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The Last Block in Harlem Paperback – July 13, 2010

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Editorial Reviews Review

“Herz has brought us a huge heart into whose chambers we can peer and see the many compartments that make it pulse and continue to keep the body of society alive. A great book for both the young and the old, The Last Block in Harlem will surprise you and make you remember just how much we all need each other to survive.” —Book Room Reviews

“This story does have an extremely perplexing psychological twist that you will need to pay close attention to. The Last Block in Harlem is a thought-provoking debut novel by Christopher Herz.” —Urban Reviews

"I've never been to Harlem, but I feel like I have after reading this book. The author has a rare talent for recreating the sights, sounds, and smells of the neighborhood, (not to mention realistically depicting the characters who populate it)." —Karen McQuestion, author of A Scattered Life and The Edgewood series

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The unnamed narrator is a fairly new Harlem resident. He is also an advertisement copywriter and so fed up with the business of convincing people they want things, whether they want them or not, that he impulsively quits his job. Now he has the time to devote to his block, a slice of Harlem life with old-timers full of memories. His neighbors include both the young and the old, who play chess on the streets; the irascible Bodega Man; the vigilant crossing guard; the generous owner of the chicken and rice restaurant; and the neighborhood throngs brought out by the open fire hydrants and radios plugged into lampposts in the summer. The narrator is mesmerized as well by the ghosts of Harlem, lamenting the changes wrought by gentrification. As his ambitious wife, Namuna, strides ahead in her career, the narrator takes to sweeping the streets of their block. He cleans during the day and each night empties his mind of the stories he has heard by writing—via typewriter on the fire escape—making new space in his head to think and receive, until his good intentions take an unexpected turn. Beautifully evocative of city neighborhoods and the complications of urban gentrification. —Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (July 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1935597043
  • ISBN-13: 978-1935597049
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (136 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,779,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Christopher Herz took to selling copies of his first book, The Last Block in Harlem, on the streets of New York. His unorthodox efforts and fresh contemporary prose garnered the attention of media outlets everywhere, earning him an early spot on the AmazonEncore roster. AmazonEncore then republished the book to critical acclaim, and his novel Pharmacology was released a year later.

Herz is a graduate of the San Francisco State University creative writing program and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post, where he writes extensively on art and culture. Born in New York City, Herz grew up in California, the setting for his searing portrait of American life, Hollywood Forever. He now lives in Brooklyn with his wife.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

65 of 69 people found the following review helpful By J. Villasenor on October 5, 2009
Format: Kindle Edition
The Last Block in Harlem was one of my favorite books of the summer. One of those reads that you pick up and 3 hours later you can't beleive so much time has passed by. There are so many stories interwoven and the book is so well written it makes you think you're sitting on the block watching the story unfold.

The narrator is faces a time in his life where he can no longer stand the life he's created. It is far from the ideals of where he thought he would be, and living one more day in his unfullfilling life is just too painful. His response to his self-imposed dillema is surprising and keeps you turning the pages. The story unfolds as he faces life and all of the issues that keep people from executing the life they envisioned: betrayal, obsession, additiction, revenge.

The book is also a social commentary on gentrification. No solutions offered just an example of the difficulty in finding common ground on the issues of economic revitalization and racial integration.

If you are looking for an intelligent read where the characters in the book take you on an emotional journey where the love inspires, the injustice angers, the stupidity infuriates, and the misunderstandings make you wish you could jump in the pages and set some people straight, give it a read...I guarantee you'll be at pg 100 before you know it.
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26 of 26 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on July 28, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I didn't quite know what to expect from a book written about the Harlem where I grew up. There have been so many books that show the gritty realities of life in Harlem without paying much attention to the ordinary, everyday people with all their foibles, heroics, and wisdom. This book by Christopher Herz is beautifully written. The narrator has an almost child-like appreciation of the different characters he gets to know and seems surprised to find that life on the block can be so ordinary, so sad, so joyful, and so taken for granted in the face of encroaching gentrification. The narrator wants to a part of the neighborhood; wants to show he cares about the neighborhood, and for him, this means improving the neighborhood. He struggles to change what has always been before he fully understands the how and why of the neighborhood. The tale is sensitively told, painting a broad view of the lives of the people on this one block in Harlem.
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68 of 80 people found the following review helpful By Rick Mitchell VINE VOICE on June 9, 2010
Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
This novel started out terrifically. I was amazed at the quality of the writing. Unfortunately, after the first 70 pages or so it seemed the writer lost all sense of direction.

The plot is that an advertising executive loses interest in his job and takes on cleaning his block in Harlem as a mission. He then gets caught up in the publicity and the effort becomes politicized so the yuppies can move in. He then spearheads a compaign to "take the block back" for its poor and zany characters.

If only the plot were that straight-forward. Instead it rambles. For a while the author (as narrator) begins to tell the stories of the people he encounters. We are constantly reminded that people like to tell him things. That is only one of the many redundancies throughout. The people are interesting and their stories compelling, but he soon drops that aspect. He then gets into the politics of cities and then "mission" or purpose in life. His efectiveness spirals up and down in the narrator's effectiveness and then his sanity. The author also throws in some of his personal philosophy such as junk food is bad for your health. Perhaps the most glaring "miss" of the book is like the equation that a conservationist is the person who already ahs his house i the woods, the narrator never sees that he is the first yuuppie in the neighborhood as he tries to keep all others out. This makes the whole proposition disingenuous.

Perhaps the worst aspect of the book is the dialogue. It is okay to suspend belief in novels, after all, they are fiction. However, to get through this book, the reader has to suspend all reality in the way people speak. Every single character has deep insight into life and what the narrator needs in his life,.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Maddie M. on July 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
(note: this review is based on the initial printing of the book)

I was impressed by this author's ambitious take on many universal themes, including finding purpose in one's own existence, cultivating a nostalgic sense of community in a world where we are almost programmed for isolation, and exorcising the ghosts of the past to create your present and future.

The author creates a naive, idealistic narrator whose passion to preserve his idea of his one block in Harlem nearly ruins the very community he hopes to save. It made me wonder who was the bigger threat: the well-meaning do-gooder or "the man" hoping to gentrify the neighborhood. I appreciated that these blurred lines weren't too heavy handed.

The backstory of how the book was printed and initially sold person-to-person makes the book feel more intimate - as if we are privy to one of the narrator's neighbors telling us a story on a stoop. Perhaps that merely plays into that universal theme of us wanting to feel like we're a part of something, a community, a legacy.

My only issue is with the ending which baffled me. (no spoilers here)
But the book succeeds in creating a well-drawn world full of colorful characters facing their own demons and battles that are universally relate-able, regardless of neighborhood.

This is a very promising first novel!
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