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Gone to New York: Adventures in the City Hardcover – October 13, 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
Frazier (Great Plains) chronicles his relationship with New York City in this collection of essays from the New Yorker, the Atlantic and elsewhere. Kincaid's foreword celebrates her friend's identification with Ohio, but despite the formative importance of his hometown and state, Frazier clearly develops a particular, fond attachment to all the places he comes to know. His essays pile up sensory detail, personalities, stories and history, creating a patina of personal meaning. Whether it's Canal Street in a grittier time, the bus route he takes to his current home in New Jersey or the roundabout way he made it to New York in the first place, Frazier creates a sense of place and of the way people interact with it: a memorial grows up and disintegrates at the site of a fatal shooting; a repairman embodies the history of typewriters; he himself becomes obsessed with removing bags stuck in trees. Some sense of New York is probably necessary to enjoy this collection, but whether one's knowledge is great or slight, Frazier's evocation of the city over three decades is thoughtful, entertaining and occasionally moving, and his own journey from the Midwest to Manhattan, Brooklyn and eventually New Jersey will resonate for many readers. (Nov. 3)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Frazier, a staff writer for the New Yorker, where many of the punchy yet elegant essays in this collection were previously published, wraps his impressions of the city he loves in prose infused with razor-sharp and self-effacing humor as well as a talent for isolating the telling detail. "Street Scene" is a disturbing sketch--a moment frozen in time--of a woman lying stricken on the street and the attempt to resuscitate her. "Typewriter Man" is a delicious profile of a typewriter repairman--yes, one still exists. "Antipodes" is a reflection on what is at the exact opposite point on the planet from New York City (contrary to what children may believe, he asserts, "There is no point in the United States where, if you drilled straight through the earth, you would come out in China"). And, from an essay about the persistent flow of traffic through Manhattan's Canal Street: "It is a high-energy current jumping constantly between the poles of Brooklyn and New Jersey. It hates to have its flow pinched in the density of Manhattan, hates to stop at an intersection." Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
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These essays are arranged chronologically, from 1975 to 2005. (Oddly, there are no entries from the eighties.) Frazier writes about neighborhoods and bars and shops and characters. There are floods and robberies and murders.
One of my favorite pieces is about a typewriter repair shop that Frazier finds when he needs his manual typewriter repaired. The owner, Mr. Tytell was one of the few typewriter repairmen left as word processors and then computers replaced typewriters. The article was written in 1997 and the 83 year-old owner had just renewed the lease on his shop for another ten years. Since ten years has passed, I was curious if the shop was still in business. A quick search revealed that the shop went out of business in 2001, but the family still has a successful document research service, doing forensic investigations of typewritten papers. No word on whether Frazier still uses a typewriter to write his essays.
There are three pieces about Frazier's obsession with removing plastic bags from trees. This apparently is not a specifically New York obsession since he mentions trips to Los Angeles and Massachusetts and Illinois to remove bags from trees. When he first wrote about bags in trees, it didn't seem completely odd to me that he might remove bags in his own neighborhood. You want your neighborhood to look nice, don't you? But it became more of a sport for him and his buddies. They snagged bags instead of golfing. I suppose the fact that I read three pieces about bag snagging is testimony to Frazier's writing. I sure wouldn't have read three articles about golfing. And it's a lesson for the young writers out there -- if you can't find a quirky character to write about, become one.
Frazier, a displaced Ohioan, makes the reader see New York through his eyes: focusing on peculiar and interesting details that go unnoticed by visitor and native alike. The longest is a 35 page profile of Canal Street (where he lived during its gritty years) and its denizens. In the aftermath of 9-11 he interviews George Willig, who earned brief celebrity-hood in 1977 by climbing one of the twin towers. Frazier reports on the vintage graffiti on desks in the stacks of Butler Library. He writes twice about "Bags in Trees". In the first he simply describes the diversity of plastic bags and other items that adorn trees in Brooklyn. A decade latter he tells how he and a friend became obsessed with removing the arboreal litter and end up inventing and patenting an extension tool for removing it. My favorite in the collection is "Typewriter Man" about Martin Tytell, who still sevices manual typewriters.