Shameless Self-Promotion: ‘The Handy New York City Answer Book’ is On Sale Now

When you think of cities, there is no other place on Earth that better exemplifies what that word means than New York City. Incubator of pretty much every important cultural genre or trend, nerve center of world capitalism, melting pot of ethnicities and religions, New York City, as they say, has it all.

In my newest book, The Handy New York City Answer Book, on sale now from Visible Ink Press, you’ll get an all-in-one reference that covers everything from the city’s complicated and dramatic history to its geography, sports teams, many peculiarities and personalities, and just about all the trivia that could be packed into 464 pages.

Here’s a few of the things you’ll discover:

  • How did New York invent Christmas?
  • Where was baseball first played?
  • How come police officers tried to scare tourists away from the city in 1975?
  • Did punk begin in New York or London?
  • How did the 1863 Draft Riots start?
  • Did Rudy Giuliani actually save the city?

Reader’s Corner: ‘City on a Grid’

Before the grid: How 2nd Avenue and 42nd Street looked in 1861. (New York Public Library)
Before the grid: How 2nd Avenue and 42nd Street looked in 1861. (New York Public Library)

Not long after the Revolutionary War, New York was still just a few hundred buildings clustered at the lower end of Manhattan. But the city’s leaders knew that eventually they’d be spreading north and needed to figure out how that would look. So they put together something called the Commissioners’ Plan. It showed an imaginary city spreading north in evenly measured blocks that acted almost as a rebuke to downtown’s (still existing today) hodge-podge of randomly angled thoroughfares and alleys. The grid seemed like a good idea, but had its problems. Among them, almost no green space (Central Park would have to be carved out decades later) and the fact that it stopped at 155th Street (the belief was that it would take “centuries” for people to start building that far north).

Gerard Koeppel’s fascinating urban history City on a Grid is on sale now. My review is at PopMatters:

Order has never been something that most people associate with New York. Among the estranged and jealous family of American cities, the old Dutch trading post that redefined the very idea of what a metropolis could be has always suffered from a reputation for chaos. And not the fun, Lord of Misrule brand of chaos witnessed in places like New Orleans, but a genuine lack of order. There is no other American city so associated with breakdowns in the body politic or general operating principles as New York…

There’s a great, extensive online exhibition about the grid from the Museum of the City of New York here.

Quote of the Day: Pope’s Day

Guy Fawkes' Night celebrations at Windsor Castle, 1776
Guy Fawkes Night celebrations at Windsor Castle, 1776

Tonight in England is Guy Fawkes Night. It’s one of the island’s more unusual holidays, in that it commemorates that time in 1605 when a group of Catholic terrorists plotted to blow up the House of Lords on November 5, thus killing King James I and (hopefully) returning the country to Catholic rule. It didn’t work out so well. Fawkes and his other conspirators were discovered, convicted, and drawn and quartered. The king instituted laws restricting Catholics’ rights that wouldn’t be revoked for two centuries.

Ever since then, Fawkes has been burned in effigy on this day in a nighttime celebration that includes fireworks, general Halloween-esque revelry, and readings of this verse:

Remember, remember!
The fifth of November…

In the United States, Guy Fawkes Night was celebrated as Pope’s Day. That is, until George Washington was annoyed enough by the anti-Catholic songs his troops were singing—at a time when he was trying to secure French-Catholic support for an invasion of Quebec—that he banned it in 1775. For some years afterward, the celebrations were switched over to burn another despised traitor in effigy: Benedict Arnold.

Screening Room: ‘Jimmy’s Hall’

'Jimmy's Hall' (Sony Pictures Classics)
‘Jimmy’s Hall’ (Sony Pictures Classics)

Ken Loach’s latest slice of life from the British isles is based on the true story of Jimmy Gralton, an activist deported from Ireland  for political agitation who returns in 1932 to reopen his community hall. Trouble, with “mother church” and other forces of oppression, follows.

Jimmy’s Hall is opening this week in limited release. My review is at Film Racket:

Wearing a big progressive heart on its union-made sleeve, Jimmy’s Hall could easily have been a carefree lark about good times and toothless rebellion, if it had been directed by somebody besides Ken Loach. Another filmmaker, one without a political vertebrae to speak of, could have conjured up a piece of twee Irish fun that would have been twice as fun to watch but several times more pointless. Loach does have a thing for speeches. While they drag the film to a halt more than once, there’s a bright and touching sincerity running throughout that makes that wandering stodginess not matter so much…

Here’s the trailer:

Quote of the Day: Memorial Day Edition

A casualty is ready for transport from the front line during the battle for Guadalcanal. (Library of Congress)
A casualty is readied for transport from the front line during the battle for Guadalcanal. (Library of Congress)

For this Memorial Day, a reminder from one of our great novelists of warfare and what it does to the men who take part in it, willingly or not:

This book is cheerfully dedicated to those greatest and most heroic of all human endeavors, WAR and WARFARE; may they never cease to give us the pleasure, excitement and adrenal stimulation that we need, or provide us with the heroes, the presidents and leaders, the monuments and museums which we erect to them in the name of PEACE.

That’s from James Jones’ The Thin Red Line (1963) which follows the battle for a fictitious Pacific island and draws heavily upon Jones’ combat experience during World War II. Although his dedication shows a tongue planted firmly in cheek, the novel that follows is one of the deepest felt, most bruising things a man ever put to page.