Reading to go
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?