The following are a few NEW New York books that caught out attention, in no particular order:
By Robin Nagle
Farrar, Strauss, and Giroux
304 pages, $28.00
From the NY Observer:
Once upon a time, in a world before the Department of Sanitation, New York City’s streets flowed with raw sewage. Slaughterhouses and farms dumped animal waste in the drinking water, and the number of yellow fever-driven deaths and exiles stretched into the tens of thousands. By the 1850s, New Yorkers were up to their necks in an accumulation of rot and bodies that became known as “corporation pudding.”
That’s the cautionary tale behind a new book out this month, Picking Up: On the Streets and Behind the Trucks With the Sanitation Workers of New York City, in which author Robin Nagle reminds readers that we ought to be a little more appreciative of the men and women who clean up after us, lest we tempt such a fate—or, God forbid, have to deal with our own trash.
For the last 12 years, Ms. Nagle, a New York University anthropology professor, has been studying and advocating for the city’s “garbage faeries,” the vital yet largely invisible work force whose labor gets noticed only when it hasn’t been done. Sanitation workers have a higher on-the-job mortality rate than any other uniformed department in the city, she writes—including police officers and firefighters—yet their duties aren’t remotely as revered.
By Carla Kaplan
576 pages, $28.9
From The Daily Beast:
When Etta Duryea, the white wife of black prizefighter Jack Johnson, killed herself in 1912, contemporary newspapers reported it as “the logical outcome for a ‘woman without a race.’” The boundaries were clear, the consequences of crossing the color line dire in the years before World War I, when American assumptions about everything from patriotism and class to gender and race were secure, bigoted, and unchallenged. But in the 1920s and ‘30s, a small but dauntless group of white women flung down a gauntlet to these assumptions, declaring their alliance with African-American culture during the height of the Harlem Renaissance.
In Miss Anne In Harlem, Carla Kaplan’s clear-sighted, empathetic assessment of a half-dozen of these women, she casts a fresh eye over people and relationships too often reduced to stereotypes. She explores the complicated reality of individual lives to illuminate our collective struggle with fraught questions about race and identity that are as uncomfortable and unresolved today as they were in the 1920s and ‘30s.
by Joseph J. Varga
Monthly Review Press
269 pages, $18.95
Hell’s Kitchen is among Manhattan’s most storied and studied neighborhoods. A working-class district situated next to the West Side’s middle- and upper-class residential districts, it has long attracted the focus of artists and urban planners, writers and reformers. Now, Joseph Varga takes us on a tour of Hell’s Kitchen with an eye toward what we usually take for granted: space, and, particularly, how urban spaces are produced, controlled, and contested by different class and political forces.
Varga examines events and locations in a crucial period in the formation of the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood, the Progressive Era, and describes how reformers sought to shape the behavior and experiences of its inhabitants by manipulating the built environment. But those inhabitants had plans of their own, and thus ensued a struggle over the very spaces—public and private, commercial and personal—in which they lived. Varga insightfully considers the interactions between human actors, the built environment, and the natural landscape, and suggests how the production and struggle over space influence what we think and how we live. In the process, he raises incisive questions about the meaning of community, citizenship, and democracy itself.
by Ellen Levitt
204 pages, $26.00
From the Lost Synagogues Press Release:
Ellen Levitt completes her trilogy of books about former synagogues throughout the five boroughs of New York City, with the publication of The Lost Synagogues of Manhattan. It describes existing buildings in Manhattan (as well as Staten Island and Governors Island) that once housed synagogues but are now being used as churches and other houses of worship, private residences, schools and community centers, even restaurants and an art gallery. Her first book The Lost Synagogues of Brooklyn was published by Avotaynu in 2009; her second book The Lost Synagogues of the Bronx and Queens was published by Avotaynu in 2011.
Each of the 83 featured formerly Jewish houses of worship in the new book includes one or more photographs showing how it appears today with a narrative that explains the history of the building and, in some cases, interviews with former and current congregants and occupants. Many of the facades still have Jewish symbols. Some buildings have been faithfully preserved, while others are in disrepair. This is supported by extensive research and stirring stories.
by David Tobis
Oxford University Press
$29.95, 336 pages
From Publishers Weekly:
After being approached by an anonymous donor, Tobis, who has worked in New York City’s child welfare system since 1979, used the donation to co-create the Child Welfare Fund, which aims to help children and families in need and reform the city’s welfare system. His account begins with a brief history of child welfare efforts in N.Y.C. before 1995. Many reform efforts were doomed before they began, despite good intentions, due to institutional inertia and limited social services. Tobis details his efforts, and those of his allies, to make parents and foster children more aware of their rights within the system, and provides statistics that highlight flaws in the system. Whether the efforts to transform New York’s child welfare efforts into something more effective and humane will survive rotating agency heads and funding issues remains to be seen, but Tobis, at least, seems optimistic. This potentially important book, however, is hampered by an over-reliance on anecdotes. While a useful and engaging introduction to the subject, the treatment remains cursory, leaving the reader yearning for a more thorough text.
by Peter Genovese
200 pages, $22.95
From the NPR website:
New York City’s Lombardi’s Pizza opened its doors in 1905, marking a special centennial for a food that has become an American staple.
Food writer Ed Levine is a regular contributor to the Dining pages of The New York Times and is the author of New York Eats and New York Eats More. His new book is Pizza, a Slice of Heaven: The Ultimate Guide and Companion.
Levine and a host of other writers weigh in on questions that liven up tables of pizza eaters daily. From style distinctions — New York vs. Chicago vs. gourmet — to comparing the U.S. version to pizza’s Italian roots, Pizza dishes facts and opinions of a cultural force.
by Kate Manning
448 pages, $26.99
From the author’s website:
Based on a true story from the scandalized headlines of Victorian New York City, My Notorious Life is a portrait of Axie Muldoon, the impoverished daughter of Irish Immigrants who becomes an enormously successful—and controversial—midwife. Separated from her siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, Axie parlays the sale of a few bottles of “lunar tonic for relief of female complaint” into a thriving practice as a female physician known as “Madame X.” But as she rises from the gutter to the glitter of Fifth Avenue, Axie discovers that the right way is not always the way of the law, and that you should never trust a man who says, “trust me.” But what if that man is an irresistible risk-taker with a poetical soul? Soon, Axie’s choices put her on a collision course with one of the most zealous characters of her era: Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and it will take all of her power and wealth to outwit him and save herself and her family from ruin.
A love story, a family saga, and a vivid rendering of a historical time and heated political climate, My Notorious Life is the tale of one woman making her indomitable way in a difficult world. Axie Muldoon is a heroine for the ages.
From the Houghton Mifflin website:
From “the lit world’s sharpest chronicler of New York’s past” (Rolling Stone), a novel of two Irish brothers who travel from the gangland waterfront to the halls of power. Based on one of the great unsolved murders in mob history, and the rise-and-fall of a real-life hero, The Big Crowd tells the sweeping story of Charlie O’Kane. He is the American dream come to life, a poor Irish immigrant who worked his way up from beat cop to mayor of New York at the city’s dazzling, post-war zenith. Famous, powerful, and married to a glamorous fashion model, he is looked up to by millions, including his younger brother, Tom. So when Charlie is accused of abetting a shocking mob murder, Tom sets out to clear his brother’s name while hiding a secret of his own.The charges against Charlie stem from his days as a crusading Brooklyn DA, when he sent the notorious killers of Murder, Inc., to the chair—only to let a vital witness go flying out a window while under police guard. Now, out of office, Charlie lives in a shoddy, Mexico City tourist hotel, eaten up with regrets and afraid he will be indicted for murder if he returns to the U.S. To uncover what really happened, Tom must confront stunning truths about his brother, himself, and the secret workings of the great city he loves.Moving from the Brooklyn waterfront to city hall, from the battlefields of World War II to the beaches of Acapulco, to the glamorous nightclubs of postwar New York, The Big Crowd is filled with historical powerbrokers and gangsters, celebrities and socialites, scheming cardinals and battling, dockside priests. But ultimately it is a brilliantly imagined, distinctly American story of the bonds and betrayals of brotherhood.