The Librarian”. Surely some kind of dystopia even though
it’s about a library believe it or not. And one that you
guided me to – Portuguese novelist, Gonçalo M. Tavares “Joseph Walser’s Machine”, which I know
nothing about except that you recommend it, and that’s always good enough reason
to buy. Tyler: When I go book shopping I usually take my ipad. I open it up. I look at it. This time I had Michael
and I never cracked it open once. Strand, I haven’t been here in 30 years. The same smell, which is wonderful. Much
more consumer friendly, which has its ups and downs, but I had a great time. It’s a
wonderful book store if you’re ever in Manhattan please do come to the Strand. Michael: The wonderful thing about the Strand, a bookstore this size is that you’re going to stumble
across something no matter where you go and as I did on the various floors
at the various stations and also some pleasant surprises. These were not books
that I was expecting maybe “The Seed Collectors” I might have expected to pick
up the other two certainly not and so it’s always great to come home with
something which you hadn’t planned on bringing home.

15 thoughts on “How to Shop at the Strand (or any good bookstore) with Michael Orthofer & Tyler Cowen

  1. Research beforehand. I am not swayed by covers altho a cover can give one a great impression of what is inside a book. A few times a year I allow myself to simply wander around the entire store looking for something new. Then I let my intuition guide me usually with great success!

  2. Wenn er "Sitara" von Arno Schmidt mitnimmt, sollte er sich vielleicht auch gleich als Referenztext eine Karl-May-Gesamtausgabe dazu kaufen …Der geschäftstüchtige Buchhändler hätte ihm dazu geraten… 😉

  3. yo man its danial tanvir from pakistan and i love the book shops of new york city like any thing.
    i love the strand and barnes and noble and i can spend hours looking at books over there on religion and philosophy.
    new york city rocks man!/.

  4. It's so nice to see people who enjoy complex, puzzling books. I'm so tired of booktubers going for the very easy, simple to read ones and really only talking up those.

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