Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Book review: Here Is New York by E.B. White

I lived in New York City, in Astoria, Queens, for four and a half years, from January 2000-July 2004. I lived there through September 11 and through the blackout. I visited last summer. New York is a very special place and it's nice that it's our, as America is such a young country, and so many of the cities in the world that are real treasurers, are elsewhere.

I am a longtime fan of E.B. White and I like essays so I was really looking forward to this book. I was startled at how brief it was, though. It's not even a long essay. I think they really could have done more to beef it up--add a few more essays to round it out. It didn't even take me an hour to read it. However, it is a small gem. Nevermind that it ought to be titled "Here is Manhattan" as Brooklyn and Queens are only mentioned once each, and forget the two other boroughs. But it is interesting that this was written as a part of a travel series, as at this point in his life, the furthest anyone could get White to travel was NYC (from Maine). I do think a former city resident is the right person to give it a fresh look, as they will know the nooks and crannies where the real city lives, not just the large-brush tourist areas.

This edition was published in 1999, and has a frighteningly prescient moment at the end, where White imagines how much destruction a pane could do to the city. This wasn't intended to have shock value or shake readers to their core, like it does today, so I don't think it's a spoiler. In fact, I think warning readers about this is my duty, as White did not intend the current emotional reaction his words will have, and for those of us who did live through September 11 in New York City, it's good to be prepared for references to it.

It's mildly amusing that White himself writes a short foreword to the book being published, a year after the article was written, and already one business he mentioned had gone out of business. But that's part of the New York experience. Yes you can go to Delmonico's and eat at a restaurant that's been around for well over 100 years, but also your favorite restaurant can (and often does) just disappear one day. The city is constantly changing, and the essay is a now-nostalgic look at a New York that no longer exists, where the Third Avenue El has just recently been shut down and one could still eat at Schrafft's. Every resident of New York ought to have a copy of this book.

I was given this book for Christmas!

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