Well what a wonderful discovery! Here is New York is a thoroughly delightful and beautifully written essay about the great city, well Manhattan if we’re being more specific. It has been referred to by others as a ‘love letter’ to that mighty metropolis and I would have to agree with that description.
E.B White, the author of children’s classics Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, was also a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and in the summer of 1949 (during a heatwave – some things never change) he was asked to write a piece about the city. So he obliged and produced this memorable ode to the Big Apple, its (almost) cities within a city and its various and many communities.
Some of it is told as he sits in a sweltering hotel room, while other parts as if he is strolling around the city’s streets relaying all that he experiences, that which he sees, hears, feels, smells and observes of people and life as well as what he remembers of a time gone by.
The author’s skill is such that you feel like you are right there with him. Every word is perfectly placed and is used to try and convey the message of a chaotic, vibrant, ioslating, wondrous place that accommodates all people from all walks of life – different ethnicities and nationalities, rich and poor, the young and hopeful along with the more mature and jaded, even the downtrodden. A true melting pot.
To say that the author feels that the New York is the first among cities would not be a lie or understatement. But he is not so in love that he is blinded to the more negative aspects of city life. However for all that we must acknowledge that as a white male of a certain class, he would be writing from that perspective.
One of the amazing things about reading this book is that much of what the author says about life in the city still holds true to modern New York – or at least what I have read of it. Sometimes I had to remind myself that the author was writing 70 years ago. I would be very interested to hear the opinion of a current city dweller about the author’s views.
Yes – some of the landmarks of the E.B White’s time have changed and are long gone (some only a few years after the author wrote this work) but that is something that he acknowledges and points out himself. That the city is always changing and reinventing itself. The old is moved out and the new moved in. A continual cycle of rebirth.
If you are interested in stepping back in time to visit New York of the past (while keeping one foot in the modern world) and you love beautiful prose, put an afternoon aside, pull up a chair and spend a few hours with Mr E.B White and his walk down memory lane. It will be time well spent.
(Header Image: Sarah Kreig)