on November 30, 2013
The Boy Detective is a unique read: part detective story, part memoir, part walk, the book, called a memoir for lack of a better term, is not only a walk through Rosenblatt's personal history but also through the history of literature and the history of Manhattan. Rosenblatt walks with his past through Manhattan, seeing himself as a boy detective, and as an adult writer who writes to order the world around him, and this book is as much a walk through the mind as it is a walk through Manhattan, and through time.
Like his previous books, Making Toast and Kayak Morning, The Boy Detective is not ordered by linear time, which I find makes it easier to read. Especially when dealing with memory, time is not linear; the mind links memories together based on a connection between two or more memories, not by their sequential order.
This is a wonderful read, and it will make you think about how you see yourself in the world around you, which is an immensely valuable gift.
In his memoir of his childhood in the Gramercy Park neighborhood of New York City (18th – 22nd Streets between Park Ave. South and 3rd Ave.), award-winning journalist/essayist Roger Rosenblatt uses the conceit of man’s having separate souls – one for the senses and one for the intellect – as the basis of a memoir about growing up in New York City during the 1950s and afterward. Rosenblatt, now seventy-two, is teaching a course in memoir writing at Stony Brook’s Manhattan campus in February, 2011, when he begins his own memoir. Walking the streets he walked as a boy, he remembers what businesses used to occupy the premises of various buildings, the people who lived there, and the many writers and actors who also shared the same neighborhood at different times in history.
Delightful, filled with insights into how a “real” writer thinks as he lives his childhood, and thoughtful about how our early lives affect not only our (learned) ways of thinking but also our ways of acting, this memoir is a must for those who love writing, think they might want to become writers, or just want a wonderful, complete reading experience created by a writer who started as a devout reader. Giving structure and charm to this memoir, he introduces himself as a boy of eight who fancies himself a detective.
A detective, he explains from his adult/teacher/writer vantage point, “builds his case on hard facts, ballistics and prints, types of weapons, eyewitnesses…and things that are real and really said.” The writer, by contrast, works primarily with feeling, and “the one thing they both require – the writer and detective – is the desire to see what is not there, and to make it at once orderly and beautiful, as in a flower or the answer to a math problem.” The memoir, as it evolves, shows the boy as he deals with these two aspects of humanity within his own life and eventually becomes a reader and lover of detective novels, a writer, and a teacher of writing who has honed his powers of observation and intuition through his constant observations around the city.
The author tells of his several meetings with former teachers and what they have meant to him, and he often addresses his own students. At one point he tells a story about a group of children who disappeared without a trace from the private, two-acre Gramercy Park, which his house overlooked. Then: “That story is made up, as you suspected, but not wholly made up…Here, students, is where fact and fiction meld. And a memoir may make use of either or both.” He goes on to say that he could make up all sorts of ‘facts’ about his family and life, or he “could put it all in a novel, and, believe it or not, in a memoir as well. By the time you’ve told any story, fact or fiction, well enough, you’ve made it up anyway.” Lovers of fine writing will appreciate not only the insights gained from this fine memoir but the concentrated thought which gives it all relevance and intellectual excitement. Superb.
on November 27, 2013
This memoir from Roger Rosenblatt is a wonderful read, especially if you love stories about New York City; stories with a lot of literary allusions; mysteries; and just plain entertaining books. You don't have to be a huge fan of the detective genre--I'm not especially--but you'll probably want to pick up something by Hammet, Arthur Conan Doyle, Raymond Chandler or even Edgar Allan Poe, after reading Rosenblatt's homage to detectives. And yet that is only part of what this book is about; Rosenblatt is up to a lot more here. Solve the mystery--read the book!
on December 9, 2013
Never in all my years of reading books have I ever come across something with so much heart & intelligence as The Boy Detective-A New York Childhood by Roger Rosenblatt. My favorite books to read have always been biographies, so I wasn't surprised that this was a memoir about the author & that it would be good. What I was surprised about was how different & fresh it would be told,which not only fascinated & moved me, but it made me wish I was his Watson or sidekick to his tiny Sherlock Holmes & living in that time, so to speak! Instead of the regular 'when I was a child I... etc...' thing which isn't bad depending on how it's told, & the recent trend of starting with the most recent part of the person's life & then going back to their childhood in every other chapter, Mr. Rosenblatt decides to instead tell his story from a completely new perspective as if he were a detective trying to figure out how to solve his life. In doing so, you are left with not only the hope that he solves his 'case' or cases as there are throughout, but to speak of how New York once was & has changed is nothing short of brilliant. With Bloomberg's silly bikes & sugar rules sending NY down the strange waterhole of today, this book only makes you long for the days when films were made in the street and payphones were the only way to reach anyone. It's hard to believe that some of his old stomping grounds may not be there anymore, but you do rejoice in the beauty that is still left of old Manhattan, such as Madison Square Park, with the statue of William Seward which he depicts as 'neglected', yet the beauty of that statue stands to this day for all to see as well as the rest of the remaining monuments around there & Gramercy Park, where he grew up. The Boy Detective is just one mini adventure into another as if told by a little boy just trying to solve life & once you read into it, you can only wish you were by his side taking notes & wanting to help. It's a beautifully told story that is quite original in an almost forgotten art.
