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The Bookish Diplomat

The first thing you notice when entering the room is the books. Hardcovers, paperbacks, fiction, nonfiction, old and new – they are everywhere, sitting on tables and counters, stacked in piles on the floor, and arranged in no particular order on the floor-to-ceiling shelves that line two walls. There is Proust in one corner, Virginia Woolf in another. There is a signed first edition of Catch-22 in there somewhere.

And in the middle of this literary wonderland sits Bill Goldstein, talking about books, co-op boards, and the art of collaboration. At 57, Goldstein has just published his first book, the acclaimed The World Broke in Two: Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot, D.H. Lawrence, E.M. Forster, and the Year That Changed Literature, which he spent six years researching and writing. He’s also the holder of a Ph.D. in English and host of a regular Sunday segment, “Bill’s Books,” on NBC’s Weekend Today in New York. Such a bookish man might seem like an unlikely leader of a 35-unit Art Deco co-op in the West Village.

Yet Bill Goldstein, curly-haired and intense, speaking in machine-gun-like bursts but always with wit and grace, is perfectly suited for the leadership role he has played since he joined his co-op board in 2003 and became president a year later. He is a conciliator, a charmer, a man who has spent his life getting along with people and smoothing out problems – as a journalist at magazines and newspapers, as a teacher, at non-profits, at corporations, and as an event programmer first at The New York Times (where he also launched the paper’s books website) and currently at Roosevelt House, the public-policy institute of Hunter College.

“I think I have a good sense of how to draw people out about what issues are of importance and then move on from there,” he says. “I think that has something to do with [my success as a leader], and [also] that my professional experience is not only in one industry or in one field.”

His leadership skills have been on full display during a plumbing project at his co-op that he calls a major undertaking for the building. “Bill has been very important to this project because he’s very diplomatic, which is why he runs terrific annual meetings,” says Margery Reifler, the treasurer since 1988. “More to the point, he’s very good at collecting information to analyze the situation and coordinating various pieces. In this project, there were a lot of different things going on at the same time. We had to hire an engineer and get specs done and assess the contractor. He’s very good at coordinating that kind of thing and communicating with the board.”

At annual meetings, she notes, Goldstein is adept at dealing with people and the issues they bring up. “For example,” she says, “figuring out how to let people speak about problems but not go on at length.” Goldstein says that a lot of his success is the result of the “neighborly” people who live in the building – a mix of literary types, lawyers, architects, and other professionals – and also a “collaborative” board that is always willing to rise to a challenge. “I’ve never found that anyone on the board has been unwilling or hasn’t volunteered to take on a lot of whatever responsibilities are necessary to move something,” he says. “It’s not uniquely my responsibility to remind people of things that they need to do. That’s what I mean about it being a collaborative board.” When the co-op hired a new manager, for instance, the board members split up the tasks among themselves – interviewing, getting references, doing the legwork.

While he was writing his book, Goldstein often worried that he would never finish what he had begun. He doesn’t feel such worries about the board, however. “Whatever my organizational abilities, or lack thereof,” he says, “there are enough people on the board paying attention.”

Goldstein, who moved into the co-op in 1997 with his partner Blake West, executive director of MCC Theater, was born and raised in Brooklyn, the youngest of four brothers. When pressed, Goldstein admits that his approach to problem-solving may have something to do with his family situation. With three older brothers, “you get used to dealing with personalities,” he says, laughing. “You have to figure out a way – not around them, but a way of surviving. I say that tongue in cheek.”

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