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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Writing New York : A Literary Anthology (Library of America) » User review

A classic collection of literary and historical New York

  • Feb 3, 1999
This anthology of fiction and memoirs about America's first city offers as vivid a picture of New York City life and attitudes as any history book. Open the book at random, and there is something worth reading: George Templeton Strong wondering in his diary: "Is it the doom of all men in this century to be weighed down with the incumbrance of a desire to make money and save money, all their days?" (in 1852!); Stephen Crane writing of a man's moral dilemma over the false arrest of a possible prostitute; Ralph Ellison noting in "New York, 1936" that: "in the hustle and bustle of that most theatrical of American cities, one was accepted on the basis of what one appeared to be."

Then there's the fiction and the anthropological excerpts which offer pleasures of their own. One of Damon Runyon's stories about the "Guys and Dolls" of Broadway is here, a tougher story than one would expect from him. A selection from Oscar Hijuelos' "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love" is here as well. Joseph Mitchell's "Up in the Old Hotel," an observation piece written for The New Yorker and Zora Neale Hurston's "Story in Harlem Slang."

"Writing New York" is a convivial convention, probably the only gathering of New York wits and writers and reporters we're likely to see this side of heaven. Reading it alongside "Gotham" from Oxford University Press fleshes out a portrait of a great city that may be down at times, but can never be counted out.

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Bill Peschel ()
Ranked #476
Bill Peschel was born in 1960 in Ohio, and grew up there and in North Carolina. He graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with a B.A. in journalism. At The Avalon Hill Game Company … more
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Few cities on earth exert New York's pull on the literary imagination. There may be nothing like Paris in springtime, or a foggy day in London Town, but for sheer page volume, neither of these can rival the city that never sleeps. In celebration of Greater New York's centenary, the Library of America has assembled almost 200 years' worth of literary Gothamiana--no small task, given the scope from which they had to choose. The result is a hefty, pleasingly eclectic anthology that works as both historical document and literary revelation. Editor Phillip Lopate has wisely chosen to include both the familiar (Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener," Whitman's "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry") and the unknown (the diaries of English actress Fanny Kemble). Edith Wharton, Oscar Hijuelos, Henry Miller, Willa Cather, Tom Wolfe, Hart Crane: these are only a few of the writers who offer up their takes on the city, in terms that vary from nostalgic to cynical, romantic to tart. "I want this new novel to be delicate and cutting--nothing will cut New York but a diamond," observes Dawn Powell; "I don't like the city better, the more I see it, but worse," writes a homesick Thoreau. F. Scott Fitzgerald mourns the giddy New York of 1919, his "lost city," while E.B. White lauds the metropolis for its dual bequests, "the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy." Vibrant, opinionated, more than a little bit overwhelming, the anthology is a fitting tribute to a city whose most enduring characteristic is ...
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ISBN-10: 1883011620
ISBN-13: 978-1883011628
Author: Phillip Lopate
Publisher: Library of America

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