Roger Rosenblatt speaks to me, as I am sure he does to those who enjoy his writing. He bares his soul and himself, and I feel an empathy. His previous novels, 'Eat Toast' and 'Kayak Morning', we join him as he mourns the death of his daughter. Now, we go back from his younger days to the present.
Like Roger, I have always wanted to be a detective. I am a great observer of people, and note as I am driving, the time and license plate numbers of cars that I think may be harboring a crime or a fugitive. I think I would be a wonderful witness because I am so observant. I have a third sense that something is going on, and I am often correct, experience will give you those attributes. As a nurse in a trauma unit I had to be on my toes, and obtained the sense that something was happening before the medical event, itself. This served me well, but now I find myself observing and remembering everything. However, as Rosenblatt observes, "And while there is a danger in a detective story," he writes,"it is eventually put to rest, which distinguishes a detective story from life, where the mysteries are illimitable."
Roger Rosenblatt roams the streets of New York City, and, especially Gramercy Park, where he grew up and lives. He tells us about famous authors, such as Edith Wharton, and a little bit about them. He talks about writing and mysteries, and, at the same time talks about his life teaching a course in memoirs. He urges his students to use their imaginations like scalpels, and we find that rings so true in this book. He also relates how much he has learned from fiction. Roger Rosenblatt, is a man off 73, and I think this ramble around New York City is a continuation of his memoir told in his own unique manner.
I loved this book, and the rambles along the streets were a welcome to Roger Rosenblatt's New York. He talks about one character at a time, as we continue the walk. I didn't want the book to stop, pal.
Recommended. prisrob 01-21-14
on April 29, 2014
This is a detective story, and it isn't!...a memoir and a mystery. If you are looking for Christie, Holmes, Sam Spade or Perry Mason....although each is mentioned, you will be disappointed. HOWEVER, if you are looking for how 1 man's past intersects his present and creates a dream...you'll enjoy this. it wasn't what I expected....but I could not put it down.
on June 30, 2014
This a beautifully written, often charming, but ultimately uneven book. I loved the little portraits of New York Cuty history but too often was lost in the "stream of consciousness" memory parts.
on August 21, 2014
I especially enjoyed the book because I spent my high school years in the same school as Roger and my best friend lived in his apartment building but I knew so little about that neighborhood even though I walked through it many times. The school, which he does not name, he describes very accurately.
on January 7, 2014
Roger Rosenblatt's THE BOY DETECTIVE: A NEW YORK CHILDHOOD was a very frustrating book to read. I loved his book, Making Toast: A Family Story, which I know must have been excruciatingly painful for him to write, as it dealt with the death of his daughter and its aftermath with Rosenblatt and his wife trying to help care for their grandchildren. That book was a bestseller, and rightfully so, because the writing was heartbreakingly spare and beautiful.
So I was looking forward to reading about Rosenblatt's childhood. But this is not structured like a normal memoir. And I get it that Rosenblatt wanted to do things differently, and that he wanted to use the detective theme, as well as an extended walk through the streets of his childhood neighborhood - Grammercy Park and the surrounding areas. In other words, he wanted to do a different kind of memoir. The problem is, his methods - the conceit of the PI, and the contemplative, daydreaming walker - got in the way of telling his story. It simply made me want to throw down the book in frustration and implore him, "Please, just tell us about your CHILDhood, dammit!"
Rosenblatt, who is into his seventies now, is trying, through his wanderings of the streets of his boyhood, to separate fact from fiction. While he was writing this book he was also teaching a class in memoir writing.
"There is a connection between the memoir class I am teaching and this walk I am taking. I must remember what it is."
The problem is I'm not sure he ever makes the proper connections, and maybe the walk and the memoir class actually served to obfuscate his own memoir, to make his own memories far too dreamlike.
"However sketchlike the pictures I draw of my parents - have I salvaged them from fiction? In my mother's temerity, my father's crust, did I overlook the subtle motions of their minds, their troubled consciences? Detective work, when applied to one's own family, perhaps especially then, is a bitch."
No s*** Sherlock, so maybe you should have just dropped the detective conceit and told your story the best way you could remember it. And there are certainly plenty of references here to PI's and detectives here - Holmes, Poirot, Spade,Charlie Chan, Nick Charles, Monk, etc. Hell, they're all in here. And sometimes they serve to move the narrative forward, but more often, to my mind, they don't.
In the end, while I did get a pretty good picture of Rosenblatt's childhood as the son of a wealthy, privileged family, his father a doctor, it was his choice of vehicle - that Boy Detective thing, which repeatedly broke down and stalled the story - that I didn't like. I still believe Rosenblatt is a wonderful writer, but this book was, like I said, a frustrating, if not exasperating, read. Perhaps I'll try another New York childhood book he mentioned here, and which I've considered reading several times in the past few years but never got around to - Alfred Kazin's A Walker in the City. It's from an earlier generation, from the same era, I think, as Henry Roth's excellent novel, Call It Sleep: A Novel, which I read in college and appreciated immensely.
'So many books' and all that. I'm glad I read THE BOY DETECTIVE, but I will only recommend it sparingly with explanations of the problems I had with it. (Three and a half stars)
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER
on December 17, 2013
Roger Rosenblatt has written a memoir of his childhood in Manhattan which combines the expected warm memories and amusing tales with an engrossing, engaging, and delightful re-enactment of the character he - and gumshoes, and hard-boiled authors - wover around and through the mundane events and sightings of a wandering youth. One of the two best books I read in 2013.