More New York Stories: A book review by Bob Morris

More New York StoriesMore New York Stories: The Best of the City Section of the New York Times
Constance Rosenblum, Editor
New York University Press (2010)

50 unique and compelling perspectives on a city that is large, one that contains multitudes

In her superb Introduction to New York Stories (2005), Constance Rosenblum explains that, in 1993, The New York Times began to publish stories about visitors to as well as residents of one the world’s most interesting metropolitan areas, the five boroughs that comprise New York City. What we have in that volume are 40 of those stories, published from January 23, 2000 (Ivor Hanson’s “The Allure of the Ledge”) and May 16, 2004 (Steven Kurutz’s “The Ballad of Sonny Payne”). As Rosenblum explains, “What distinguishes all these pieces is the presence of a powerful voice. New York itself is a city of voices – sophisticated and street-smart, wiseguy and nostalgic, loud and soft, subtle and over the top. The [New York Times] City section is distinctive in that it has been able to cultivate these distinctive voices. Inspired by New York’s cultural and geographic diversity, these essayist and stylists present a passionate and well-written portrait of the city and all its facets.” Rosenblum has organized the material within four Parts and has this to say about the first:

“The essays in ‘A Sense of Place’ bring to vivid life some of the city’s quintessential locales, among them the Greenwich basketball court where pathos and humor bounce about with as much abandon as the ball; an Upper East Side Starbucks where dramas large and minute play out around the clock; and the exquisite townhouse on West 11th Street – ‘the little house on heaven street’ – that was destroyed in 1970 when young radicals accidentally set off a bomb inside.”

What we have in this volume are 50 additional stories in which their authors “captured the mood of the city during a particularly poignant era — the years framing the events of September 11. It’s a cliché to say that nothing was the same in the years that followed the attacks on that luminous sky-blue morning, yet it’s impossible to look back on that period and not classify events as either Before or After.”

Once again, Rosenblum has organized the material within four parts: Characters (10 stories), Places in the City’s Heart (15), Rituals, Rhythms, and Ruminations (17), and Excavating the Past (8). Here is what she says about the second:

“In part 2, ‘Places in the City’s Heart,’ we visit memorable corners of New York — not just the big ticket locations like the Empire State Building but also less familiar sites like Potter’s Field on Hart Island, where the unknown dead are laid to rest; the outer-=borough strip called Gasoline Alley, where shady but friendly characters will hand you a line while pumping your gas; the old Shea Stadium, oddly mourned despite its flaws; and the nondescript deli in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, that stole a resident’s heart when he wasn’t even looking. Bars especially seem to keep the creative juices flowing, as they have throughout the city’s history. So does Brooklyn: Is it the face of the city’s future? Better than Manhattan? Hoe to too many writers? All of the above?”

I commend Constance Rosenblum for her brilliant editing of the material, especially how she frames each of the selections. For example, consider these three from part 1:

o Frances Kiernan’s Mr. Maxwell and Me: “It was the Mid-60s, and She Was the Dutiful Secretary of An Esteemed Editor at The New Yorker. In a Few Short Years the World Changed, and She Was the One in the Editor’s Chair.”

o Roy Hoffman’s Tom’s World: “Sometimes, We Know a Place through One Person. When He Dies, the Whole Neighborhood Goes Pale with the Loss.”

o Adam B. Ellick’s The Chicken and Rice Man: “Every Day of the Year, Jorge Muñoz Feeds the Mostly Homeless Men Who Congregate under the Roosevelt Avenue El in Jackson Heights, Queens. ‘He Got No Life,’ His Sister Said of Him, ‘But He Got a Big Heart.'”

In Song of Myself, Walt Whitman observes, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.” The same can be said of New York City. The nature and extent of its diverse humanity are brought to life in the two volumes of New York stories as well as in Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York.

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