writerly musings

Cities That Inspire Us For All Sorts of Reasons

This weekend marks the second year that I’ve been writing Acid Free Pulp. My first post was titled Prague and it was conceived after I returned back from a trip, which included a visit to the Czech Republic. Prague is one of my favorite cities for various reasons including its ability to inspire me. The hometown of one of my all time favorite writers, Franz Kafka, my mind constantly whirls with ideas when I’m in Prague. Even on a follow-up trip, as I sat on a wall overlooking the Vltava River, the skeleton of an idea came to me, which I was able to flesh out later in our apartment and on my flight back to the US. What came of this visit was a novella concerning a mysterious event in Prague (when I am done with my current project, I hope to return to it and expand on the characters and plot).

As I was contemplating the blog’s 2 year anniversary, I read a profile in New York magazine for their Winter Travel edition, which focused on “lesser-known cities for equally fine wine, just-as-ancient architecture, and even-more-secret warehouse parties.” They profiled Leipzig, a city about an hour away by train from Berlin. While Berlin is also a favorite destination and I’ve spent a good deal of time there, there is Leipzig, a former East German city that had once been grand before the World Wars.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig is a city I have mixed feelings about, but it has inspired me exponentially. I have written some of my best stories while living there or now, thinking back to it. It is a strange place where beauty and destruction have been forced together. There are elegant villas lining some streets, with a row of odd Soviet bloc apartments (plattenbauten) still standing and sticking out like sore thumbs. I’ve twice stayed in one of these apartment buildings where all personality is stripped and the shower can only be used when the sink is turned on. A third time in Leipzig, I stayed much longer and lived on a different side of the city with abandoned warehouses that had been turned into businesses or which were normally abandoned save for the midnight parties they hosted. Leipzig is a former city of greatness that is striving to retain that glory. I took the above photo in the neighborhood where I lived the third time. The buildings crumble on one street and empty spaces are being used by students for art and literary readings.

It is a city that inspires me in a different way than Prague. Where Prague is a city filled with rich colors and beautiful buildings, Leipzig crumbles around its own beauty. Part of it is full of life, where a large portion is still a ghost town since the dissolution of the USSR.

Leipzig, Germany.

Leipzig, Germany.

There are many cities that inspire me–Prague, New York, Bratislava, Edinburgh, to name a few–but something still holds me to Leipzig. I do not know if I will ever return; I feel as if my time there is done with. I have soaked up as much as I can and the friends I have there are starting to float away to other places, too. As I walked the streets, the thoughts of its great past always came over me.

Leipzig has been home to many great writers and musicians. Also, the second largest book fair in Germany takes place there–Leipziger Buchmesse. Many of the photos I have of the city are of crumbling buildings and graffiti but the city is quite beautiful in many places. Here are a few.
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Uneven Furniture, Crooked Hallways, and Piles of Books

aliceOver the past couple of weeks, I’ve realized that I’ve become inundated with books, both the old fashion acid free kind and the floating in cyberspace digital sort. The average book lover might not think of the horror of being buried by books, but, oh, it is part of the darker side of book reviewing.

The trend these days is towards digital galleys; I first heard about this a few years ago from an editor of mine. I wasn’t sure how it worked, but at that point, it seemed like a miracle. You see, when you review books frequently, you are sent galleys (advance bound copies of a book that has not yet been released to the public). When you are a lowly book reviewer like myself, you are more often than not, sent advance copies of books that are crap (yeah, I said it). Occasionally, you will get a rare gem or, in the very least, an interesting read that might not have otherwise passed by your desk. But normally, for every good book you review, you’ll be asked to take one for the team (former editor: “Would you do me a favor and review this book. I think it’s an Amish Christmas Romance.”). The turn around time to read and review a book is usually quite short. For one publication that I reviewed for frequently, they would automatically send a new book when I was finished with the last review; other publications approached me or I pitched an idea. Once the courier was able to deliver the package successfully (successful package deliveries in NYC to your apartment are about as common as catching the bubonic plague; after all of this time, my mind is still boggled by the ineptitude of FedEx to bring a parcel from one street in Manhattan to another), I had about two weeks.

Piles-of-books-001

With the few books that I did like, I would add them to my bookshelf. But for every one of those, there was an embarrassing gaggle of losers to be dealt with. For those who don’t know, you must retain a galley copy for a period of time after you are done with the review. You might need to go back and correct something, etc. You are also not supposed to sell these copies because they are not for commercial use; often a galley, although bound, is not very special to look at. Sometimes, when I was a graduate student, I would lug these suckers to the student offices and leave a pile by our mailboxes for any takers.

But, in between the times I was able to use our mailroom as my private cemetery for these unfortunate books, I found an important use for them. For one year, I lived in an apartment that was uneven and crooked. Our hallway felt like it was straight out of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. If you awoke from a hard slumber and needed to walk down the hallway to the bathroom, you always felt mildly drunk. Like many New York City apartments, ours was lopsided. My roommate took a rolling desk chair to one side of her room where her desk was and immediately slid down to the other side. Sleeping in my bed always felt odd until those horrible galleys came to the rescue. We soon took these space hogs and propped up our uneven furniture. Everything was right with the world. Guests to our apartment and a subsequent subletter always got a kick out of this.

I am happy that galleys are moving into the digital format (for the most part–I have an art book that would have been nice to have in hardcopy and I am sure poetry should only be read in print). I am no longer plagued by these depressing little souls, whose dog-eared bodies took up space in my tiny apartment. At least with a bad galley now, I can just delete it.