Book Stalker Julia Bartz on Literary Events in New York City

Julia BartzJulia Bartz is a vital facet of New York City’s literary event scene as both blogger and reader. For over a year she has shared reading recaps, interviews with authors and event coordinators, and weekly literary listings on Book Stalker, her blog. She is also a fiction writer, and can be found at several literary events each week, as well as on Twitter.

What is Book Stalker? When and why did you start it?
BookStalker’s my blog, though I’m delighted that it has also become my second moniker (“Julia the Bookstalker”) and a verb (“I’ve been bookstalked!”). Back in February 2011 I was wracking my brains to come up with an exciting, somewhat unique blog idea. I wanted it to relate to my love of writing, but I thought it’d be boring to write about myself (“Wrote 1500 words today. Good day.“). It finally hit me that I should be writing about all the readings I was already attending.

I find literary events fascinating, especially those involving authors I’ve already formed a picture of based on their writing. Plus, there’s always the potential for weird stuff to happen—awkward questions, public urination, etc. I thought that people who couldn’t make certain events (for scheduling and/or geographical reasons) might enjoy experiencing them second-hand.

What makes a literary event attractive to you?
A talented upcoming or established writer. A fun, interactive crowd. A reading or discussion that makes time fly by. And, uh, free beer and wine.

What has been your most memorable event?
In February I celebrated BookStalker’s one-year anniversary by sharing ten of my most memorable literary moments. It’s tough to pick one, but the event with Emma Straub shifted my perspective from seeing authors as distant, public figures to friendly people who might live in my neighborhood. Plus, Emma’s parents signed my book, so that was cool.

What event do you still kick yourself for missing?
I try to mentally block out all that I’ve missed, as I inevitably miss a lot. A week or two ago I missed Lauren Groff, Patti Smith, Sugar of The Rumpus and Cheryl Strayed, all in one week. I always tell myself I’ll see them the next time around.

Favorite venue(s) and reading series? Why?
I feel so lucky to have access to well-established indie bookstores that pull in big authors but also offer quirky panels and debut launch parties. I love them all, but a few that I can always rely on for good times are WORD, McNally Jackson, Housing Works Bookstore Cafe and Community Bookstore. There’s also 192 Books, Center for Fiction, Book Thug Nation and Bluestockings for cool and often specialized events.

I also appreciate reading series for their relaxed and convivial atmosphere. Some of my faves include Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Largehearted Lit, Mixer Music and Reading, Freerange Nonfiction, Pete’s Candy Store and InDigest.

Who do you wish would come around to read?
I adore A.S. Byatt. What a brilliant woman! I’m hoping she tours for her next book.

Why did you start interviewing authors?
In meeting local authors and other literary folk I’ve heard some hilarious behind-the-scenes tales, and I wanted to share them with my readers. I have an upcoming BookStalked post that involves an Estonian performance art group taking a chainsaw to a shrine of books (that incident happened at Book Thug Nation). It’s also just really fun for me—recently I interviewed a close friend, Phil Edwards, by pretending to be an obnoxious, possibly drunk audience member peppering him with questions.

Who would you love to interview but are afraid to approach?
Margaret Atwood springs to mind. I saw her read last fall (she also gave a Powerpoint presentation of her childhood), and she was really funny and sly. But when I got my book signed, she didn’t even look up at me. I felt I’d missed the chance to bond with one of my biggest heroes. I should probably just tweet at her.

You recently read at a Vol. 1 Brooklyn event. How was it being on the other side?
Every reading I’ve done this year has started with me worrying I’m going to pass out. It’s getting easier, but I still have great appreciation for authors who not only read, but who really kill it—Ann Patchett and Colson Whitehead come to mind.

What was the last great book you read?
Recently I’ve been alternating classic and current works. I became pretty obsessed with Sentimental Education, not least because angsty Frederic seemed like someone I could run into in modern-day Brooklyn. And as for new fiction, I just finished Leigh Stein’s The Fallback Plan, which had me chuckling on literally every page. She captures parent/adult child relationships perfectly.