The New York Public Library’s 7 Best Fall Programs, Ranked


Everybody loves going to the New York Public Library’s “Live from the NYPL” events. There’s something inherently attractive about watching Jonathan Franzen don a head-mic and awkwardly question Don DeLillo about his writing habits. But let’s face it: you’re not going to make it to every event this season. Work will get in the way. So you have to prioritize, and here are the seven events I’d suggest begging, borrowing, stealing, and if absolutely necessary, small acts of violence (against insects only) to attend.

7. Lorrie Moore ( October 25 )

In the last couple of years the New York Review of Books has made the genius move of having Moore write television criticism for them. As it’s been awhile since her fiction packed quite the punch it did when she debuted, her essays on Friday Night Lights, et al, proved definitively that even America’s most highbrow publication was prepared to respect the excellence of certain prestige cable shows.

6. Margaret Atwood talking to Carl Hiaasen (September 17)

Atwood is releasing the third installment of her speculative fiction trilogy this fall. And if you’ve never seen the woman speak in person, you are in for a treat: she’s amazingly funny and charming. Also, somehow tinier than you expected. Hiaasen is hilarious in his own right. The evening is likely to be the most simultaneously funny and smart evening you can expect all year.

5. Alan Rusbridger (September 25)

Things are quiet at the moment in Snowdenania; it’s the end of summer and news organizations are pretty sure no one’s reading. But starting next week, I suspect we’ll be in for a new blitz of information from his trove. The Guardian, whom the Times sniffed at not long ago as a “British news site,” has led this charge and of late has been paying the price in terms of incredible pressure from the UK government. While piano habit, I have the feeling that by the time the end of the month the only thing to talk about will be NSA-related. Attend for stealth-news value.

4. The Buffett Family (October 23)

Everybody wants to know how the Buffetts stay so rich, which is probably why this event is sold out, businesspeople across the city being eager to linger in the presence of greatness. But the talk is actually pegged to philanthropy, and particularly to the way Howard Buffett is addressing world food-security issues in his own work. All those “let them eat cake” i-bankers are going to be mightily disappointed.

3. Jaron Lanier (October 10)

Lanier is a skeptic of the kind of digital evangelism that has enveloped the culture, the idea advanced the Zuckerberg/Sergey Brin-types that the internet can and will cure all of humanity’s ills. He has written two books on the subject: You Are Not a Gadget and Who Owns the Future. Any reasonable person will find themselves agreeing with Lanier’s dubiousness, at least; his arguments about the particular ways in which technology is actively ruining us, however, are more controversial. Jaron Lanier is, as a podcast recently put it, is one of the world’s biggest polymaths, though, and just following his mind all over the map is reason enough to attend. Plus: the dreadlocks.

2. Nico Muhly talking to Ira Glass (October 29th)

“It-boy composer” (sorry, not my term) Muhly has an opera making its American debut with the Metropolitan Opera this fall. Called Two Boys, it is about a true case from Manchester, in 2003, of one young man who murders another. But that plot is only the pretext for Muhly to attempt to make music out of the chatter of the internet; the murderer claimed he was guided by online voices, as it were. A London staging got rave reviews in 2011. With Glass, the NYPL promises a conversation about “music, life, and whatever piques their interest,” and Muhly will play.

1. Junot Díaz talking to Toni Morrison (December 12)

Díaz once told the New York Times that if he could take only three books to a desert island, he’d include Beloved among them. For a self-professed reader not to have read it, he said, “is like calling yourself a sailor and never having bothered to touch the sea.” Given that Díaz is rapidly becoming a writer of that sort of stature himself, this encounter between two giants is not to be missed. It’s already sold out, but keep scanning Craigslist. Something will turn up.