'The higher up you go, the more mistakes you are allowed. Right at the top, if you make enough of them, it's considered to be your style.' - Fred Astaire


August, 2014: Until We Meet Again

By Jesse Kornbluth
Published: Aug 21, 2014
Category: Beyond Classification

We’re just back from a week on St. John. Islands in the off-season — that’s us. The planes are cheap, they practically pay you to occupy houses that are unaffordable in December, the beaches are empty. My wife has a 24/7 job and wants/needs to know every current events factoid; on these trips she rarely looks at her phone. I make notes and read, but mostly, I’m in the water with the small person. Really: six hours a day, using a boogie board as a table, we drift and chat. A year’s worth of chat, because once we return home she closes her door and is playing Mindcraft with her virtual friends. (“Regan, I’m going off to kill someone. Want to come along?”)

This seems counter-intuitive: Now that I’m back in New York, I’m taking a week off. The site usually rests for two weeks in August, but there’s too much happening in the world and in my head for me to dream that I’m Somerset Maugham and can write fiction without distraction for half a month.

Speaking of fiction, a favor. I’ve started a new book, but I have much to do for “Married Sex” before it’s published in 2015. One task: getting other writers to praise it, so I can slap blurbs on the book and reassure potential readers that it’s not “Fifty Shades of Jesse.” I’ve made a list of writers I admire and have been sending out requests, but I’m sure I’ve missed some obvious candidates. If you can think of writers — the more well known, the better — who might like a love story about a Manhattan husband and wife who have a sexual adventure that looks harmless but isn’t, please let me know.

Here are some suggestions that I’d like to be enjoying for the first time as summer winds down. But I completely understand if you choose to spend six hours a day in warm water, saying everything and nothing to someone you adore.

The next Butler will come your way on Tuesday, September 2. Take care…


The Day of the Jackal
“It is cold at six-forty in the morning on a March day in Paris, and seems even colder when a man is about to be executed by firing squad.” From a friend, a noted writer: “I’ve done little during the past few days other than read ‘Jackal.’ Another winner! It put me a little behind in my work, but hey, that’s August . . .”

The Perfect Summer: England, 1911
Edward VII had died the previous spring; mourning was over, George V was about to be crowned, there would be a full season of glorious parties….

The Queen’s Gambit
from recent Reader Mail: “It was 11 PM and I was exhausted, but started reading. By 2 AM, I disciplined myself to put it down, crashed, and was up at six to get another hour in before work deadlines. Throughout the day, I read it at stoplights, walking from one room to another and at every other available moment, so that by 2 PM I’d read it all. I didn’t know about this book and without you would have missed one of the most exquisite novels I’ve ever read. Thank you.”

Cakes and Ale
Maugham’s favorite of his books. Here he juggles half a dozen characters without breaking a sweat. The novel seems formless and weightless, a tale of sexual freedom and a boy’s admiration for a romantic rebel told by a friend over drinks. You cannot imagine how hard it is to do this.

Old Filth
Filth means “Failed in London Try Hong Kong,” which is what Edward Feathers did. He became a rich, successful lawyer there, and then a judge, and now, as the novel begins, he’s 80, and, with his wife Betty, retired to the English countryside. “Pretty easy life,” remarks a judge who knew him well. “Nothing ever seems to have happened to him.” He is so wrong….

Farmer’s Son
If I told you what this novel is about — a generational battle between the world’s worst father and his dyslexic son, played out on a few hundred acres in the Midwest — you’d probably thank me for the suggestion, smile and keep on walking. Don’t you dare move.

HeadButler.com: The 100 Essentials
A shameless plug for the longest book I’ll ever write: 80,000 words, 100 reviews of books, movies and music I consider essential. Some of these titles are recent releases; many aren’t. One reason: Almost everything ever published, recorded or filmed is available on the Internet. Another reason is more flippant, but no less true: If it’s new to you, it’s new.

Love in the Time of Cholera
Gabriel Garcia Marquez is, for many, in the pantheon, right at the top. The greatest stylist. The greatest innovator. But even more, the greatest storyteller — the creator of the most interesting characters, the most addictive plots, the best endings. And this is one of his greatest novels.

The Madonna of the Sleeping Cars
In 1927 Maurice Dekobra published a novel that sold a million copies in France. (It was eventually published in 24 languages.) In 1928, The New York Times described him as “the biggest seller of any living French writer — or dead one either.” Fifteen of his novels became films; “Madonna” was filmed twice. It’s pure pleasure.


Top of the Lake
Twelve-year-old Tui Mitcham, fully clothed, walks into a New Zealand lake. She’s pulled out, examined, found to be five months pregnant. Who’s the father? She won’t say. And then she disappears. A thriller with bite. And gorgeous scenery.

State of Play
When was the last time you watched six hours of anything and found yourself moving closer to the edge of your seat as it moved toward its conclusion?


Cesaria Evora
She was one of the queens of World Music. Not that she cared: “I have a completely normal life. I take care of my house, I visit with family and friends. At night I sometimes go out. Whatever the rest of the world may think of me now, I was always considered a great singer at home. But we all know each other. There’s no ‘stardom’ in Cape Verde.”

Bryan Ferry
These songs aren’t about “My wife is my best friend” love. More like lust and longing so intense it redlines into love. Obsessive love. Love on two bottles of Krug and maybe a puff of Mendocino’s best. Love that jets you out of this vale of struggle and anxiety into elegance and glory. Love that makes you, as one of his songs has it, a “slave” to love, love for which you’ll pay any price.


