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  • Writer's pictureSusanna

Hot Literati Kidnapped me and all I got was this Shirt

“Are you here for Hot Literati? I had a feeling it might be you.” This is how HaileyCognetti, a

writer for Hot Literati, found me at the Whitney.

Before that, I had been kind of nervously slinking around the gift shop, not knowing what to

expect. After a year or so being a Hot Literati lurker on social media, I had responded to an

invitation online, a night for Dostoyevsky lovers. Our task was to find a painting by Norman

Lewis in the postcards section. It all felt kind of like a film; like a note a mysterious girl would

leave for the main character. Meet me by the Norman Lewis painting.

After chatting a bit and sending Hailey photos of the postcard so that she would know we found

it, she sent us our next message. This car is coming to pick you up. The driver took us to a little

old-school style diner, where Hailey was waiting for us with a plate of fries in front of her. It had

been so long since I had been to a place like this. It reminded me of the diner in Twin Peaks a bit.

I’m still new to New York, and one of the things I was looking forward to with regards to my

move was how many creative things happen here, especially in the literary sphere. Authors even

go on tour here—it’s unheard of where I used to live, or generally in the South. Since I’m in

school for something very unrelated to most of my hobbies, it hasn’t been as easy as I expected

to find substantial commonalities with the people around me daily. This Hot Literati event, I

thought, was the perfect place for me to start doing things that really interest me, even if it means

going in blind. Or going alone.

I’m partial to how Hailey does things with Hot Literati in particular. She’s a breath of fresh air in

an online literary community where “booktokers” and “booktubers” treat reading like a sport,

filming lifestyle-type content designed to be consumed. 24 Hour Reading Marathon. Top Ten

Must-Reads for Unhinged Women. I Read 246 Books in 2023. And, of course, the endless book

hauls, many people filling their shelves with brand-new books they never even read. Full

disclosure, I’m a book collector myself, but I’ve noticed overconsumption making its way into

the online literary space; people need to churn out lots of new content, keep the algorithm happy,

etc. I like that Hailey and Hot Literati are basically the antithesis to this. She talks only about

books that are meaningful to her, they’re usually secondhand, and she takes her time. She’s not in

a rush.

The three of us started talking, and it was the sort of conversation I felt starved for in my daily

life. We spoke about books, the Internet, language/translation, girlhood, weird dates, and really

everything in between. Hailey gave me some gloriously battered old Dostoyevsky paperbacks,

The Gambler and Crime and Punishment, and she gave us new Hot Literati t-shirts. I was

particularly amused by the one that said, “need 2 kiss a Dostoevsky lover tonight”. What a

proclamation, honestly. Funny but weirdly vulnerable to admit you need a kiss from anyone.

Maybe this is the type of earnestness my life is missing.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about community lately, how to find it and what that looks like.

I suppose I thought New York is so big it would be a simple thing to do, but I was wrong. Hailey

Cognetti and I spoke about this in the Whitney gift shop—big city ennui can take you by

surprise, but it clearly exists. The feeling of being lonely in a crowd. Our conversation reminded

me of a similar one I’d had with my local bodega man recently. He had shaken his head, telling

me, “No, it’s not easy here. This country is different.”

I guess there’s one thing I know for sure: community isn’t something you stumble across by

accident, or something that comes to you. You have to act intentionally, make effort, and go find

it yourself. This is something I’ve said before: it can be so embarrassing to admit that you’re

actually trying. And yet, it’s kind of the only thing to do. As Plath would say, “Go out and do

something. It isn’t your room that’s a prison, it’s yourself.”

(Join book club through a paid membership on our Substack for delightfully niche experiences like this one)

댓글 1개

4월 22일

Was so wonderful meeting you Susanna, thank you for coming <333

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