On December 16, we're celebrating the birthday of Susan Sontag (1933-2004), one of the most influential American essayists, and critics of the 20th century. Known for her sharp wit, her breadth of knowledge, and her acerbic voice, Sontag combined rebellious cool and academic rigor to craft brilliant essays on everything from radical politics to French New Wave to pornography. Not content to just be a formidable public intellectual, Sontag was also an accomplished novelist, turning her prodigious talents towards fiction in four novels (which, in my opinion, are underrated) and several short stories over her career.
Sontag's voice can be a bit intimidating, and her powerful intellect is very daunting, so I understand why some have trouble getting into her work. But if you haven't read her yet, you're missing out on one of the smartest voices in American letters. Here's where I recommend you start with the great Susan Sontag:
This excellent collection of Sontag's essays from the late '60's is a great intro to her particular style, offering piercing observations and insights in politics, philosophy, and modern art. This collection includes "The Aesthetics of Silence," an enthralling exploration of how artists engage or choose not to engage with audiences, and "Trip to Hanoi," which describes her travels to North Vietnam in 1968, covering communism, war, imperialist attitudes, and the difficulty of conceptualizing suffering in far-off places.
When you're done chewing over Styles of Radical Will, turn back a few years and pick up the book that made Sontag a literary darling. Against Interpretation contains one of Sontag's best known essays, 'Notes on 'Camp,'" an analysis of campy art and media which was an intellectual hit on its publication in Partisan Review. The title essay, "Against Interpretation," is a defense of art against criticism, which Sontag saw as diminishing the spiritual power of creativity. If you want shrewd, evocative cultural analysis from a young, brilliant author, this is the book for you.
Had enough essays yet? Let's move into this playful, easy National Book Award winner, which was Sontag's last novel and also her most acclaimed. In America, based on the real life story of actress Helena Modjeska, tells the story of a famous Polish diva who flees her Russian-occupied homeland for California, circa 1880, to set up a utopian commune. When her motley crew of idealist friends and family struggles to support themselves, she again turns to the stage to pursue the same success she had in Warsaw, and make enough money to feed her family. If you're not so much a fan of her denser work, In America will be a much smoother read, while still retaining Sontag's masterful way with words.
And now for something completely different: Death Kit is Sontag's second novel, a thriller about an ordinary businessman named Diddy who, when stuck on a delayed train on a business trip, impulsively beats a railroad worker to death -- or so he thinks. The blind woman he meets on the train, named Hester, swears he didn't leave his seat. As Diddy fears that he has either committed murder or gone mad, he tries to unravel the mystery of what truly happened. I won't say more about the disturbing end of this thrill ride, except to say that it's one of the most haunting I've ever read.
I don't think Sontag gets enough credit for her excellent short stories, eight of which are collected here in I, Etcetera. The stories here are all experimental and different: "Project for a Trip to China" reads like a panicked packing list, made up of fragments of self-talk, to-do's, and strange free associations on Chinese culture; "Baby," through a series of defensive questions, tells the story of two woefully irresponsible Southern California parents attempting to deal with their misbehaving son; "Old Complaints Revisited" tells of a secret society's mysterious rules for membership and strangely vague purpose. Running beneath each one, though, is a constant sense of anxiety that keeps the reader hooked.
What are your favorite Sontag reads? Shout them out in the comments below!
Art Spiegelman is the author and illustrator of Maus, the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize. He came to the New York Public Library in the fall of 2016 to discuss the republication of Si Lewen's wordless book, The Parade. For this week of the New York Public Library Podcast, we're proud to present Art Spiegelman on how he sees himself, becoming a devotee to another artist, and the artist after art.
Asked to describe himself, Spiegelman said:
"I feel more like a multiphrenic than a schizophrenic with only two selves, but I think that— it has to do with when I was younger, but as they were hauling me off into a mental hospital, literally, I just assumed I was God. And although it’s true— I found that it wasn’t a good idea to brag about it, because then nobody would forgive me for the kind of crap we live through these days. So I had to develop the inferiority complex just to function in the world."
