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GREENWICH VILLAGE STORIES Edited by Judith Stonehill

GREENWICH VILLAGE STORIES
Edited by Judith Stonehill

As someone who blogs about memories of a bygone New York, the recently published Greenwich Village Stories, edited by Judith Stonehill, speaks to my heart and my mind.  Whereas I gather people’s recollections about pre-1990 SoHo, Stonehill collects stories of Greenwich Village pre-now, to create a mosaic portrait of this ever-changing neighborhood.  Published by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation in collaboration with Rizzoli, this “love letter to Greenwich Village, written by artists, poets, playwrights, musicians, restaurateurs, and other neighborhood habitués who each share a favorite memory of this beloved place. The sixty-six stories in this collection of Village memories are original and vivid—perfectly capturing the essence of the Village.”

Even people who have never been to NYC or who were born too recently to have “been there” have their own “memories” of Greenwich Village, through the countless films, television shows, songs, novels, poems, and images they have seen that focus on this famous (and infamous) neighborhood.  People who have lived or worked there have more concrete memories.  For some, the Village means their very first apartment, a walk up facing Sheridan Square for $40 a month, for others it is the cupcakes at the Magnolia Bakery, enjoyed only vicariously through the taste buds of Carrie Bradshaw on Sex and the City.

That all of these are “memories,” no matter where or how they originated, speaks to the mythical nature of this neighborhood as well as its ability to transform itself depending on the eye of the beholder.  This is what makes these stories, these individual memories, so remarkable, especially when considered together as a group. At heart, they all describe the same essence of a place, one where creativity is nurtured and opportunity abounds, also a place where hard lessons are learned and children become adults, but the experiences surrounding this core vary spectacularly. Even so, Greenwich Village is recognizable to us in every tale.

Judith Stonehill has done a fantastic job curating this collection of gems. These stories and their accompanying illustrations are a record of a neighborhood and community, ever evolving. She has captured a very unique place that we all cherish, but, due to its singularity, that we know will never exist again as it was.

GREENWICH VILLAGE STORIES
Edited by Judith Stonehill
In Association with the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation
Universe Publishing, an imprint of Rizzoli
New York
Hardcover / 192 pages / 77 color and black-and-white illustrations
6 1⁄2 x 8 1⁄2
PRICE: $29.95 US & CAN
www.rizzoliusa.com

 

The following excerpts provide only a glimpse of the riches that are to be found in Greenwich Village Stories.

 

Bleecker Street Cinema. Photo by Robert Otter. 1965. (GVS, page 65)

Bleecker Street Cinema. Photo by Robert Otter. 1965. (GVS, page 65)

Graydon Carter

In an age of cities,
there is just one village
that is known by people the world over:

Greenwich Village.

It got there by being small.
Let’s keep it that way.

(Page 31)

John Guare

I found my first apartment a while later on the corner of West 10th Street and West 4th Street where those streets collide in a burst of Village logic. I lived in a four-story walk-up with a twenty-foot ceiling and skylight, wood-burning fireplace, eat-in kitchen, bathroom with a tub and shower, looking out into a bunch of back- yard gardens. The rent? $32 a month. The previous tenants were two sisters who had lived there for forty years at $22 a month.

I found out Lanford Wilson lived cater-corner to me on the 4th Street side and knew him by this time. I’d open my window and sit there violently tapping the keys of my typewriter to torment him or he’d do the same to torment me.

In 1973, John Lennon and Yoko Ono moved out of their apartment at 1051⁄4 Bank Street up to the Dakota and I got the apartment, which had been a sculptor’s studio built in the garden. It had a thirty-foot ceiling with skylights and a spiral staircase up to the roof. That rent was a massive $500 a month. Pilgrims who didn’t know their idol and his wife had moved uptown flocked to my door and left me love letters.

(Page 64)

High Line train running on elevated tracks through what is now Westbeth. 1936. (GVS, page 66)

High Line train running on elevated tracks through what is now Westbeth. 1936. (GVS, page 66)

Robert Hammond

There were maybe twenty people there, and we heard a presentation by the Regional Plan Association, which had been commissioned by CSX, the railroad that owned the High Line. They discussed different options, from demolition to using it for freight to making a park up on top of it.

After that, people got up and spoke about why it was a bad idea to repurpose the High Line. It was a blight on the neighborhood. It was going to fall down any day. It was holding up the economic development of the area. It was dangerous. It was dark underneath. A whole litany of arguments, and really vehement. I was surprised at how strongly these people felt. I had been thinking about speaking at the meeting, but not after all that.

