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The Colossus of New York Paperback – October 12, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Whitehead (The Intuitionist; John Henry Days) lays out a wildly creative view of New York City. To out-of-towners, Gotham is about famous places, but Whitehead's New York is not. It's more about a way of seeing. For example, "No matter how long you have been here, you are a New Yorker the first time you say, That used to be Munsey's, or That used to be the Tic Toc Lounge... when what was there before is more real and solid than what is here now." Whitehead begins with the bus ride into Port Authority, complete with impossibly heavy baggage, bathrooms braved by only the desperate and the seating strategies of experienced bus riders. He cuts to city feelings: the morning's garbage truck noises; the problem of rain; coping with rush hour. When he does write of celebrated places-Central Park, Coney Island, the Brooklyn Bridge-it's for the role they play in our ritual life: when we go, how we are when we're there and how it feels to leave. Whitehead is a master of the minutiae of the mundane. He takes you to the moment of a subway train leaving without you: could you have made it if you'd left a few seconds earlier? Should you take a taxi? You check the tunnel for the next train, fusing with thoughts of time as new passengers accumulate on the platform. This 13-part lyric symphony is like E.B. White's Here Is New York set to the beat of Ellington or Cage.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Lovers of adventurous literary fiction relished Whitehead's novels, The Intuitionist (1998) and John Henry Days (2001), recognizing him as an original, sardonic, yet compassionate writer. Anointed with a MacArthur "genius" grant, Whitehead now presents a ravishing cycle of imaginative and evocative prose poems in tribute to his home, New York City, the quintessential metropolis of dreams. Writing in short, emphatic sentences, Whitehead riffs poignantly and playfully on myriad strategies for urban survival as he incisively distills the kaleidoscopic frenzy of the city into startlingly vital metaphors and cartoon-crisp analogies. Intensely sensory in his details, wistful and funny in his psychological disclosures, he makes everything come to mythic life, from the fury of rush hour to the strained etiquette of subway riders to Central Park, Times Square, Coney Island, and the Brooklyn Bridge. The mad choreography a rainstorm puts into motion, the rituals of downtown nightclubs, the horrors of the 9-to-5 routine, the waxing and waning of the self against the backdrop of so many other souls are all given a sharp, metaphysical twist in Whitehead's gorgeous rendering of New York as a colossal, ever-metamorphosing phantasm. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor; Reprint edition (October 12, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031249
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031245
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #459,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Colson Whitehead is the author of the novels Zone One; Sag Harbor; The Intuitionist, a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award; John Henry Days, which won the Young Lions Fiction Award, the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize; and Apex Hides the Hurt, winner of the PEN Oakland Award. He has also written a book of essays about his home town, The Colossus of New York. A recipient of a Whiting Writers' Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and a MacArthur Fellowship, he lives in New York City.

His next book, a non-fiction account of the 2011 World Series of Poker, is called The Noble Hustle: Poker, Beef Jerky & Death. It will be published in 2014.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 23, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I read a great deal of this book in a bookstore this afternoon, knowing good and well that I had no business buying another book - I ended up buying it (half because I was in love with it, half because the author was doing a reading at the same bookstore later in the evening and I wanted a signed copy). Sufficed to say - I went to the reading, finished the book on the train and I am in love with this man's words and have fallen in love with New York AGAIN (both his and mine)
The writing is so beautiful and raw and smart and witty and has the tendency to remind us how wondrous all of the things we overlook as ordinary really are and just how singular NY reallt is. And, of course, god bless the man who can write in tons of tenses and not lose the audience's interest. Whitehead feels to me (having not read his other work) like the rare kind of writer who can write to and for anyone.
Everyone is getting this book for christmas. Everyone. I hope many read it, its give-you-goosebumps lovely.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. J. Marsella on December 22, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This short work captures in beautifully evocative language the moods amd nuances of daily life in New York City. It is a book that expresses so accurately the feelings that I personally experience in New York that I wish this is the book I had written. Thankfully Colson Whitehead has put these observations and feelings into words and expressed them for all New Yorkers in spirit to savor and reflect on again and again. A wonderful book for current residents, transplanted natives (like me) and visitors who want to get inside the pulse of the greatest city on the planet.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Robert Beveridge HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on March 17, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Colson Whitehead, The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts (Doubleday, 2003)
When one encounters the name "Colson Whitehead," one is apt to think of an old Irish immigrant viewing the city through a jaundiced eye, bleary from another night of stumbling home in rush hour only to find he's locked himself out of his bachelor pad and can't get to the can of beans sitting on the counter seductively calling his name. Instead, what we're given is a young (younger than I am, anyway) born-and-raised New Yorker writing about the place he calls home.
But Colson Whitehead's The Colossus of New York is not just another travelogue. Oh, no, my friends. In fact, it is anything but; I seriously doubt the NY tourism board is going to be recommending this one. At times loving and ominous, sweet and sassy, laugh-out-loud funny and painfully depressed, The Colossus of New York is much like New York itself. There are eight million stories in the naked city, Whitehead wryly quotes, and one would think from reading this that every one of them is feeling a completely different emotion from any of the others at any given moment, and that it's all a constantly swirling chaotic mass. Amen.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about the book is how Whitehead manages to take this odd, impressionist look at New York and map it onto you, the reader. You're liable to find at least one or two snatches of sentence per page you can identify with, even if you've never set foot within an hundred miles of the place. Thus, even if you care nothing about New York, it's probable he's going to keep you interested in its goings-on. A beautiful thing, that. But the draw of the book, and its continuing majesty throughout, is Whitehead's ability with language.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By A. C. Walter on December 2, 2005
Format: Paperback
Colson Whitehead's "The Colossus of New York" is a sort of prose poem to New York. But interestingly enough, the city's identity is almost incidental. New York could be any megalopolis. Whitehead simply uses it as a convenient dumping ground for heaping piles of metaphor, innuendo, and wry pseudo-Freudian slip-riffs. As Whitehead eventually says: "Talking about New York is a way of talking about the world." He even outdoes Iain Sinclair in this territory because, hey, "Colossus" is actually readable.

Whitehead sculpts sentences here with dazzling, fluid mastery. In sentence after sentence, he manages to surprise you, keeping you in gleeful suspense for that next line, and the next one... And yet it never feels overwrought or exhausting, probably because he pays equal attention to the rhythm of his prose (this is one of those books you can't help reading aloud).

Here's one of my many favorite passages, set in the subway system:

"This is the fabled journey through the underground, folks, and it's going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. On the opposite track it's a field of greener grass, you gotta beat trains off with a stick. From his secret booth the announcer scares and reassures alternatively. The postures on the platform sag or stiffen appropriately. With a dial controlling the amount of static. What are their rooms like, the men at the microphones. One day the fiscal importunities of the subway announcer's union will be exposed and that will be the end of the hot tubs and lobster, but until then they break out the bubbly. Look down the tunnel one more time and your behavior will describe a psychiatric disorder. It's infectious.
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