While Spiegelman's best known work has been informed by his biography, his most recent project has been writing, editing, and the designing a book centered around the work of Si Lewen. He spoke about the time he spent submerged in Lewen's work:
"I don’t usually devote myself to another artist’s work for a year and a half or two years and try to learn what the body of it is. But I think, you know, for me obviously it came through that lens of this feels like these pictures of the recycling of war through the ages again and again through these victory marches and death—it seemed to me like it was emotional, but it wasn’t 'tolokitsch,' which is a phrase I coined some years ago, which was the violins in the background milking it for all it’s worth. It was just somebody passionately responding to the nature of war. So I was able to buy into that, and then I have to look at these pictures, some of which were a little syrupy, some of which were a little psychadelic and fun. But what it is with artists, when you begin to trust them, then you read the lesser works. You read the other works that you find some of these so-called lesser works become the major works. And that’s just a process with reading, with looking. Then once you begin to find who’s home, you want to go visit there. So now all those pictures are raised in my estimation."
Spiegelman remembered one of the great traumas of Lewen's life, being no longer able to paint:
"This was one of the biggest traumas in his life. The trauma was he couldn’t paint any more, and as he would tell me every day, “You know what keeps me alive? Curiosity. I want to know what I’m gonna’ paint the next day.” And then he started complaining a couple of years ago about this rheumatoid arthritis. Nothing would help it, and it made it very hard to hold a brush. And he would do against the pain, and sometimes would forget for a little while, but it was getting worse and worse... I get an email from his daughter Nina, saying, “Si did something incredibly stupid last night.” What he did was he, you know, he had this miniature studio, just like any artist’s studio, but it was one bedroom of a two-bedroom condo. He stretched canvases there. The place was filled with piles of canvases and drawers of canvases, and he just couldn’t stand it. So he took the buzz saw he used for – sorry, for cutting up the wood for his stretching his canvases, and he applied things to his right hand. And fortunately, he didn’t know enough about anatomy, as he said to the doctor later when they thought he was crazy—he said, “You know, you’re crazy, Si, we should have put you away, except you’re not crazy.” And he said, 'I miscalculated how hard bone is, I’ll never try it again.'"
You can subscribe to the New York Public Library Podcast to hear more conversations with wonderful artists, writers, and intellectuals. Join the conversation today!
Ah, cheese… it isn’t just for sandwiches, or nachos, or fancy fruit plates. In fact, our favorite fromage can go beyond food entirely into a sense of cheesiness, or good-natured corny-ness, that can extend even to our favorite things here at The New York Public Library: books.
In honor of National Cheese Lover’s Day, we asked our book experts to recommend their favorite cheesy books — romance of all stripes, coming-of-age stories, sappy cozy mysteries, anything they wanted — and tell us their favorite kinds of actual cheese, too.
No one does romance cozier than the queen of cozy, Rosamunde Pilcher. One of my all=time favorites is Winter Solstice: a multi-narrative, multi-generational tale of strangers coming together over the holidays in a snowy, small seaside town in Scotland. Grab a blanket and a pot of tea as you snuggle in for a tale of love, connection, and the spirit of family — all with Scottish accents. For more of Pilcher’s cozy Scottish goodness, try September. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street (Jarlsberg)
The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman (which just released its third installment!) is a fantastic romp for all those librarians who wish our jobs had just a biiiit more time travelling and seductive dragon-men assistants. A secret society of librarians travel through time and space, using cunning and a bit of magic to retrieve important works of writing from all kinds of different realities. —Alessandra Affinito, Chatham Square (feta)
In Jenny Colgan’s deliciously cozy novel, Little Beach Street Bakery, our broken-hearted heroine, Polly, escapes to a remote fishing village on the Cornish coast. There she encounters grouchy locals, a handsome fisherman, a puffin named Neal, and a hunky American named, of course, Huckle. Swoony romance and yummy recipes abound. —Annie Lin, Mulberry Street (all cheese is her favorite cheese)
Before I Go by Colleen Oakley is perfectly cheesy. Daisy’s cancer is back, but this time there is no hope of recovery. She sets out to find her handsome, yet hapless husband Jack, a match before she dies. I gobbled it up like thinly sliced manchego on crusty French bread drizzled with honey. —Maura Muller, Volunteer Office
I recently got on a Tessa Dare kick, because I need more fluffy Regency romances in my life. In When a Scot Ties the Knot— part of her Castles Ever After series — Miss Madeline Gracechurch is at home, ensconced in spinsterhood and waiting for Fluffy and Rex (her lobsters) to mate... when a Man shows up. And not just any man — the man to whom she was betrothed, who died. Except for one itsy-bitsy problem: She made him all up. Yet here he is, with fabulous Scottish burr and all. —Kate Fais, Bloomingdale (Halloumi, sharp cheddar, and Wensleydale with cranberries)
