This month I listened to At the Strangers’ Gate (2017) written and narrated by Adam Gopnik, one of my favorite New Yorker writers. (His latest New Yorker essay is about two new biographies of Buster Keaton, one of which—Camera Man, by Dana Stevens—I’ve just begun to read.)
At the Strangers’ Gate covers the 1980s, when Gopnik and his new bride arrived in Manhattan from Montreal and he began his writing career. It’s a decade I’ve been thinking about a lot lately (AIDS, Reagan, Madonna, Bonfire of the Vanities), and Gopnik evokes it with keen observations, especially about the art and literary scenes. You can skip directly to Chapter 9, “Writing,” for Gopnik’s insights into the differences, and occasional overlaps, between those scenes. Here he is on art, writing, and money:
Art world paydays made book world paydays look like no paydays at all. Visual artists hunted for golden tickets, and when they got one, they were set. Good pictures in the art market—a market that has never stopped booming in all the years since—buy estates in the Hamptons. Even large royalties in the literary world (the handful—no, fingerful—of truly “commercial” writers aside) bought small apartments in the upper reaches of West End Avenue, and then in Park Slope—no small or bad thing, but not the same thing.
Gopnik is the rare author who’s also an outstanding narrator; his slightly Canadian inflections and wry line readings make this audiobook a joy. But it’s also a book I want to own in print, on paper, between covers.