I stayed behind afterward, trying to find anyone else interested in saving the High Line. There was no one except the guy who had been sitting next to me. He told me his name was Joshua David.

I said, “Well, you know, I’m very busy, but if you start something, I could help.” And he said, “Well, I’m also very busy. Maybe you should start something.” We exchanged business cards and agreed to talk later.

(Pages 67-8)

Washington Square Serenade. Drawing/collage by Tony Fitzpatrick. 2008. (GVS page 35)

Washington Square Serenade. Drawing/collage by Tony Fitzpatrick. 2008. (GVS page 35)

Ed Koch

I moved to Greenwich Village in 1956. My first apartment was at 81 Bedford Street and subsequently, 72 Barrow Street and later, 14 Washington Place, from which I moved to Gracie Mansion, the mayor’s residence. There were lots of things to like about the Village. One was my involvement with Citizens for [Adlai] Stevenson, the predecessor political club to the Village Independent Democrats (V.I.D.). He was running for president of the United States at the time against Dwight Eisenhower. Stevenson’s speeches have never been equaled in style or substance. They were thrilling. I campaigned for him nightly in Sheridan Square, standing literally and occasionally on a soapbox.

While that was a very involving activity for me, there was one other even more fulfilling: eating dinner. At that time, there were three restaurants that I regularly went to because the food was truly delicious and very cheap. The oldest of the three was Louie’s, a bar in Sheridan Square in a building that is no longer standing. Louie’s veal parmigiana was $1.75, and beer was a dime a glass. Another restaurant was the Limelight on Seventh Avenue, which had prix-fixe dinners for $1.80, which I think ultimately increased to $2.50. With a delicious three-course dinner, plus coffee, you also got the opportunity to peruse photographs in a gallery provided by the owner of the restaurant.

Then there was the Lion’s Head on Christopher Street in Sheridan Square, near the offices of the Village Voice, where the food was superb and even more varied than the others and just as cheap, but not prix fixe. The reporters and authors of books, plus the politicians, made it their dinner table away from home. It is no longer there.

Later, when I was mayor, about 1978, a fourth restaurant, the Buffalo Roadhouse, opened on Seventh Avenue. I really loved it, especially during the summer, because it had outdoor space. Its hamburgers and soups have never been equaled, at least for me. I believe the owner wanted to upscale and changed to French cuisine. It ultimately closed, and I didn’t miss it.

(Page 92)

The Cardplayers, on Horatio Street. Photo by Ruth Orkin. 1947.

The Cardplayers, on Horatio Street. Photo by Ruth Orkin. 1947.

Jesse Malin

I think about the cycles a city goes through historically. People come and go; neighborhoods are built up, broken down, and reborn to find their place in time again. The streets walked by Emma Goldman, Bob Dylan, Charlie Parker, Diane Arbus, Allen Ginsberg, and Joey Ramone are the same streets my grandfather traveled from his tenement apartment to his high school to hear Albert Einstein speak. Even through all these changes, you can still find the art, the beauty, and even some trouble on these East Village streets. The sun still rises over Tompkins Square Park shedding light on a spray-painted wall that reads “The Future is Unwritten.”

(Page 105)

Wynton Marsalis

In 1981 I lived in the Village with my brother Branford. We had an apartment on Bleecker Street near Broadway. We must have been eighteen and nineteen years old then. Art Blakey lived there, too, and he got us into the building. I remember we used to leave the apartment at twelve o’clock at night and go to all of the clubs in the Village. We would go to the Tin Palace, the Village Vanguard, the Village Gate, and Sweet Basil. I played a lot at a place called Seventh Avenue South, too. And then, we would go to get us some break- fast at Sandolino’s around 5 a.m. and come home about 6:30 in the morning. We called that “doing the circuit,” doing all the clubs like that in one night. I remember all the musicians and gigs down here in the Village. It was very colorful—it reminded me a lot of the French Quarter of New Orleans. It was much more integrated than the rest of New York City, with a lot of different people, no judgment, and a lot of freedom.

(Page 107)

Swimmer, Back Flip. Pier 49, Bank Street. Photo by Shelley Seccombe. 1979. (GVS, page 127)

Swimmer, Back Flip. Pier 49, Bank Street. Photo by Shelley Seccombe. 1979. (GVS, page 127)

Isaac Misrahi

My mother used to say, “If you want to be young forever, move to the Village.” I arrived more than twenty years ago and have lived here ever since. I will probably move out feet first.

