Under the Tree, Old and New

Under the tree this morning, courtesy of my mother-in-law in the Midwest, were two books about New York. The old (for me): Charles Reznikoff’s novel By the Waters of Manhattan (1930), which charts the experiences of Jewish family at the turn into the twentieth century, as it moves from Elizavetgrad in Russia to Brownsville in Brooklyn. I confess that I’ve always meant to read the novel but haven’t gotten to it yet. The back-cover blurb makes it sound as if it might be an appealing alternative to Cahan’s Yekl in some future iteration of our Writing New York course: “Much like Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and Henry Roth, Reznikoff’s subject is as much the great island of Manhattan, as its is its inhabitants.” Lionel Trilling liked the novel as does Philip Lopate, who provided the introduction to last year’s new edition.

The new (for my son): Adam Gopnik’s young adult novel, The Steps Across the Water (2010), which is beautifully designed — lovely white glossy paper and beautiful illustrations by Bruce McCall. It tells the story of a young girl name Rose who discovers a hidden city called U Nork that makes our own beloved Big Apple seem like … well, the Little Apple. I’ll probably be reading that one too.

Happy holidays to all our readers! If you’ve received a present that reminds of New York, leave a comment below and tell us all about it!