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Books that I’ve been reading about New York while being in New York

May 15, 2015


New York books

Another pile. This time it’s of books that I’ve been reading about New York while being in New York.  The hard-to-see two in the middle are Luc Sante’s Low Life: lures and snares of old New York, and Will Hermes’ Love Goes to Buildings on Fire, about music in the city from 1973 to 1977.  The latter has a great cover: I’m trying to resist colouring it in with crayons rather than reading it.Loves Goes to Buildings on Fire

Jerome Charyn’s War Cries Over Avenue C
is an interesting one, a feverish, Burroughsian tale set in Alphabet City on the Lower East Side – the area covered by Avenues A to D, inserted before 1st Avenue.  I read this when it came out (in the mid-1980s), and thought it was great. Now I’m not so sure, but what I do like is the short introduction excerpted from The Manhattan Spy, a guidebook by Doris Quinn. Doris is a louche and wayward guide, a female Joseph Mitchell who briefs us on the differences between the avenues in Alphabet City, and hints at secrets behind the closed, graffiti’d shutters. On Avenue A:

You can pick your own Russian beanery. Sit and have some stuffed cabbage, say that Doris Quinn sent you, Doris from the Spy. They’ll treat you to golden pancakes, drop a strawberry in your tea, and you’ll think that Avenue A was your own fatted calf.

On Avenue C, she speculates about what goes on in the abandoned Talmud Torah school on Avenue C where a “Saigon Sarah” presides and holds a mysterious after-hours club.  But when she knocks, Saigon Sarah refuses to let her in or speak to her.

I am dying to read the rest of the Manhattan Spy.  But I can’t.  Doris Quinn is one of the book’s fictional characters, and the introduction is an invention.Charyn War Cries over Avenue C

Jerome Charyn is quite a character himself. He’s written almost 50 books in 50 years, is very big in France (where he lived for a long time), and has also been a table tennis champion.  Don DeLillo once said that Charyn’s book about the sport, Sizzling Chops & Devilish Spins, is “The Sun Also Rises of ping-pong.”

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