Last Thursday’s sweltering heat radiated from the pavement and skyscrapers. We leaned into blasts of wind as we walked up The Bowery. I squinted against the head-on draft, touched my face and felt sand and grit. Clouds blackened the afternoon sky. My umbrella sat useless in my suitcase, many blocks away.
To avoid getting soaked, my husband and I stopped at a tea café on Rivington Street, on the lower east side of Manhattan. The menu offered 98 loose leaf teas. Though the Glee soundtrack was not my cup, the room was comfortably cool, the service friendly.
As clouds descended, we ordered hot tea (he), iced coffee (me), and a piece of vegan chocolate cake. The café occupied a small space a few feet below street level, the right height to watch after-work walkers step ankle deep into the gushing gutter.
The rain poured mercilessly outside. Inside, a table neighbor opened her library book, the same library book I brought with me on this little trip to the big apple. She was nearly finished reading Great House by Nicole Krauss. I was still on the first chapter. I waited until she paused for a sip of tea, then told her I had checked out a copy from the library too. What did she think of Great House? Had she read Krauss’s first novel, The History of Love? Did she love The History of Love as much as I did? Did Great House measure up?
The novel is divided into four sections, my fellow-reader explained, each narrated by a different character. She told me that part way through the second section she set the book aside for a few days, since she found the voice difficult. She expected that after finishing Great House she would recommend it, though The History of Love would remain one of her favorite books. “I’m definitely a fan of Krauss’s writing.”
I thanked her for sharing her reading experience. “You and I are alike,” she said. “I always want to ask people about what they’re reading, too.” She set her cup down and turned her attention back to Great House.
Outside, walkers closed umbrellas. The storm moved on.