Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener (Paperback)

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Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener By Gay Talese Cover Image

Bartleby and Me: Reflections of an Old Scrivener (Paperback)


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“Literary Legend” (New York) Gay Talese retraces his pioneering career, marked by his fascination with the world's hidden characters.

In the concluding act of this "incomparable" (Air Mail) capstone book, Talese introduces readers to one final unforgettable story: the strange and riveting all new tale of Dr. Nicholas Bartha, who blew up his Manhattan brownstone—and himself—rather than relinquish his claim to the American dream.

“New York is a city of things unnoticed,” a young reporter named Gay Talese wrote sixty years ago. He would spend the rest of his legendary career defying that statement by celebrating the people most reporters overlooked, understanding that it was through these minor characters that the epic story of New York and America unfolded. Inspired by Herman Melville’s great short story “Bartleby, the Scrivener,” Talese now revisits the unforgettable “nobodies” he has profiled in his celebrated career—from the New York Times’s anonymous obituary writer to Frank Sinatra’s entourage. In the book’s final act, a remarkable piece of original reporting titled “Dr. Bartha’s Brownstone,” Talese presents a new “Bartleby,” an unknown doctor who made his mark on the city one summer day in 2006. 

Rising within the city of New York are about one million buildings. These include skyscrapers, apartment buildings, bodegas, schools, churches, and homeless shelters. Also spread through the city are more than 19,000 vacant lots, one of which suddenly appeared some years ago—at 34 East 62nd Street, between Madison and Park Avenues—when the unhappy owner of a brownstone at that address blew it up (with himself in it) rather than sell his cherished nineteenth-century high-stoop Neo-Grecian residence in order to pay the court-ordered sum of $4 million to the woman who had divorced him three years earlier. This man was a physician of sixty-six named Nicholas Bartha. On the morning of July 10, 2006, Dr. Bartha filled his building with gas that he had diverted from a pipe in the basement, and then he set off an explosion that reduced the fivestory premises into a fiery heap that would injure ten firefighters and five passersby and damage the interiors of thirteen apartments that stood to the west of the crumbled brownstone.

Talese has been obsessed with Dr. Bartha’s story and spent the last seventeen years examining this single 20 x 100 foot New York City building lot, its serpentine past, and the unexpected triumphs and disasters encountered by its residents and owners—an unlikely cast featuring society wannabes, striving immigrants, Gilded Age powerbrokers, Russian financiers, and even a turncoat during the War of Independence—just as he has been obsessed with similar “nobodies” throughout his career. Concise, elegant, tragic, and whimsical, Bartleby and Me is the valedictory work of a master journalist.

Gay Talese was credited by Tom Wolfe with the creation of an inventive form of nonfiction writing called “The New Journalism.” He spent his early career at the New York Times, then moved to Esquire, where he produced some of the most celebrated magazine pieces ever written, including “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold,” which Vanity Fair has called “the greatest literary-nonfiction story of the twentieth century.” His books include The Kingdom and the PowerHonor Thy FatherThy Neighbor’s WifeUnto the Sons, and The Voyeur’s Motel. Born in Ocean City, New Jersey, in 1932, Talese lives with his wife, Nan, in New York City. They have two daughters, Pamela and Catherine.

“Talese has been acclaimed as a virtuoso of the novelistic New Journalism. Now 91, he has published a short and charming second memoir. … meticulously reported. … fascinating. …Talese has lost none of his artistry.” — Wall Street Journal

"Talese’s conversational style —openhanded, easygoing, characterized by fact-rich yet perfectly balanced sentences — invites the reader to sit back and relax. His book proved just the right tonic for my downcast spirits." — Washington Post

"A smooth and enchanting wordsmith, Talese delivers a lovely testament to the 'unobtrusive if not kindred Bartleby personalities' of New York City. It’s a delight." — Publishers Weekly

“New readers will discover an astute observer. . . . Candid testimony from a new-journalism icon.” — Kirkus Reviews

Bartleby and Me is an ambler, in which [Talese] appears to give his finger to the form by filigreeing a couple of his ironclad hits and then tacking on a new gargoyle of a tale….It’s a plot for the ages.” — New York Times Book Review

“Sixty years ago, Talese wrote in Esquire that ‘New York is a city of things unnoticed.’ He spent the next six decades doing quite a bit of noticing, chronicling the people (and places and moments) that make the city what it is. In his latest, he remembers the ‘nobodies’ that he’s profiled over the course of his career, the cast of characters perhaps who are not as recognizable as, say, Sinatra or Ali, but nevertheless essential threads in our cultural fabric.” — The Millions

“[An] incomparable memoir.” — Air Mail

“All three pieces are written with painterly precision.” — Shelf Awareness (starred review)