(Page 121)

Ioannis Pappos

I was part of the cocky Hermès-tie invasion of the West Village. At the peak of the dot-com craze, I moved to New York and leased a loft on Leroy Street at the Printing House, which was practically a frat house for Wall Streeters. The annual rent could buy a small condo in Texas, but it was spacious. My first night I gave my bike a spin around the living room— I had arrived.

Right away I recognized that the West Village was in the throes of collision. It harbored a mishmash of different species and formed a battleground of sorts for MBAs like me with money (at least on paper) and subletting artists. We had Pastis and Da Silvano, they had El Faro and Tavern on Jane. We all mixed at Florent and rubbed shoulders, literally, at snug La Bonbonniere during hangover Sundays. Dog walkers and tattooed musicians would “Hey, man” me at Meatpacking District parties, and I felt somehow abashed—it was as though they picked up on every- thing about our white-collar raid and still they pardoned us. I wanted to see them fighting for rent-justice, I expected contempt and dirty looks, but those madcaps didn’t seem to give a damn. I envied them. As soon as the 9/11 mourning subsided, the Spotted Pig and six, seven (I’ve stopped counting) Marc Jacobs stores sealed my hood’s fate: being poor and marginal in the West Village was now almost suspicious.

(Page 126)

Mary Help of Christians R. C. Church, on East 12th Street. Photo by Allen Ginsberg. 1985. Despite community protest, the church was demolished in 2013.  (GVS, page 135)

Mary Help of Christians R. C. Church, on East 12th Street. Photo by Allen Ginsberg. 1985. Despite community protest, the church was demolished in 2013. (GVS, page 135)

Lou Reed

My favorite moments in the Village are always with the beautiful sun drifting over the Hudson River. And as I look out, I am taking photos in my mind or with one of my cameras. It’s always great for me to start the day with a beautiful photo and then three hours of tai chi, all these golden moments in the Village.

(Page 131)

Brooke Shields

The friendliness one encounters in the West Village is unlike that of any other area in the city. People still make eye contact and are actually interested to hear how you are doing. There is an Old World warmth you feel from your neighbors and a sense that they look out for each other. I am thrilled my girls are experiencing life in a real neighborhood in the middle of such a metropolitan city. I want them to grow up walking to school and knowing and supporting local shop owners and restaurant proprietors. We know our mailman! Whenever I describe our neighborhood to people, they think I live in Vermont or Connecticut. Nope, it’s the Village, I say. And I love it.

(Page 145)

Matt Umanov

In the early 1970s, when my guitar store was very small and located on a then-sleepy block of lower Bedford Street, we had well-known musician customers as well as the occasional clueless walk-in. On a particular day, a somewhat ragged-looking hippie-type kid walked in, took down a guitar from the display wall and started playing, quite badly. After ten minutes of torture, Susie, my wife at the time, and I were just on the verge of shutting this kid down and showing him the door when in walked Bob Dylan, a sometime regular there. Without saying a word, Bob picked up a guitar and started playing with the kid. They were, in a word, collectively awful, and if it hadn’t been Bob, we would’ve tossed them both, on general principles. They never said a word to each other, just played together, and after about fifteen minutes the kid put down the guitar and left.

(Page 161)

 

ABOUT THE EDITOR: Judith Stonehill is the author of New York’s Unique and Unexpected Places, Greenwich Village, and Brooklyn. She was the co-owner of the New York Bound Bookshop. The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) was founded in 1980 to preserve the architectural heritage and cultural history of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo. GVSHP is a leader in protecting the sense of place and human scale that define the Village’s unique community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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golemandjinni_pbkTHE GOLEM AND THE JINNI
By Helene Wecker
486 pp., Harper, $26.99

From the Harper Collins website:

In The Golem and the Jinni, a chance meeting between mythical beings takes readers on a dazzling journey through cultures in turn-of-the-century New York.

Chava is a golem, a creature made of clay, brought to life to by a disgraced rabbi who dabbles in dark Kabbalistic magic and dies at sea on the voyage from Poland. Chava is unmoored and adrift as the ship arrives in New York harbor in 1899.

