From Elizabeth Enright to Adam Gopnik: Living a New York City reading life

June 7, 2011

Italianate brownstone #2 (c. 1899), Remsen Street, Brooklyn Heights, New York by flickr user lumierefl

I have a love for familial stories set in New York. Not for me the hard-boiled gritty crime of Caleb Carr’s The Alienist or Dashiel Hammett’s The Thin Man, or the high glitz and glamour New York of Candace Bushnell’s Sex and the City. For I like an ordinary life, one where a child living in New York City is an urban norm.

From memory, this started with Leonard Kessler’s Last one in is a Rotten Egg (yes! that’s right a Grade 2 Reader) about a group of boys going to the local swimming pool to learn to swim.

But the book that truly transported me, that gave me my other life, my imaginary life is Elizabeth Enright’s The Saturdays. I am part of the Melendy family, living in a New York brownstone during the early 1940s, pooling my pocket money with my siblings so that we can explore the city on Saturdays, sometimes alone and other times all four of us together. I go to the museum, I go to the opera, I visit Madison Square Garden, I fall out of a boat at Central Park and a policeman gives me a ride home on his horse.  And after each Saturday, I return to the warmth and comfort of my lovely home with the Office and the trapeze and piano. Oh! And my wide-eyed amazement at 10 to 13 year olds being allowed to go to the city on their own!

After reading The Saturdays, I continued seeking out other books set in New York. Books such as Judy Blume’s Fudge series, Emily Cheney Neville’s It’s Like This, Cat and Kay Thompson’s Eloise. And only last year, I came across Adam Gopnik’s Through the Children’s Gate and I spent nearly a whole year dipping in and out of this book of essays on having a home in New York. Gopnik writes of bringing his children up living in the city that he loves. In stark contrast to Enright’s free to roam Melendy’s Gopnik’s says

“One might have the impression that it is the Upper West Side atheist and the Lancaster County Amish who dispute the prize for who can be most obsessive about having the children around the table at six pm for a homemade dinner from farm-raised food.”

But as much as Gopnik writes about children, he does not touch on children in literature living in New York. And so, in my reader’s mind, I mix the fictional and real New York worlds of print. And though it would be wonderful to visit the city one day, oddly enough, I am quite content with living there through the books I read.

Vassiliki

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