Live in one neighborhood in New York City long enough and other neighborhoods begin to feel like foreign countries. As with countries, there are some you want to visit and some you don’t. The Upper East Side has long been one of the lands I wanted to visit. But I’ve been a Brooklyn boy for more than 20 years, so trips to that far northerly region have not always been convenient.
Recently, however, my girlfriend moved into an apartment on East 85th Street between Second and Third Avenues. Frequent trips up the Lexington Avenue line and, later, the new Second Avenue subway, followed. In short time, that neighborhood slowly began to reveal some of its secrets and charms, and a long interborough holiday of sorts commenced.
When I’m lucky, a cover essentially designs itself—I read up on it, generate a few images, execute them, and one gets published! Designing Up Up, Down Down was not one of those times. I still consider it somewhat of a miracle that the final cover came out so nicely; looking at it brings back tortured memories of a painful process—a long, difficult exercise in “designy” design: a true exploration of concept, layout, color, and type. When I say exploration, picture not so much an expert explorer, but a hapless amateur, lost in the jungle, frantically trying every trick and tool they know, hoping and praying that one will be the way out. I am pretty sure lots of designers feel this way—or maybe it’s just me.
The main effect, indeed, of all the differences between this book and a standard modern potboiler is to remind you how weirdly nightmarish the original play is: what Shakespeare brewed up is still almost too over-the-top for modern, ultraviolent mass entertainment.
As the hour of reckoning draws nigh, the ironies grow thick, and the eventual dramatic resolution feels somewhat forced; while some readers may see a heartwarming message here, I, for one, found it highly ambiguous and not a little horrifying. Yet so apparent are Rachman’s humanity and intelligence throughout that this ambiguity must be fully intended. There are no black-and-white answers in life and art, not even in our present age of increasing personal responsibility. “The Italian Teacher” is a psychologically nuanced pleasure.
So, at the risk of over-simplifying: to be happy you should have a home that is safe, big enough and near green spaces; work at a rewarding job that offers autonomy and novelty; earn enough money and find love – but don’t focus on pursuing money or love; do things you enjoy; laugh a lot, but don’t be a comedian … Oh, and benefit from consistent and loving parenting.
First, though, you should read this funny, stimulating and rewarding book. You’ll be happy you did.