Ahmad is a jinni, a being of fire born in the ancient Syrian desert, trapped in an old copper flask, and released in New York City, though still not entirely free

Ahmad and Chava become unlikely friends and soul mates with a mystical connection. Marvelous and compulsively readable, Helene Wecker’s debut novel The Golem and the Jinni weaves strands of Yiddish and Middle Eastern literature, historical fiction and magical fable, into a wondrously inventive and unforgettable tale.

 

riddle of the labyrinthTHE RIDDLE OF THE LABYRINTH: The Quest to Crack an Ancient Code
By Margalit Fox
Illustrated. 363 pp, Ecco/HarperCollins Publishers, $27.99

From the back cover:

The Riddle of the Labyrinth is the true story of the quest to solve one of the most mesmerizing riddles in history—Linear B—and of the three brilliant, obsessed, and ultimately doomed investigators whose combined work would eventually crack the code. There was Evans, who had discovered the script but could never unravel it; Alice Kober, the fiery American scholar whose vital work on Linear B never got the recognition it deserved; and Michael Ventris, the haunted English architect who would solve the riddle triumphantly at the age of thirty only to die four years later under circumstances that remain the subject of speculation even now.

For half a century some of the world’s foremost scholars tried to coax the tablets to yield their secrets. Then, in 1952, the script was deciphered seemingly in a single stroke—not by a scholar but by Ventris, an impassioned amateur whose obsession with the tablets had begun in childhood. The decipherment brought him worldwide acclaim. But it also cost him his architectural career, his ties to his family, and quite possibly his life.

That is the narrative of the decipherment as it has been known thus far. But a major actor in the drama has long been missing: Alice Kober, a classicist at Brooklyn College. Though largely forgotten today, she came within a hair’s breadth of deciphering Linear B before her own untimely death in 1950. As The Riddle of the Labyrinth reveals, it was Kober who built the foundation on which Ventris’s decipherment stood, an achievement that until now has been all but lost to history. Drawing on a newly opened archive of Kober’s papers, Margalit Fox restores this unsung heroine to her rightful place at last.

 

topsyTOPSY: The Startling Story of the Crooked-Tailed Elephant, P. T. Barnum and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison
By Michael Daly
288 pp., Atlantic Monthly Press, $27.00

From Amazon.com:

In 1903, on Coney Island, an elephant named Topsy was electrocuted, and over the past century, this bizarre, ghoulish execution has reverberated through popular culture with the whiff of urban legend. But it really happened, and many historical forces conspired to bring Topsy, Thomas Edison, and those 6600 volts of alternating current together that day. Tracing them all in Topsy The Startling Story of the Crooked Tailed Elephant, P.T. Barnum, and the American Wizard, Thomas Edison, journalist Michael Daly weaves together a fascinating popular history, the first book on this astonishing tale.

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here is new yorkAs I was looking though my bookshelf for something to read on the train, I noticed two slim volumes sitting quietly side by side: E.B. White’s Here is New York and Colson Whitehead’s The Colossus of New York.  I grabbed them both and used my time on the subway to revisit them, one on the way uptown, the other on the way down.

These two works have found themselves in each other’s company before, no doubt.  They are, at least on the surface, ripe for comparison, in that they are both brief, personal love letters to New York City, though their authors are separated by, among other things, time and circumstance.

White’s essay, originally published as an article in Holiday magazine, and then in book form, was written in his sweltering hotel room during a visit to New York in the summer of 1949. He observes:

There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these three trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements. Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

colossus of new yorkWhite falls into the third category of New Yorks—born in Mount Vernon, he was a New York settler until 1938, when he moved to Maine.  Colson Whitehead, on the other hand, is a born and bred native.  On being a true New Yorker, he writes in his 2003 book The Colossus of New York:

You swallow hard when you discover that the old coffee shop is now a chain pharmacy, that the place where you first kissed so-and-so is now a discount electronics retailer, that where you bought this very jacket is now rubble behind a blue plywood fence and a future office building. Damage has been done to your city. You say, ”It happened overnight.” But of course it didn’t. Your pizza parlor, his shoeshine stand, her hat store: when they were here, we neglected them. For all you know, the place closed down moments after the last time you walked out the door. (Ten months ago? Six years? Fifteen? You can’t remember, can you?) And there have been five stores in that spot before the travel agency. Five different neighborhoods coming and going between then and now, other people’s other cities. Or 15, 25, 100 neighborhoods. Thousands of people pass that storefront every day, each one haunting the streets of his or her own New York, not one of them seeing the same thing.

