Unbound at BAM: Readings with a View

Radiolab's Jad Abumrad at the first Unbound. Photo by Beowulf Sheehan

If, like me, you have been to one of Greenlight Bookstore’s more popular readings recently, you probably found yourself trying desperately to wedge yourself in the door, peering between shelves from the back of the store, or simply standing outside, using your imagination to work out what is going on inside. It was obvious that Brooklyn has an appetite for large-scale literary events, and no place could quite fulfill that desire.

Now, BAM and Greenlight have stepped in with the Unbound reading series, which started last week with an event for Andrew Zolli’s new book Resilience: Why Things Bounce Back, also featuring Malcolm Gladwell and Radiolab’s Jad Arumbad in discussion. Held in one of BAM’s cinemas, it was surprisingly exciting to have a ticket and a comfortable seat for a literary event. The crowd mostly consisted of curly-haired Malcolm Gladwell lookalikes and their bespectacled partners, the auditorium lit by the collective glow of their iPhones as we waited for the event to start.

Radiolab’s Jad kicked things off with a series of sounds he had recorded of things failing. Why? The idea was to take “error and reframe it as something beautiful.” We “enjoyed” an Epson Stylus printer epically malfunction with a chorus of screeches, a scratched classical CD remixing its originally more sonorous recording, and the noise of a monkey’s brainwaves as it plays rock, paper, scissors. Jad initiated some audience participation by asking us also to play a game of rock, paper, scissors with the person to our left. (I, unfortunately, tied). By the time the main speaker Andrew Zolli took the stage we had been thoroughly introduced to the “aesthetics of failure.”

Zolli took advantage of the space to kick off a Powerpoint presentation about resilience. Don’t run though—my fears of an overly academic borefest were quickly allayed as he showed us an inattentional blindness test and proved that almost the entire audience, myself included, couldn’t spot a jet plane disappear as two images altered on the screen. The central argument of his talk, and his book, is that humans are innately fallible, and rather than think of failure as catastrophic, we should think of it as a way to develop.

In our time of economic, environmental, and political instability, companies and people should focus on how to respond to adversity. To illustrate this, take Brooklyn bar Freddy’s—my example, not Zolli’s. Faced with closure by Atlantic Yards, it did not fail, but rather has risen again in South Slope, and is now stronger than ever. Zolli ran through a number of different examples of resilience, citing Iceland, British hedges, and Holocaust survivors, in what was a highly interesting evening.

Unbound continues at BAM with Orhan Pamuk in discussion with Lila Azam Zanganeh on October 16th about his newly translated novel Silent House, set at a family gathering that occurs the summer before the Turkish military coup of 1980. Then on November 20th Gary Shteyngart’s friends and colleagues, including Kurt Andersen, Jay McInerney, and Sloane Crosley, take shots at the author of Super Sad True Love Story in a sure-to-be-hilarious Friars Club-style roast.

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