Skip to content

Reading to go

July 6, 2011

We have now hit the reality portion of our decision to move. Yesterday I resigned from all four of my jobs (School of Rock, Studio 2, private students, and the community college where I was supposed to teach in August) and hired a real estate agent. Mr. Spy made more progress on wallpaper removal project number one. We are still having the city vs. suburbs debate. We feel like we’ve found the right neighborhood in the city for us, but it will be a lot more work for a whole lot of reasons, not the least of which is that we will have to figure out how to get rid of about half of our belongings. The nice thing about the suburban option is that it will be, in some ways, similar to the space we’re in now. And it’s the house I lived in when I was just a little younger than AJ, which is, I have to say, appealing. We have friends/informants in both places, which will allow us to get settled fairly quickly once we actually move. And then, of course, there is Mr. Unfocused’s suggestion that we check out Hoboken on account of the chicken emergency. I hadn’t thought of that, but I will admit to being attracted to the romance of Bayonne, New Jersey because of the polar bears.

Mostly, though, I’ve been thinking about some of my favorite childhood books about New York to share with AJ. I spent a large portion of my childhood in the greater New York area and have lived in all three states in the tri-state area. (“How come everywhere has a tri-state area?” asked AJ recently. “Because most people can only count to three,” I replied.) New York was a real place that I visited, but it loomed much larger in my mind as someone who lived outside of it than, I think, it might have if I’d actually lived there. I was constantly aware of my satellite position to the city of mythic proportions.

One of my most important definers of New York was not a book but a TV show – Sesame Street. All those kids sitting playing ball on brownstone stoops, sometimes invisible mammoths and enormous yellow birds appearing out of nowhere, the corner store, music breaking out spontaneously – who wouldn’t want to be there? The books about New York that I liked also implied that the city was a place anything could happen, a place where kids could sometimes run the show.

The very first book on my list would have to be – no, not the one you’re thinking; that’s next – E. L. Konigsberg’s From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. about two kids who run away and move into the Metropolitan Museum of Art. AJ and I last read this several years ago and it’s definitely time for a repeat. The only thing he seems to remember is how the kids financed their occupation by fishing coins out of the museum fountains.

Number two is, of course Louise Fitzhugh’s Harriet the Spy. It’s the reason “Carl Schurz Park” in on my list of things to visit in New York.

Another book I read over and over again is, alas, out of print now, although I still have my childhood copy. Before Jean Stafford won the Pulitzer Prize for literature for a collection of short stories for grownups, she wrote Elephi, the Cat With the High I.Q., about a lonely Greenwich Village cat who finds a friend in an unlikely place. [I think Red would love this, freshhell, if you can find a copy. If you can’t, I think it’s short enough that I could make a copy for you.]

Another series of books about cats in Greenwich Village were not just favorites of mine, but also of AJ’s Esther Averill’s books about Jenny and the Cat Club have been rereleased in beautiful editions from the New York Review of Books and they all get four thumbs up from a more youthful AJ and I.

E. B. White’s Stuart Little was also a favorite. The view of the city from the point of view of someone who is very small hit home. And I liked that it mentioned places that I knew.

Likewise George Selden’s The Cricket in Times Square, about a musical cricket from Connecticut who accidentally hops a train to the city and finds many adventures.

I’m sure there are others, but these are the standouts for me, the ones whose names I could recall immediately, because years later, they still stick with me.

What about you? Do you have any favorite New York books (adult or child)? What should we be reading?

14 Comments leave one →
  1. freshhell permalink
    July 6, 2011 8:31 am

    Mixed Up Files is the first one I think of, too. When I was up there last month, it was on my mind and not just because I share the protagonist’s name (though it is significant!). I have that Elephi book on my PBS wishlist because I can’t find it anywhere else. So, I’m hoping someone will post it one day.