Being a native New Yorker myself, I can relate to Whitehead’s idea of having one’s own New York, how each person here sees his or her own story in the city’s streets, all of them unique and specific to that person.  I can also confirm that the starry-eyed transplants, the third of White’s New Yorks, give our fair city an energy that is unique to cities where almost everyone is from someplace else.  But I must protest when White asserts that “[i]t is this third city that accounts for New York’s high-strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.”

It is the very fact that we have all three of White’s New Yorks, the commuters, the natives, and the settlers, that this city has a passion that attracts the passion of others.  Without a perfectly-balanced cast of Whites, Whiteheads, as well as throngs of itinerant men and women in white shirts, the curtain would go down on the never-ending universal drama that is New York.  It is the constant ebb and flow of the tension and relaxation created by the intermingling of these three cities that allows New York to constantly generate the high-strung passion that is its life force.

Toward the end of Colossus, Whitehead writes that “Talking about New York is a way of talking about the world.”  In the micro you see the macro, or as White movingly observes:

A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning. The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without any doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.

All this, for the price of two swipes of a Metrocard.

 

White, E B. Here Is New York. New York: Harper, 1949.
 
Whitehead, Colson. The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts. New York: Doubleday, 2003

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9780814771549_FullHabitats: Private Lives in the Big City
By Constance Rosenblum

New York University Press
256 pages
$19.95

From the NYU Press website:

There may be eight million stories in the Naked City, but there are also nearly three million dwelling places, ranging from Park Avenue palaces to Dickensian garrets and encompassing much in between. The doorways to these residences are tantalizing portals opening onto largely invisible lives.  Habitats offers 40 vivid and intimate stories about how New Yorkers really live in their brownstones, their apartments, their mansions, their lofts, and as a whole presents a rich, multi-textured portrait of what it means to make a home in the world’s most varied and powerful city.

 

9781419706721Mapping Manhattan: A Love (and Sometimes Hate) Story in Maps by 75 New Yorkers
By Becky Cooper
Foreword by Adam Gopnik

Abrams Image
120 pages
$19.95

From the Abrams website:

Armed with hundreds of blank maps she had painstakingly printed by hand, Becky Cooper walked Manhattan from end to end. Along her journey she met police officers, homeless people, fashion models, and senior citizens who had lived in Manhattan all their lives. She asked the strangers to “map their Manhattan” and to mail the personalized maps back to her. Soon, her P.O. box was filled with a cartography of intimate narratives: past loves, lost homes, childhood memories, comical moments, and surprising confessions. A beautifully illustrated, PostSecret-style tribute to New York, Mapping Manhattan includes 75 maps from both anonymous mapmakers and notable New Yorkers, including Man on Wire aerialist Philippe Petit, New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov, Tony award-winning actor Harvey Fierstein, and many more.

 

9781593720520_sq-a7241315f316a663409b50259cc79fd04e1173a3-s2New York City of Trees
By Benjamin Swett

QuantuckLane Press
160 Pages
$29.95

From Benjamin Swett’s website:

It is common to talk about how trees improve living conditions in cities by filtering and cooling the air, absorbing excess rainwater, and making neighborhoods more attractive, but little has been said about the equally important role of trees as storehouses of a city’s past. Just as trees remove carbon from the atmosphere and hold it for many years in their woody tissue, so do they sequester the shared experiences of the people who live alongside them. The growth rings of trees contain, in organized fashion, physical manifestations of the world and of the human presence in it at different times in a tree’s history. Trees also store memories through the associations they carry for the people who live alongside them and see them every day. By looking at a group of trees I have known over many years, scattered around the five boroughs of New York City, I have tried to show how much of the life of New York is contained in its trees.

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“St. George’s” by Gene Schermerhorn

In 1888, Gene Schermerhorn, a member of an old New York family, ended a series of letters to his young nephew in the finest spirit of personal recollections:

Now my dear Phil I have tried to tell you what this great city was like when I was a boy but little older than yourself, and I hope I have succeeded in interesting you somewhat. I have begun with my earliest recollections of New York and I will leave it now about 1856 when the population was only 629,810…It is estimated now at over 1,500,000.

I cannot help looking forward and wondering, if it can possibly be that you can tell of as great changes. It is my firm belief that you will be able to do so and that you will live to see the entire island as thickly built as it is now below 59th St. and perhaps the district above the Harlem also. Or it may be that you will see changes that I don’t even dream of, although my faith in the future of New York is unbounded…I hope you will sometimes enjoy reading what has given me so much pleasure to write for you.

Your loving Uncle Gene

First hand accounts like these are sparks of New York life.  Many writers, including Charles Dickens, William Thackeray, Herman Melville, Edith Wharton, E.B. White and Joseph Mitchell, have illuminated the city, but the words of New Yorkers outside of literary circles, people like Gene Schermerhorn, are often equally eloquent and distinctive. Unlike histories, contemporary diary entries, letters, and other eyewitness accounts offer a view of New York life that is umblemished by the sensibilities of a later time. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor
By Marguerite Holloway, 372 pages, W.W. Norton & Co., $26.95

I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography
By Richard Hell, 293 pages, HarperCollins Publishers, $25.99

George Bellows: Painter with a Punch!
By Robert Burleigh, 48 pages, Abrams Books for Young Readers, $18.95

 

imagesThe Measure of Manhattan: The Tumultuous Career and Surprising Legacy of John Randel Jr., Cartographer, Surveyor, Inventor

By Marguerite Holloway

372 pages, W.W. Norton & Co., $26.95

From the book’s website:

John Randel Jr. (1787-1865) was an eccentric and flamboyant surveyor. A nineteenth century genius renowned for his inventiveness as well as his bombast and irascibility, Randel plotted Manhattan’s famous city grid but died in financial ruin. Telling Randel’s engrossing and dramatic life story for the first time, this eye-opening biography introduces an unheralded pioneer of American engineering and mapmaking.

 

images-1I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp: An Autobiography

By Richard Hell

293 pages, HarperCollins Publishers, $25.99

From USA Today review:

Richard Hell brings to his new autobiography, …more literary experience than your typical rock memoirist. Before gaining attention for his work in such seminal punk-era bands as Television, the Heartbreakers and Richard Hell and the Voidoids, he wrote verse and even published a poetry magazine (albeit a “fetal” one, he admits in these pages); and writing has been Hell’s main vocation — essays, reportage, fiction — since he retired from music back in 1984.

 

images-2George Bellows: Painter with a Punch!

By Robert Burleigh

48 pages, Abrams Books for Young Readers, $18.95

From the Politics and Prose website:

No punches are pulled in this fascinating biography that covers the life and work of the prolific artist George Bellows. Having spent most of his adult life in New York City, Bellows left behind an extraordinary body of work that captures life in this dynamic city: bustling street scenes, ringside views of boxing matches, and boys diving and swimming in the East River. Art reproductions and photographs from his youth round out the book.

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New Books

MY AMERICAN REVOLUTION
By Robert Sullivan

CITY OF PROMISES: A History of the Jews in New York
By Deborah Dash Moore (Author) , Howard B. Rock (Editor) , Annie Polland (Editor) , Daniel Soyer (Editor) , Jeffrey S. Gurock (Editor) , Diana Linden (Editor)

THE RICHEST WOMAN IN AMERICA: Hetty Green in the Gilded Age
By Janet Wallach

 

9780374217457-1MY AMERICAN REVOLUTION

By Robert Sullivan

259 pages, Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $26.00

From the Macmillan website:

Like an almanac, My American Revolution moves through the calendar of American independence, considering the weather and the tides, the harbor and the estuary and the yearly return of the stars as salient factors in the war for independence. In this fiercely individual and often hilarious journey to make our revolution his, he shows us how alive our own history is, right under our noses. Read the rest of this entry »

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New Books

Unfair to Genius: The Strange and Litigious Career of Ira B. Arnstein
By Gary A. Rosen
Hardcover, 336 pages
Oxford University Press USA, $27.95

Description (from Oxford University Press):

The long and tortured career of Ira B. Arnstein, “the unrivaled king of copyright infringement plaintiffs,” opens a curious window into the evolution of copyright law in the United States. As Gary A. Rosen shows in this frequently funny and always entertaining history, the litigious Arnstein was a trenchant observer and most improbable participant in the transformation of not just copyright, but of American popular music itself.

 

A Naked Singularity
By Sergio de la Pava
Softcover, 688 pages
The University of Chicago Press, $18.00

Description (from the book’s website):

A novel wherein Casi, a young NYC public defender and son of Colombian immigrants, will suffer his first loss at trial then seek to reduce the sting of that defeat by using inside information to meticulously plan and execute a heist of illicit millions. Where said actions will not only come to the attention of a persistent police detective but also unleash a menacing giant bent on violent revenge; two pursuers Casi must then outrace while navigating a world expanded by theoretical physics to encompass the rise and fall of boxer Wilfred Benitez, Alabama’s death row, psych experiments involving Ralph Kramden, and enough comedic energy to power the stars.

 

One Times Square: A Century of Change at the Crossroads of the World
Written and illustrated by Joe McKendry
Hardcover, 64 pages, Ages 6-10
David R. Godine, $19.95

Description (from Publisher’s Weekly review):

In this spectacular album of crisp sketches and meticulous paintings styled after archival and current photographs, McKendry (Beneath the Streets of Boston) serves up a fascinating biography of One Times Square, the longstanding building at the heart of Manhattan. McKendry chronicles the development of the intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue from its earliest incarnation as Long Acre Square, home to “[c]arriage builders, livery stables, and a few coal yards,” to a lively hub for theater, crime-ridden neighborhood, and contemporary rebirth as an entertainment attraction and advertising mecca.

 

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As I was doing research for my blog, The SoHo Memory Project, I came across a a pulp-fiction paperback about SoHo.  Judging from the cover art, the novel, entitled Soho, was probably meant to appeal to readers in search of a good soap opera-style story, and it certainly delivers on that front.  It is a saga about an immigrant family whose rise to power parallels SoHo’s rise to prominence as a center of art and commerce.  The blurb on the back reads, “From Lower East Side merchants to high-powered international art brokers, three generations struggle for love, wealth and fame in thrilling…SOHO.”

Basically, Soho is about a bunch of good-looking, ambitious, passionate, people striving for success in twentieth-century New York.  The story is pretty mundane and bit stilted, but the novel’s landscape is actually quite interesting and well researched.  The details about early loft living and atmospheric descriptions of street scenes are astute and accurate.

The following is an excerpt from Soho, also cited by Richard Kostelanetz in his book, SoHo: The Rise and Fall of an Artists’ Colony, that is a particularly evocative passage describing Canal Street in the 1960′s:

Annie walked with Camille to the subway entrance, then strolled west on Canal Street, drawn by the activity on the sidewalks.  What she discovered, to her delight, was that a number of stores had, in effect, burst and spilled out into the street, so that their wares were displayed in irregularly ascending rows of trays and boxes—some resting on trestles,  some on other boxes—in the way that fruit and vegetables were arranged outside an old-fashioned greengrocers.  In front of one store were containers of vacuum tubes, condensers, transformers, loudspeaker cones—everything the radio or hi-fi enthusiast could require—the price of each item boldly stated on a hand-lettered card.  Another shop offered plumbing supplies—mundane objects that became exotic isolated out here on the street—and a third displayed sneakers, sandals, and several kinds of work boots, all crowded onto a kind of miniature bleachers.  A cascade of legal pads, ledgers, typewriter ribbons, old calendars, pencil sharpeners, ink pads, and desk lamps overflowed from an office supply company.  Nearby were rolls of garden hose, brass rods, hacksaw blades, nuts and bolts, hatchets, frying pans bathroom cabinets, casters, door handles, toilet paper holders—the contents of a hardware store that had been turned inside out—and next to that a cluttered assemblage of electric motors in all sizes and shapes.

(from SoHo, by C.L. Byrd, pages 129-130)

This passage describes all that I found so interesting as a child walking down Canal Street with my father to buy supplies for one of his construction jobs and lovingly portrays a street that was at once chaotic and orderly in its own way.  The “about the author” note says that C.L. Byrd is the pseudonym of two writers closely involved with the New York art world, and that seems plausible to me.

The most interesting aspect of this novel, however, is that it provides a glimpse into how outsiders, the suburban housewife or midwestern banker, would perceive SoHo if novels such as this one were their primary information source.  Although it is pretty accurate in its descriptions of everyday life in SoHo, it still paints a somewhat glossy and  romantic idea of what it was like to be a pioneer in loft living.  I guess the equivalent for me would be my perception of Dallas in the 1980′s being based on the trials and tribulations of JR and his posse.  The money, the power, the women.  I mean, quel drama!  By the way, does anyone remember, in the end, who actually shot JR?

