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Grand Central Winter: Stories from the Street Paperback – July 6, 2010

4.1 out of 5 stars 45 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Curled deep in his burrow in a Grand Central Station crawlspace, Lee Stringer--ragged, homeless, addicted to crack--is digging around for something he can use to clean his crack pipe. Finally his fingers latch around "some sort of smooth straight stick": a pencil. In the days that follow, he carries it with him wherever he goes. "So I have this pencil with me all the time and then one day I'm sitting there in my hole with nothing to smoke and nothing to do and I pull the pencil out just to look at the film of residue stuck to the sides--you do that sort of thing when you don't have any shit--and it dawns on me that it's a pencil. I mean it's got a lead in it and all, and you can write with the thing." And so that's what he does. "Pretty soon I forget all about hustling and getting a hit. I'm scribbling like a maniac; heart pumping, adrenaline rushing, hands trembling. I'm so excited I almost crap on myself. It's just like taking a hit."

Grand Central Winter is the tale of Stringer's twin addictions--writing and crack--and the lengths he went to in order to satisfy each. But Stringer dwells on neither his descent into hell nor the long journey back. Instead, he paints a nuanced portrait of street life itself, its pleasures as well as its terrors. Hustlers, hookers, dealers, and addicts come to life in a series of vignettes that are tough, unsentimental, but compassionate to the core. There's honest rage to be found in Grand Central Winter, but precious little political posturing. "Policy is never the real issue," he writes in "Dear Homey," his advice column for New York's homeless paper, Street News. "The real issue is the hearts of men." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"In New York City," writes the author, "there are three centers for people living on the street: Central Park, Grand Central Terminal, and Central Booking." And in this candid, sad, yet upbeat memoir we visit them all. Stringer once co-owned a graphic-design company, but with the death of his partner and his substance abuse found himself evicted from his apartment and camping in Grand Central Terminal. We see what life is like on the street and how the homeless search for shoes in a bureaucratic city agency. In one shelter we see hams, turkeys and other roasts going into the kitchen, but only fried salami is served. We witness homeless being rousted by cops for criminal trespass for sleeping in Grand Central, then learn that often the police do this only at the end of their shifts in order to collect overtime. The author relates the embarrassment of meeting an old business colleague while collecting cans for their five-cent redemption fee; how he rescued a coked-up businessman from muggers; and how the authorities ruthlessly cracked down on the homeless to move them out of Grand Central. Street News, the newspaper of the homeless, helps get him back on his feet, first by selling it, then by editing and writing for it. From stories about flim-flamming clerics prying on the homeless, to the streetwise Romeo who wants to make the prostitute mother of his child an "honest woman" ("I can't believe it, [she] even charged me to go to bed with her on our honeymoon night"), to the manipulations of being on the Geraldo show, Stringer possesses a sharp eye for the street and the rich, sagacious talent of a storyteller.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 249 pages
  • Publisher: Seven Stories Press; 2nd Expanded ed. edition (July 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1583229183
  • ISBN-13: 978-1583229187
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,043,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By R. M. Calitri on July 14, 2000
Format: Paperback
Lee Stringer's writing so impressed me that I began sharing it with students in my writing courses to illustrate a variety of points--the power of emotion in honest writing, the plight of the homeless in a rich country, the power of writing to pull a soul from the mire. If my introduction doesn't tempt you to read this book, Kurt Vonnegut's will.
In this short book, Stringer tells his street stories which have the power to make a grown man swear and choke back tears at the same time; I've witnessed this myself more than once. This book is written with a mix of grit and fragmented paragraphs to produce an amazingly unique style that illustrates the dark and haunted caverns in the writer's mind. Stringer found his way off of drugs and mean streets by writing about his experiences and sharing them in the homeless publication Street News which he later went on to edit. His stories are raw and loud.
This country cares too little for its disenfranchised, and too easily looks away from the homeless and downtrodden (Stringer says,"They see only a phenomenon to which they have already adjusted"). Stringer's words will thread readers' hearts with the compassion they require to truly live an examined life in the USA. And besides, the guy is so quotable: "It's the guilt, fear, and stones in your own heart that take you down;" or "Heroism, as I see it, requires a deliberate decision to assume avoidable risks specifically--not incidentally--for the sake of another." Stringer's is an important voice. Do not miss this book.
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Format: Hardcover
To come away from this book with a new compassion for "the homeless" is to completely miss the point. Stringer's contribution is so valuable precisely because it shows us that there is no such thing as "the homeless" as if it were some pathetic, faceless, homogeneous mob. Rather, his storytelling challenges us to see each person on the street as an individual with his or her own character, needs, desires, and flaws. Some are deserving of compassion, but others are not. By showing us this, Stringer avoids being patronizing and gives homeless people the dignity that comes with personhood. Indeed, it is interesting that the characters he tells us about are not necessarily unhappy with their lives and looking for some way to get out. Stringer himself speaks of embracing the street life because of the liberation it offered and leaves when he chooses to because he is finally sick of it.
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Format: Paperback
Several reviewers criticize Stringer's Grand Central Winter for what they see as its lack of information about life on the streets as well as an absence of narrative cohesion. While I sympathize with both of these complaints, I also think they're misguided.

In the first place, Stringer doesn't claim to be writing social commentary or advocating social reforms. His book is a memoir, pure and simple. His stories are from the street, as the book's subtitle announces, but not necessarily about the street. Obviously in describing his life on the streets, Stringer necessarily sheds some light on what street life in general is like. Just as obviously, he also has a few things to say in passing about public policy (he's especially bitter about the "antiseptic Good Samaritanism" of large-scale relief agencies). But the focus of his book is sharing his own experiences living on the street.

And this takes us to the second point: Stringer's writes about selected experiences. He's not really trying to tell a neatly packaged story with a clear beginning, middle, and end. (Philosophers might describe his approach as "phenomenological.") I don't know why Stringer chose to write about the episodes in his life he did. Some of them are probably consciously chosen; others may've forced themselves onto the empty page. But the point is that they're vignettes, not sequential episodes that together tell a full-fledged story.

For my money, the vignettes are wonderfully written. Their minimalist style sets an almost photographic tone: to the point, revelatory, unsentimental, sometimes grim. Stringer successfully resists the temptation to demonize or romanticize.
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Format: Paperback
From the rave reviews in the press and the number of eager customers I've sold this book to lately, I really expected something that would be, if not great, then at least special.
I was disappointed. Stringer CAN write, which he proves by including in this undemanding (but refreshingly unassuming) autobiography extracts from his magazine column, which are eloquent, finely crafted and full of attitude. Why then, does his book seem so rushed, unstructured and sloppy in comparison?
Sure, his story is an interesting one, and he does tell it with admirable (and enjoyable) honesty. But it seems like a cobbled together hodgepodge of sacharine memories, scraps of previously published material, and disjointed annecdotes and stories. The overall impression is one of a manuscript that fell short of the required number of words, was padded out with unimaginative extras, and repetition of previous sections (with slightly different wording) then dropped carelessly, only to be equally carelessly gathered back up and delivered to the publishers without being set back in some sort of order.
I have the utmost admiration for Stringer, his honesty and eventual progress. But I get the feeling that most people are basing their opinions of this book on their own admiration for the author, rather than its literary qualities, which, unless we're talking about different books here, are rather scant.
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