New York is a hypertextualized city. By 6 a.m., our commuters have smudged more words off their papers than most cities read all day. How to even begin identifying a canon? While reading, I plotted candidates along two mystical axes: one of all-around literary merit, and the other of “New Yorkitude”—the degree to which a book allows itself to obsess over the city. Robert Caro’s The Power Broker just about maxes out both axes; others perseverate so memorably on smaller aspects of city life that they had to be included. There were, of course, regrettable omissions: Jimmy Breslin is a quintessential New York writer whose main strength is not books; Puzo’s Godfather was better as a movie. Below you’ll find the books that we think best embody the city’s most sacred pastime: paying deep attention, then translating it all into words.
Response: Good to see some poetry mixed in there with Grace Paley getting a mention. I would have included Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café as a response to An Anthology of New York Poets since it celebrates the place, the local voices, and outside viewpoints of the City. But the point of a good “list” to have us challenge and add to the conversation. At least that’s how I look at it.
Some other highlights: The inclusion of Adrian Nicole LeBlanc’s Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx. This book is so good that I had to pass it on to my sister before I left New York. Now I’m thinking I should get myself another copy and try to write a more organized critical response to it.
2nd Response: In talking about The Bonfire of the Vanities— “And is a white guy who dresses entirely in white allowed to get away with this much racial ventriloquism?”
I haven’t read the book, but I would challenge Wolfe to say said things in the Bronx proper. Jus’ sayin’.
Inspiration: I’m also going to make an effort to look for Anne Winters’ The Displaced Capital the next time I’m in a used bookstore. The table of contents is giving me some good ideas for another round of City poems, which also gives me a chance to say that NaPoWriMo is going pretty well. I am a little behind on the game right now (6 poems over 8 days) but there is still a chance to catch up.