The Guardian‘s Travel section published a piece last week admonishing readers to throw out their NYC guidebooks and turn to the city’s literary heritage instead. Advice we can stand behind — though we still have favorite guidebooks we’d recommend!
The list included one item per decade from the 1930s forward. If you’re too lazy to click through the link above, I’ll give the spoiler version here:
1930s: Call It Sleep by Henry Roth
1940s: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
1950s: New York 19 by Tony Schwartz
1960s: Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara
1970s: The Power Broker by Robert Caro
1980s: Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerney
1990s: My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum
2000s: Lush Life by Richard Price
A couple things I find interesting about this list: One, we don’t teach any of these in Writing New York. Granted, the reason we can’t teach half of them is strictly due to length: in a 14-week course attempting to cover more than two centuries of writing, we simply can’t devote the time required to teach Ellison’s masterpiece, as much as we would want to. We used to teach selections from O’Hara but he somehow fell off the syllabus a few years back. Caro sneaks into our course via the Ric Burns documentary, where he and Marshall Berman are our favorite Robert Moses bashers. And I have to admit: I’d never heard of New York 19! Amazon only has it available for mp3 download, but I’ll keep my eye out for the real thing. The Guardian‘s description makes it sound quite appealing:
Tony Schwartz, who recently
died, is a man perhaps best known for creating Lyndon Johnson’s 1964
hawkish Daisy ad but he was also one of New York City’s most dedicated
sonic scribes. OK, so this is not a book, it’s an album, but I’ve snuck
it on to the list for the remarkable fact that Schwartz was a lifelong
agoraphobic who rarely moved beyond the confines of his block, and yet
managed to capture the cacophony of Manhattan’s streets. New York 19
never ventures beyond the environs of Schwartz’s postal code (10019),
yet it resurrects the long-gone street preachers, children’s skipping
ropes, tire squeals, honking horns, and theatre barkers.
As for the selection from the 1990s? Are we really supposed to pick a whiny Upper West Side striver memoir over Tony Kushner’s Angels in America or Chang-Rae Lee’s Native Speaker?
What would your decade-by-decade list look like?