  2. July 6, 2011 8:39 am

    There’s one reasonably priced copy (and two expensive copies) currently on Alibris:,%20the%20Cat%20With%20the%20High%20Iq

  3. July 6, 2011 9:09 am

    You’ve hit all the high points–the books that I knew were about NYC. If I read others, I wasn’t as conscious of the setting. The other book that the kids I travel with (nieces) see the sights through is Eloise at the Plaza, but that’s not as good as the others on your list.

  4. July 6, 2011 9:58 am

    Those are all good. There’s another, which I don’t really remember, about the dragon that lives under Manhattan – whenever you see a puff of steam coming out of the street, that’s the dragon. It’s out of print: The Dragon That Lived Under Manhattan.

    Putting Jenny & The Cat Club on my list, thank you very much!

  5. July 6, 2011 10:56 am

    Mixed -Up files made a huge impression on me as a kid, as did Harriet, of course. Those Moffat books are good for the Connecticut factor. How does it come to pass that you would be able to live in your old house? That sounds compelling. And I imagine the school would be good, and free, and I think NYC school are a bit more iffy. Although really, since I have not lived in the area since I was 18, I have no actual knowledge. Friends of ours ended up in Port Washington, LI — which seems to have good schools, be somewhat affordable and also not too far from the city. Also just hearsay, though.

  6. July 6, 2011 1:26 pm

    I loved “Mixed-Up Files” and I keep meaning to read “Harriet” as I somehow missed her along the way. Truth be told, I much prefer the ghost stories about the city, and the academic tomes I read about it…

  7. July 6, 2011 9:35 pm

    Mixed-Up Files and Harriet and…Catcher In The Rye. 😛
    Older Charge just read Mixed-Up and is plotting a way to get himself locked into our local history museum (not so much an art fanatic, that one.)

  8. July 7, 2011 11:42 am

    Mixed-Up Files is fantastic, one of my all-time favorites. As an adult, you should totally read Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. (It’s set in New York, but really it’s just one of my favorite books and I’ll take any opportunity to pimp it out.)

  9. July 7, 2011 12:32 pm

    My father reports that there are more copies of Elephi on abebooks as well. Jeanne, Eloise was a favorite of mine as a child, but AJ, being a boy of 10, is less enamored, so she didn’t make the cut. Magpie, I’d forgotten all about the dragon, but I’m pretty sure I read that as a child. Readersguide, I must confess that either I never read the Moffats (which is weird because I read and loved a lot of Estes books) or I just don’t remember them. I will check them out. As for the house, well, I know the landlords and they are quite benevolent. Lemming, you must read Harriet and so must your girls. I think it should be required reading for all girls everywhere. It’s a good “out loud” book. Lass, I haven’t read Catcher since high school. I should really remedy that. Dave, your recommendation is timely. Chabon’s Mysteries of Pittsburgh is one of my all time favorite books and right now I’m reading Summerland out loud to AJ (thanks to Jeanne, who kindly sent it to us) and we’re both loving it. But somehow I’ve never gotten around to reading Kavalier and Clay. I think we may even have a review copy of it around here somewhere.

  10. freshhell permalink
    July 7, 2011 1:06 pm

    I ordered the copy from the link you posted. She’ll get it for Xmas (after I read it first). Thanks!

  11. Fern permalink
    July 7, 2011 4:58 pm

    Love all of these! Also Lyle, Lyle Crocodile and All of a Kind Family.

    Congrats on the new job, and best of luck with the move!

  12. July 7, 2011 5:16 pm

    Love those too, Fern. AJ and I read All of a Kind Family a while back (I wanted to squeeze it in before girls got icky). Lyle was a huge favorite when he was younger. Maybe we need to conduct a literary tour of the city.

  13. July 11, 2011 7:58 pm

    Sorry to interrupt the literary love, but I should have said this earlier about the tri-state area. I have a college friend who is a geographer/cartographer. He had, at one point, a web page documenting his mapping, visiting, and photographing all the points in the United States where three states come together in a point (tri-points). There are something like 50 of them as I remember, I would tell you the site, but it was hosted on his previous academic institution’s web site, and he has since changed employers, so it went away. So there is someone studying the tri-state area!


  1. Bells are ringing « spynotes

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: