May 15, 2015
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.
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.
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.”