New York Days, New York Nights
by Stephen Brook
I’m gonna stick with yesterday’s book theme a little bit longer with today’s book review. I picked this one up at a second hand bookstore (as per usual) for a few dollars, thinking it’d be a great read just before taking off on the big USAdventure in December. This is a guide book of a very different sort; British journalist Stephen Brook decides to spend some time in New York, living amongst the other big city dwellers and immersing himself in his new, albeit temporary life, in the Big Apple. I guess it is a travel guide in so much as he talks a lot about the streets and the sights and the clubs and other familiar places you might read about in your Lonely Planet guide, but you’re not going to find advice on where to find the city’s best burger or cheapest accommodation in this book.
It was written back in the 1980’s, and details Brook’s experiences which he writes pretty openly and bluntly about, from the time he accompanied a friend to a gay club to the time he went jogging around Central Park with other friends, as well as chats he had with everyone from taxi drivers to politicians. While he’s not a NYC native, it was pretty clear that he completely through himself headfirst into the life of a New Yorker, and wrote this book from the perspective of a resident rather than a tourist, which made for a pretty cool read before visiting the city myself, 30 odd years after it was written.
It’s a fun book to read, and I really got the sense by the end of it that Brook had really grown to respect the city, even though he may not have fallen head-over-heels in love with it. Particularly poignant were some of the quotes below, considering how long before 9/11 it was written, about how the city is no place for antiquarians, and how it is inextinguishable, even if individual buildings disappear. It was an interesting way to experience the New York of yesteryear, and I think I’d like to re-read it now that I’ve actually seen the city for myself – you can pick a copy up here.
“This great city of perpetual change doesn’t encourage nostalgia. Much that is precious in the memory will have vanished months or years later, and the returning traveller must rediscover the city each time.”
“Though individual buildings, even neighbourhoods, decay and disappear, the city as a whole is inextinguishable… Because it is self-renewing it can never, superpowers permitting, be destroyed.”
“New York is no place for antiquarians. There are no ruins, and never will be, in New York City. They would be too costly. New York is exactingly different because it insists you live precisely in the present, with all your capacities stretched to the limit. It is a good city to leave, for in your absence it will continue to live and breathe and grow, and, in its altered state, like a body in which most of the cells have been replaced, it will be ready for you when, as you surely will, you return.”