Jhumpa Lahiri at Barnes & Noble

I’ve been to a lot of readings so far, but never to one that was so toughly organized as the one with Jhumpa Lahiri at Barnes & Noble at Union Square. Priya had recommended to get there early and that was a good advice.

The event was scheduled for 7 pm. Soh Ang and I had agreed upon meeting at B&N at 6 pm and when we got there we were not allowed to take a seat. They had two seating areas. One right in front of the stage with comfortable seats, one behind that with simple white plastic chairs. Both were fenced off by barrier tapes and guarded by women in navy suits and red ties. Security girls. People who could show a receipt, proving that they had bought the book from Barnes & Noble, were admitted in, others not. We were told the area with the white chairs would be opened to the public in case they would not be filled up by people with a book receipt, but we would have to wait. So we formed a line and waited patiently. At 6:20 they told us we would be admitted in at 6:30. As we were among the first ones in line we managed to get a seat in the first row of white chairs and had a good view from there.
Jhumpa Lahiri first read a passage from her new book – The Lowland – than she was asked questions by the moderator (who was Indian as well and difficult to understand). They did not allow questions from the public.
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The book is set in Calcutta and Rhode Island (where Lahiri grew up) and is about two brothers. One of them is killed in the Naxalite rebellion in Calcutta in the 1960s. The other one marries his widow and moves to America. It made me curious, because it is about something I never heard of.
After the event Jhumpa Lahiri signed books. People who wanted their book signed were asked to remain seated, they would be called row by row. I had brought my copy of “The Interpreter of Maladies” and of course I wanted it signed. The barrier tape in front of us was closed again. I asked one of the guard if we could have books signed as well. She said yes, but the people in front first. So again I waited patiently. When it was my row’s turn they came and wrote people’s name on Post-its, but ignored me. When I asked, I was told that I had an old book and could not have it signed. I got angry. I absolutely agree that B&N has the right to define rules for their events, especially if it is a free event. But they should announce their rules and not keep people waiting for something they could not get.

Not much happened during the day. I had to do laundry once more and went there around noon, thinking that would be a good time. It was not. The place was really busy. People were not just washing one load but their whole closet apparently. I had to wait for a machine. The major language was Spanish. The worker in charge was Chinese and he was listening to Chinese radio on his laptop while folding people’s towels. Just three other people spoke English, a man and woman, probably neighbors who helped each other folding sheets and chatted very loudly and an African American woman in a business suit and high heels who chased the Chinese man around. She wanted to know how much one machine is, she needed change, she needed detergent, powder first, then liquid, she needed a garbage can. All in a very commanding tone and a volume that made everybody listen. I guess she had not used a Laundromat for quite a long time. Maybe her own machine was broken or her house maid was on holiday.

My cats were very affectionate and wanted to be with me. Lie on my bed when I was lying there, sit on the armchair when I was sitting there. Step over and on my computer when I tried to use it. At least Astor. Pepper is happy with my just being around and providing fresh water now and then.

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