Articles by

<Kristin Iversen>

07/16/15 11:56am


Say what you will about the last dozen years, but don’t say there hasn’t been good stuff to read. Here are 12 books we think stand out from this time in Brooklyn’s history.



Fortress of Solitude
Jonathan Lethem (2003)
This semi-autobiographical novel takes readers on a deep dive into what it was like to grow up in the pre-gentrification Brooklyn of the early 70s. Oh, and there’s a magic ring.


What I Loved
Siri Hustvedt (2003)
Simultaneously managing to engage the themes of art, love, and neuroscience, Hustevdt composed one of the most compelling New York novels we’ve read.


The Namesake
Jhumpa Lahiri (2004)
Lahiri’s debut novel tracks the journey of a Bengali family who have come to America and try to build their lives, but maintain their identities, in this wholly foreign land.


The History of Love
Nicole Krauss (2005)
Krauss captured multiple narrative voices and wove together so many seemingly disparate storylines that this book risked feeling like more novelty than novel, but somehow it all works out in the end.


Then We Came to the End
Joshua Ferris (2007)
Though set in Chicago, any Brooklyn-based office drone can recognize him- or herself in this darkly funny cubicle-set debut novel.


Joseph O’Neill (2008)
This could fairly be called a “9/11 novel;” it could also fairly be called one of the most beautiful meditations on how a rapidly changing world is forever altering our conception of what our society is.


Sag Harbor
Colson Whitehead (2009)
Set in a predominantly African-American part of the Hamptons, Whitehead’s novel beautifully wrestles with issues of race, class, belonging, and life.


A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan (2010)
This novel, which reads as much like a collection of short stories, experiments with voice, theme, and medium (one chapter is done in PowerPoint), and is easily one of the most memorable books of the last twelve years.


Sunset Park
Paul Auster (2010)
Consummate Brooklyn author Auster tackles the the era of the Great Recession and gives us an at-times haunting look at how we struggle to recapture that which is fully gone.


The Residue Years
Mitchell S. Jackson (2013)
Jackson’s writing begs you to read at a fast pace, one that matches the harrowing nature of the narrative, which deals with the problems of a mother and son, as seen through the lens of addiction and poverty, race and redemption.


Nobody Is Ever Missing
Catherine Lacey (2014)
In her debut novel, Lacey covers themes of loss, forgiveness, love, and escape. And she does it in some of the most lyrical prose we’ve ever encountered.


Brown Girl Dreaming
Jacqueline Woodson (2014)
The beauty of this incredibly moving meditation on Woodson’s childhood in New York and South Carolina will stay with you long after you finish it; it will stay with, or, really, in you forever.

07/16/15 11:35am
Photos by Shay Harrington

348 Flatbush Avenue, Park Slope

Even the most hyped Brooklyn restaurants tend to lose their buzz after not too much time has passed; gone, suddenly, are the crowds of people who once waited for hours to get a table, empty are the tables and booths where it was once impossible to get a seat. And when places do manage to stay open for years on end, they usually do so in a quiet way, reliant mostly on neighborhood patronage, rather than the clamoring hordes. Which is lovely, in its way, to see a favorite spot settle into its maturity, to be happy that it’s maintained relevance, if not trendiness—lovely, but not particularly exciting, you know? And certainly not really newsworthy.


But that’s where Franny’s is different. Now open for almost a dozen years, and even after having moved up the street to a space twice the size of its original Flatbush Avenue location, Franny’s is still consistently crowded, full of neighborhood regulars, yes, but also bringing in people from all over the borough, and beyond. There’s no doubt that part of the reason for this is that the food trends of which Franny’s was a front-runner back in 2004—things like locally sourced ingredients, listing the provenance of produce and meat on the back of the menu, offering season-specific dishes—are all things which are still a huge part of the culinary scene today. And yet, while there are lots of restaurants that cook local, seasonal fare, there’s only one Franny’s.
When I stopped by for dinner on a recent Wednesday night, the restaurant was close to packed—it filled completely during the time I was there. The large space could feel cavernous if it weren’t so reliably full of happily chattering diners, both at tables and sidled up to the generously proportioned bar, where a short cocktail list competes with an extensive, well-curated wine menu. Don’t be tempted with the cocktails; stick with the wine, and ask for advice if you need it—you’ll be sure to get expert help.


The real reason the crowds still come to Franny’s is simple though: the food. Some of the menu has stayed remarkably similar to what it was in the restaurant’s earliest days. The famously delicious clam pizza is a stalwart, and is a must-order for all first-timers. All the pizzas are excellent, though; it’s impossible to go wrong. The short list of pastas is ever-changing based on seasonally available ingredients, and, on a recent night, short tubes of rigatoni (actually mezze mastiche, but, you know, basically rigatoni) were dressed with melt-in-your-mouth braised veal shank and fresh spring peas to great effect.

