Cover Image: Bartleby and Me

Bartleby and Me

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Member Reviews

What can be said about Gay Talese that has not already been said, by millions, for decades?
His writing is honest, direct, punchy, snarky, witty, daring even at times, and always, always, top notch. They sure do not make them like this anymore.

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I was not very thorough in my reading of the description of this book. I worked through eleven chapters and still no mention of the person living in the brownstone in NYC that eventually blew it up, taking his own life in the process. I was so interested in that story put in the description of the book, that I missed mention of all the other stories in the book, which I found to be not that interesting. I thank NetGalley and Mariner for the advance peak.

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My thanks to both Netgalley and the publisher Mariner Books for an advance copy of a book about a master of nonfiction discussing his past, his stories, and the people he has, met, with a new narrative about the City of New York.

A few years ago I was blessed to work with a young lady whose favorite story was Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville. She loved the story, and the idea behind it. The story deals basically with a gentleman working as a clerk in a law office, who is very good at his job, and is content doing what he does. When asked to do something else, he declines, and things happen from there. Some consider it a story about being stubborn, holding one's ideals. My friend so it as being true to oneself, and having the courage to be who you want to be, and darn the consequences. Currently she travels the country and Canada in an RV, working remotely with a dog and two cats, and is one of the happiest people I know. Gay Talese would love to interview her, cause I know the stories that she tells me would sound even more amazing and wonderful coming off of his pages. Talese is the same as Bartleby. Sure of his skills as a writer about people and their lives, not events but the people who lived them. As shown in his book, editors might not thing much, and many a good idea has been set aside, but Talese is still a trailblazer in many ways. Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener is both a profile of the writer as a young man learning his craft, a look behind the curtain at how he works, and the profile that made his name. The book ends with a new work, a profile of New York City dealing with the City's love of property, celebrity, scandal and,of course, violence.

The book begins with a profile of the City written by a young man on the move, starting with the New York Times as a copy boy along with a description of the Herman Melville tale about Bartleby. Slowly he sold some articles, mostly profiles, before entering the army, where he wrote more profiles, and learned more about the world through listening. Returning to the Times, he wrote more profiles, before leaving and joining Esquire where his writing began to be noticed. Esquire sent Talese to California to interview Frank Sinatra, who Talese never got to sit down with, only observed from afar, with discussions from many around him. This lead to is famous piece, "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold" a revelatory work about a man and his place in, told without interviewing the Chairman of the Board himself. From there were other books, some failures, and the final piece, a tale about a New York doctor, his famous house, love, loss, death and the eventual explosion.

A remarkable book that really looks at the work, the skill and frankly the luck that it took to be Gay Talese. Stories about his youth, his marriage, his books and many of his famous profiles. The writing is of course great, but it is the behind the scenes information that I really enjoyed. The using of cardboard from laundered shirts, cutting them up to make file cards, and ideas how the story should be structured. The simple joy in talking to Sinatra's stand-in or his tailor. Coming across people with interesting stories, and getting that story out of them. The highs of being Gay Talese, and the stories that editors never could get behind of want. And of course a new piece that captures a lot of what made Talese such a force, an interesting story, with real consequences, and lots of weight from the past weighing on a person.

So many great characters, so many interesting facts and stories. The boxer Floyd Patterson was a character that really stuck out to me. I'll leave it to readers to find out why, as I was just touched by their last interaction. A great book about writing, journalism and being aware of what the world holds. Everyone has a story, everyone is interesting, one just has to ask.

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A writer who is regarded as a peer and equal of the mid-20th century legends of New Journalism such as Tom Wolfe and Hunter S. Thompson, Gay Talese continues to advance his storytelling craft at age 91. His latest book is a skillful mashup of new original reporting, a memoir, and some useful scholarly contextualization. The book’s centrepiece marks the return of Talese to his epic Esquire magazine article, “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold.” He revisits the 1966 non-encounter with Sinatra that led to the article, describes in satisfying detail the challenging process of constructing the piece, and offers sixty years worth of perspective on what occurred following the article’s publication. It’s the ultimate masterclass in practical journalism, but Talese only looks back in order to set up the book’s contemporary concluding act. Dr. Nicholas Bartha, a Manhattan physician of Romanian birth, occupied a four-story brownstone at 34 East 62nd Street. When ordered by a court in 2006 to sell the property as part of divorce proceeding, Dr. Bartha instead decided to blow up the building. He died from injuries suffered during the resulting explosion. Talese recounts the senseless tragedy as embodying something indefinable in the soul of New Yorkers, a brash and not particularly logical attitude that was described by Herman Melville in his 1853 magazine article, “ Bartleby, the Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street.” Leave it to Talese to lay out 170 years of bad behaviour by Manhattanites and position himself squarely in the middle. “Bartleby and Me” is as good as anything the author has previously written, and that is saying something.

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Gay Talese's "Frank Sinatra Has A Cold" is a 26 page monument to journalism and non-fiction writing that is as impressive in 2023 as it was in 1966. Long considered to be the gold standard of what a story lacking its central subject can be, Talese peels back the curtain in "Bartleby and Me" (named for everyone's favorite scrivener) to showcase how the sausage was made. This is the middle third of the book, focused on the famous story. But the buns of the Sinatra Sandwich are just as appetizing, with the first third documenting how Talese found himself in the position to head to Los Angeles (with stops in the Army, the New York Times, and the most fascinating depiction of an obituary writer you can imagine). The final segment details a new story, on the rise, fall, and rise again of one Dr. Nicholas Bartha's brownstone. The fall, Bartha's doing, and both rises are recounted in the sort of detail one would expect from Talese.

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