On Monday, our culture editor Henry Stewart participated in a Brooklyn literary trivia contest at BookCourt. The Brooklyn Book Festival Bookend event—one of dozens of literary events held in the run-up to Sunday’s festival—was hosted by Coffin Factory, the locally based literary magazine. Here, he recounts what happened.
I might be the only Bookend participant who starts the night at a bar. I get to BookCourt early, at least a half an hour before the trivia game begins, so I duck across Court Street into a bar called Cody’s. I like Cody’s. The seats are almost all full-up, populated by conspicuous regulars who chat and joke with each other. They seem like old friends, and the place looks older. I have a beer, drink it quick, ask for another, and drink it quick, too, staring up at muted ESPN. The bartender doesn’t seem to like me.
Across the street, everybody likes me. Randy and Laura from Coffin Factory spot me right away, and we make funny small talk, like “didn’t we see you outside an events space in Gowanus last weekend?” I meet Julia Fierro of the Sackett Street Writers Workshop for the first time, and she tells me I look so young—that she knew I had a beard, and so she thought I was, like, 50. “Are you young?” she asks me. I recently turned 30. I don’t know how to answer that question anymore.
Randy and Laura assure me, as they’ve already assured Penina Roth, the Franklin Park Reading Series curator, by email, that the questions won’t be too difficult, that the trickiest ones have been cut, and that most of them come from “Evan Hughes’s book,” Literary Brooklyn. This means my bet has paid off: the only studying I’ve done over the last two weeks, since I looked at my Google calendar and thought, “oh shit, that thing is coming up! I better go to powerHouse and buy that book!,” is reading this book and memorizing where Richard Wright hung out and the blocks where Walt Whitman used to live, which all turn out to be useful. I get a lot of questions right.
.@BookCourt @henrycstewart has done his homework: he knows many Brooklyn streets on which Whitman lived
— The Coffin Factory (@CoffinFactory) September 17, 2013
More useful is the free whiskey Randy and Laura have procured. A few drinks make it easier to perform in front of a crowd, though I can’t tell if I’m being a jerk or charming. (My friends tell me the latter; I’m sure the commenters here will tell me the former.) After Randy and I have a heated disagreement that almost comes to blows about the pronunciation of Pete Hamill’s name—and, for that matter, Mark Hamill’s—I ask if we can have more whiskey (“speaking of Pete Hamill…”), because then I know I won’t care even if it were Pete HAM-eye-uhl. Laura kindly brings it to me and fellow contestant John M. Cusick. Poor Penina is off to the side, trying to crane her neck around so she can just see the screen and read the questions before I “buzz in” by blowing into my noiseless noisemaker. Everyone’s points climb. “Darren Aronofsky!” “Everything Here is the Best Thing Ever!” “1856!”