My favorite part of Franny’s menu, though, and where chef John Adler really shines, is the appetizers, a few of which can make a meal. There’s always a couple different selections of crostini—right now one features a garlicky ramp butter, and decadent roasted prosciutto—as well as several beautifully composed salads—try the burrata with peas in a grassy, addictive pool of olive oil—and a house-made sausage—the night I tried it, it was pork, on a bed of buttery, perfectly cooked kale.
In short, even after all these years, Franny’s is still serving up some of the best food in the borough, sans fanfare or fuss. Just don’t forget to save room for dessert; the house-made doughnuts—bomboloni—are a sweet ending to a meal at what is easily Brooklyn dining at its finest—and has been for well over a decade now.


07/01/15 9:12am


Whatever the true nature of New York City, its definition probably doesn’t include the word “natural.” After all, this is a city most closely associated with towering buildings, not towering trees (or waves, for that matter); our parks are a feat of human ingenuity, not an act of Mother Nature; it’s a place that you spend all summer thinking about escaping from, rather than escaping to. Hell, mention “surfing” here and people are more likely to think of riding the green wave of lights as they coast down Vanderbilt on their bikes, than anything having to do with the ocean. (more…)

03/11/15 6:49am


The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty
Amanda Filipacchi
W.W. Norton & Company

Beauty is inescapable, perhaps now more than ever. To a certain degree, of course, it’s true that beauty—physical beauty—has always been omnipresent, if not tyrannical; there have long been muses, models, and manifold examples of women whose beauty has the power to do everything from stop traffic to launch a thousand ships. And yet today, the insistence of beauty’s importance is particularly relentless, due in no small part to the preponderance of social media and selfies; it has become impossible to get away from the carefully curated images that people present of themselves, images chosen to showcase beauty and hide imperfections. Even though an argument could be made that beauty has a more expansive meaning now, as we live in a time where ad campaigns are centered around the premise of promoting “real beauty” and a more diverse (though far from societally representative) array of body, hair, and skin-types are represented in mass media, the reality is that the importance of beauty is at least as powerful as it has ever been.

And so into this cultural climate comes The Unfortunate Importance of Beauty, Amanda Filipacchi’s darkly funny, surreal novel about a group of New York friends, all of whom are struggling in one way or another with the the role beauty plays in their lives. The story centers around two dichotomous characters, Barb and Lily, and the way in which their beauty—or lack of it—profoundly affects their ability to find love and happiness. Simply put, Barb is beautiful, and Lily is ugly. Lily’s extreme ugliness, which the reader is assured can not be fixed by surgery or makeup (something about her eyes being too close together), is matched only by Barb’s extreme beauty (you know the drill: aqua-colored eyes, silky blonde hair, etc.), and it is made clear from the start that each woman’s genetic fate has sharply colored her life.

In Lily’s case, her ugliness has led to a life devoid of romantic affection; despite being an inordinately talented musician (she composes music that can turn literally any object—even junk mail—into something powerfully desirable), Lily cannot capture the attention of the one man she loves—a caddish, mediocre violinist named Strad (yes, after Stradivarius). For Barb, her beauty has proven more of a curse than a blessing: Her best friend, a man named Gabriel, killed himself by jumping out of his apartment window in an effort to die at her feet, rather than live with his unrequited love for Barb. After this happened, Barb costumed herself in a disguise comprising a fat suit; frizzy, gray wig; glasses and muddy brown contact lenses; and false, crooked teeth. Barb finds her beauty and its effects too much to bear, while Lily isn’t sure she can bear life itself because of her absence of beauty.

The novel has a very all-or-nothing approach to beauty—few of the other characters are given much of a physical depiction at all—but this extreme version of life in modern New York (complete with a murder mystery, masked lovers, an obscenity-spewing doorman, and a dinner party from hell) never really loses the weight of its message: Even if we can recognize the unfortunate importance of beauty in our lives, it doesn’t mean we need to accept it without a fight. Filipacchi’s novel is not a treatise against beauty, instead it attempts to hold up a mirror—fractured though it already may be—to our society to show more clearly what the costs of our glorification of beauty just might be.

02/25/15 9:55am


Like most of my great ideas, this one began in the shower. Rather, it’s not really that it was an idea I had in the shower, so much as it was an idea that I had applied to my shower, and would now be applying to the rest of my life. Basically, I wanted to live with less. I know, I know—living minimally is all the rage right now; there isn’t a person in New York who doesn’t have either an opinion of or an experience with Marie Kondo’s decluttering bible, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which recommends that we all give up those things in our homes that “do not spark joy.” And really, what New Yorker doesn’t welcome, if not already obsess over, the concept of paring down to the essentials? For most of us here, space is at a premium, and the simplest way to access more of it (other than having one of those dreams in which you discover that your apartment has a whole extra room—or even wing!—which you’d never noticed before; I love those dreams) is by getting rid of as much stuff as you can bear to part with—just like that, your storage needs will be solved! (more…)

02/25/15 9:54am
Photo by Jane Bruce

June Wine Bar
231 Court Street, Cobble Hill

I walked down Court Street in the kind of frigid weather that feels like a personal attack, invasive in its ability to wend its way into every cell of your body; it wasn’t until this winter that I realized that even my hair could feel cold if the temperature dropped enough. Which is not to say that I don’t like the cold, or what it does to my hair. I love the cold, and what it does to my hair, which is makes it silky and heavy so that it holds a braid well.