Sunday, September 12, 2010

HERE IS NEW YORK by E.B. White (1949)

This little gem of a book is an encomium to New York City penned with great affection. White wrote these 60 or so pages as a favour to his stepson Roger Angell, who was then an up-and-coming editor at The New Yorker. He moved back into the city for several weeks, setting up shop at the Algonquin Hotel, that literary hub made infamous by Dorothy Parker. And, like the city itself that summer, he "should have been touched in the head by the August heat and gone off [his] rocker."

HERE IS NEW YORK opens with White's caveat that "on any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy." Having just visited the city that never sleeps a week ago, I have to say that White's observation continues to ring true.

I loved his time-capsule anecdotes about the St. Patrick's Day Parade that "hits every New Yorker on the head," because "the Irish are a hard race to tune out." And, that the NY Public Library, guarded by those proud sculpted lions near Bryant Park, has a "great rustling oaken silence, with the book elevator (like an old waterwheel) spewing out books onto trays." Or, the "Empire State Building...has been jumped off of by so many unhappy people that pedestrians instinctively quicken step when passing Fifth Avenue and 34th." In parts of the city, "overhead, like banners decorating a cotillion hall, stream the pants and bras from the pulley lines."

White's diction is often poetic and always evocative of the particular time and place he immortalizes. If you are planning a trip to NYC, you really must take HERE IS NEW YORK along for company.

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