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?

Screening Room: ‘Citizen Jane’

In the 1950s, when bulldozing historic downtowns under the flag of “urban renewal” was all the rage, architecture journalist Jane Jacobs was one of the loudest and most eloquent voices of the resistance. A new documentary on her, Citizen Jane: Battle for New York, chronicles her fight against the city planners who dreamed of replacing organic urban chaos with high-rise and parking lot dead zones.

Citizen Jane opens in limited release this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

At the risk of oversimplifying the debate, Citizen Jane: Battle for the City divides the participants into two camps: the “top-down” city planners and the “bottom-up” activists. To illustrate that divide, Tyrnauer handily reaches back to the most famous urbanist debate of the 20th century: the fight between New York planning czar Robert Moses and journalist-turned-activist Jane Jacobs. The struggle wasn’t always easily understood, but the stakes were for the future of the city itself…

Here’s the trailer.

Reader’s Corner: Vote Now

oscar-waoInstead of just announcing what the new all-city book club selection is going to be, New York took it to the people with OneBookNY. They chose five possible books and are asking people to vote on what they think everyone should read.

The five books are:

  • Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Couple interesting choices here. Coates’s book is nonfiction, departing from the usual novelistic mold, while Beatty’s (amazing) novel is set quite definitively in Los Angeles. Seems like either Diaz or Smith’s (also amazing) novels are the right choice here, but who’s to say?

Voting closes February 28.

Screening Room: ‘The Lost Arcade’

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For years, the last arcade in New York was a gritty little spot called the Chinatown Fair. There, night after night, gamers gathered to compete, play, gossip, and boast until the early hours. Then it closed.

The Lost Arcade has been playing the festival circuit. It opens at the Metrograph in New York this week. My review is at Film Journal International:

Everything about the videogame palaces in The Lost Arcade makes them look like oases. Shot mostly at night, because that’s when the gamers come out, the arcades blaze into the darkness with their teenage-Vegas cacophony of strobing lights, electronic bleeps, and the hoots and hollers of victors and vanquished. Clearly, these are not just places to drop some quarters and kill a half-hour on the latest Street Fighter; they are clubhouses, homes away from home…

Here’s the trailer:

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.

In Books: Richard Price’s ‘The Whites’

The Whites-coverEven though The Whites was technically published under Richard Price’s genre pen name Harry Brandt, the publisher didn’t even bother leaving his real name off the thing. It might be a crime novel instead of straight realist fiction and a couple hundred pages shorter than his usual. But the style is unmistakably that of the writer who brought such lived-in detail to novels like The Wanderers and Lush Life and his scripts for The Wire. This time, it’s just a little tighter, more razored. So in short: great stuff.

My review of The Whites is at PopMatters:

Fitting his moniker, Billy Graves is a cop working the night shift. Exhaustion is his permanent state, eyes falling out of his head from the damage being done to his circadian rhythms. All the caffeine in the world, those long-after-midnight energy-drink bodega injections, can’t keep his thought processes straight. As a result, he’s a little slow on the uptake when things start getting squirrelly. But, then, maybe he always was on the slower side…

You can read the full first chapter here.