Zojirushi Stainless Steel Vacuum Insulated Mug

It does exactly what it’s supposed to. Hot stays hot. Cold stays cold. For hours and hours.

and, of course…

Anthelios Sunscreen with Mexoryl
Dr. Darrell Rigel, clinical professor of dermatology at New York University: Mexoryl “is the No. 1 individual ingredient in terms of protection from Ultraviolet A radiation.”

Egyptian Magic
Burns, scrapes, skin irritations, diaper rash, sunburns, eczema, psoriasis — it’s the go-to cream. Dry skin? Sunburn? When an exceptional moisturizer is needed, we open the Magic.


Short takes

The Grand Bar and Grill: A treat grows in Brooklyn

My stepson now lives and works in Brooklyn, so we find ourselves going across the bridge to the city’s trendiest borough. It’s not easy to find a restaurant that isn’t terminally hip, so it was a pleasure to learn from Pamela Miles — our Reiki master and dear friend — that her son and his friends have launched a restaurant, The Grand Bar and Grill, that lives in the sweet spot between cool and appalling. It’s an American bistro — in the lineage of the original P.J. Clarke’s and the Old Town Bar in Manhattan — that serves comfort food with a twist, offers City Winery varietals on tap from repurposed antique fire extinguishers, and observes the modern requirements (jazz brunch on Sundays, comedy every other Tuesday night) The service is laid back without being comatose — in Williamsburg, that’s worth an extra star.

Laura Munson’s retreats for writers aren’t just for writers

You surely remember Laura Munson, author of the New York Times best-seller, This Is Not The Story You Think It Is — the marriage memoir in which her husband unilaterally declares their marriage over and she responds with “I don’t buy it. What can we do to give you the distance you need, without hurting the family?” Now she leads Haven Writing Retreats in Whitefish, Montana. What are they like? Well, they’re not just for writers. Here’s Laura: “My creative life has always been my safe haven. Usually it’s quite the other way. People say, ‘I’m afraid to be that vulnerable’ or ‘I’m not good enough, anyway,’ which means that their inner critic holds court in their minds and they have learned to bow to it. It doesn’t have to be like this. We can find profound freedom in our creativity. That’s why I lead my writing retreats. I want to help people in their creative expression through writing, no matter where they are on the page. I have written my entire adult life, and I’ve learned that it’s about one thing: doing the work. And that can be daunting. While the wilderness of Montana holds the space for inspiration, I hold the space for my retreaters to step into the wilderness of their creativity — in a nurturing, safe, challenging setting. I designed a retreat that I would want to attend. In other words, it’s not about criticism or hero worship or reinforcing the tortured artist paradigm. It’s quite the opposite. At Haven, we do a variety of writing exercises that nimble the mind, free the muse, breathe our words alive. Over and over, I see people leave re-fueled, ready to create what they want to create whether it’s a book or a letter to their grandchild.” This isn’t hype; Open Road Media ranks Haven in the top 5 of American retreats. The fall schedule: 9/10-14, 9/24-28, 10/8-12, 10/22-26. For more information, email Laura@lauramunsonauthor.com

“The Curse of Van Gogh”

When I met Paul Hoppe all those years ago, he was a callow young Washington lobbyist and I was a callow young journalist. Worlds collided, and we became friends. Does that compromise me? You bet. But that’s not to say I’m charmed by high-testosterone thrillers — I loathe car chases, shootouts, encounters with nasty foreigners. Happily, “The Curse of Van Gogh” features an unusual main character — Tyler Sears, a gifted art thief who is, after a jail term, eager to go straight — and 12 masterpieces in Washington’s impregnable National Gallery of Art that become his new obsession. Wait, didn’t I say he’s going straight? Yes, but that’s before he meets Komate Imasu, a mega-rich art collector who doesn’t care who he has to threaten to rip art off a museum’s wall for him. Tyler’s his patsy — he gets car chases, shootouts, encounters with nasty foreigners, and worse. Does he prevail? Better than Pierce Brosnan might. [To buy the paperback from Amazon, click here. For the Kindle edition, click here.]

Reader Mail (Advertisements for myself)

From Paul Zengilowski

My children will turn 19 and 21 in a few weeks and the birthday gift choice falls to me. My wife and I bought them books by the bushel when they were young — some they chose, more often though, we exercised our parental prerogative. That stopped as they entered their mid-teens and felt more confident in their choices than in ours.

I’ve not bought them books in years — with two exceptions. The Only Investment Guide You’ll Ever Need, by Andrew Tobias, was a high school graduation gift. Knowing that having the money talk with them would be fruitless, I passed on to them my financial bible. I’d read it when it was first issued and it has served to keep me mostly on the financial straight and narrow over the last 30 years.

The second exception is their birthday present for this year: The 100 Essentials. Should they read only those two books, I’m confident they’ll enter adulthood with important and foundational knowledge that will serve them well.

from Marcie

You recommended Queen’s Gambit to me about six weeks ago when I asked for the most grabable book you could think of. I loved it. It’s difficult to articulate precisely what the dark magic of that book is, but I found it fascinating — the characters, all of them, were like no others I’ve encountered. The relationship between Beth and her adopted mother was so subtle. I love that Tevis never capitulates to cliché or sentimentality. Elegant. Thank you for urging me to read it.