 

*This post originally appeared on June 18, 2011 at The SoHo Memory Project

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My daughter, like her mother, LOVES books, and, also like her mother, she loves books about New York.  I noticed recently, as I was putting books away after one of the read-a-thons we call “bedtime,” though “booktime” would be more accurate, is that we have a TON of picture books about New York City, and I am guessing that this is typical of many New York households with children.  I think that we, as parents, either consciously or unconsciously, want our children to love New York as much as we do and to understand the beauty and richness and complexity that is their hometown.  There are countless children’s books, as well as young adult books, that have New York City as their setting or subject, and the list keeps growing.  I do not profess to be an expert on the subject, but I am most certainly an expert on what books my New York daughter likes.

One of her all-time favorites is Kay Thompson’s Eloise, a book I never read myself as a child.  From a parent’s perspective, Eloise’s story is a sad one.  She is left to live with her very loving nanny at the Plaza Hotel while her mother gallivants around the world leading the glamorous life and calls every once in a while to say hello or to send for her daughter to join her in some exotic locale.  But Eloise shows us that she is a resourceful and inventive six year old with unlimited imagination and spunk. The Plaza Hotel, that New York landmark that in real life houses her portrait, is Eloise’s plaything and constant companion.  She is indeed a “city child,” as she describes herself, mingling with (and sometimes terrorizing) the hotel guests and using its hallways and grand salons as backdrops for her daily dramas.  My daughter and I have read Eloise countless times, and, as its subtitle states, it is “a book for precocious grown ups,” thus I enjoy it as much as she does, every single time.

Another classic that graces our shelves is not an obvious New York book.  My daughter loves Maurice Sendak’s In the Night Kitchen so much that she memorized it word for word.  The only way I know she is reciting and not actually reading it is that she looks at the pictures, not the words, when “reading” it aloud.  The story appears to be set in Brooklyn, where Sendak grew up, and features an unusual depiction of the Manhattan skyline.  From a historical perspective its themes are dark—mustachioed men baking a boy in an oven—but it is also a story about a child dreaming of falling into an imaginary urban landscape where buildings are made from baking ingredients and utensils.

My daughter’s third favorite New York book is a lesser-known, quieter book that has actually moved me to tears.  At Night, by Jonathan Bean, is about a girl who cannot sleep until she decides to set up a makeshift bed on her roof.  She finally falls asleep once she is able to feel her place in the city:

She lay in her bed
on her house in the city,
in the night,
under the sky.

She thought about the wide world
all around her and smiled.

She looked up,
breathed, closed her eyes…and slept.

An illustration from Jonathan Bean’s AT NIGHT

This excerpt loses much without the illustrations, but I have choked back tears when reading this aloud, perhaps because I, too, had trouble sleeping as a child when faced with the dark night.  To my daughter’s relief, by the time the protagonist falls asleep on the roof, her mother is sitting in a chair watching over her daughter, so she is not sleeping outside alone.

I feel that I must not leave out This is New York, Miroslav Sasek’s classic 1960 book from his series of children’s travel guides to large metropolises around the world.  My daughter claims that she finds the book “boring,” as it does not have a story but is a catalog of facts about places in the city, but I have caught her poring over its pages and see her face light up whenever she comes across an illustration of a site she recognizes.  Narrative or no narrative, she is drawn to its visual cues—water towers, subway stations, hotdog vendors, and, of course, the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building.

These are four out of oodles of great picture books about or set in New York.  Everyone who grew up in New York has his or her favorites.  These are my daughters, at least for now.  I cannot wait until she is older, when I can introduce her to more complex New York stories such as Stuart Little and The Cricket in Times Square.  One of my personal favorites is E.L. Konigsburg’s From the Mixed Up files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler about a sister and brother team who hide out in The Metropolitan Museum of Art and get caught up in a mystery involving a statue.

New York is a fascinating topic for readers, no matter what age.  Children who grow up in New York City have a very singular perspective.  For a short while, before they realize that the world is wide, they do not know anything else.  They think the entire world is like New York until they slowly come to realize that New York is like no other place in the world.  Oh, to be in that place again, when the world was my oyster, and that oyster was New York!

Reading list:

Bean, Jonathan. At Night. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.

Konigsburg, E L, and E L. Konigsburg. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. New York: Atheneum, 1967.

Sasek, M. This Is New York. New York: Macmillan Co, 1960.

Selden, George. The Cricket in Times Square. New York: Ariel Books, 1960.

Sendak, Maurice. In the Night Kitchen. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1970

Thompson, Kay, Hilary Knight, and Marie Brenner. Kay Thompson’s Eloise: The Absolutely Essential Edition. New York: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 1999.

White, E B, and Garth Williams. Stuart Little. New York: Harper & Row, 1973.

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