The Winter Trilogy by Elin Hilderbrand is one of my favorite feel-good cheesy reads. Starting with Winter Street, set on Nantucket, Hilderbrand introduces readers to a drama-filled family but leaves you with a heart-warming feeling, ready for the next book. —Morgan O’Reilly, Aguilar Library (goat cheese)
The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller is my favorite cheesy story. While the husband and children are away at the county fair, the woman of the household falls hard for the sexy photographer in town to photograph the bridges of Madison County. Does she stay with her family and farm routines ‘til death does she part, or does she shake up her life and follow the sexy photographer of her dreams around the world? An excellent book, made into an excellent movie, starring Meryl Streep. —Susan Aufrichtig, Terence Cardinal Cooke–Cathedral (Tickler Cheddar)
Just because the copy was so new and shiny, a few years ago, I happened to pick up Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta. It’s about an unmarried 17-year-old girl in 1838 England. Her mother has died, and Julia suddenly finds she has two months to find a husband before an anonymous benefactor plans to send her off to Scotland and a life of servitude. As Julia tries to identify her benefactor and change her future, she learns about her mother’s mysterious past and also finds that life among the upper class is quite different and more dangerous than she imagined. It felt a little bit like reading Downton Abbey, and what could be bad about that? —Ronni Krasnow, Morningside Heights (smoked Gouda)
The Tales of the City books by Armistead Maupin, beloved by many, follow the exploits of the residents of 28 Barbary Lane in San Francisco and have a wonderful ‘70s “cheesiness,” though they also touch on some sobering topics. I would pair these with a nice Swiss fondue, of course! —Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market
Never Resist Temptation by Miranda Neville is one of my favorite “cheesy” novels. “Miranda” and I shared an office many years ago, well before she began to pen her Regency romance novels. Naturally, I’m a devoted fan of her work. This story is about a woman, Jacobin de Chastelux, who disguises herself as a man to escape her fate. Her culinary skills lead to a position in the kitchen of the prince until her notorious uncle is poisoned by the soup. Murder and mayhem, food and frivolity… there is no end to the steaminess. —Virginia Bartow, Rare Books (Stilton with fresh walnuts and dried pears)
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!
Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Dinkins went on to attend Brooklyn Law School. While practicing law in NYC, he became involved in a Democratic club, where he met some of the political figures. A few approached him with the idea of becoming Manhattan borough president, and the idea slowly grew on him. Three elections later, he had achieved his goal of becoming the first African-American borough president of the city. (He lost two elections for the prestigious position before finally being elected in 1985.) Being borough president was a job that he loved, and he worked ardently to end homelessness and make life better for residents of the borough.
During this time, Dinkins was approached by political allies who hatched a plan to convince him to run for mayor. At first, he was incredulous about the prospect, and he simply could not see himself in the job. However, with time, he warmed up to the idea. Working under Mayor Koch's sometimes flippant style spurred him into wanting the city to be run in a different manner. Perhaps he could solve some of NYC's problems if he were at the helm himself. In 1989, he ran for against incumbent Koch and became mayor. He succeeded in reducing the rampant levels of crime in the city.
Dinkins lost against Rudy Guliani in the 1993 mayoral race. Guliani, along with police commissioner, Bill Bratton, continued to contribute to the enormous crime reduction that occurred in the 1990s. For far too long, epic levels of crime had plagued the city and given it the reputation of being one of the most dangerous big cities in America. The downward slope of crime in the five boroughs has continued over the subsequent two decades since Guiliani's tenure.
This book portrays political campaigning and the structure of NYC government.
What goes up, might keep going up, at the Hudson Park Library. It all depends, explain Jen Casado's sons. They've discovered an exciting installation in the branch library's children's room, where young and younger can play, imagine, experiment, and enjoy. (Shhh, it's a wind tunnel.)
Library Stories is a video series from The New York Public Library that shows what the Library means to our users, staff, donors, and communities through moving personal interviews.
What is one to do when s/he has the winter blues? Read graphic novels and bake cookies, of course! Whether your interest is only to read stand-alone books or to finish a series once you’ve started, here is a collaborative list of books and treats to get you through the season.
Superman is finally content; he is married to the love of his life and they have a baby on the way. Until it is taken from him, making him into the villain we all knew he could be. This series includes all members of the DC universe as they all take either Batman or Superman's side in the fight.
Best paired with: double dark chocolate chip cookies
Young Robot boy TIM-21, a human companion robot, and his companions struggle to stay alive in a universe where all androids have been outlawed and bounty hunters working to scrap their parts and eliminate all robots lurk on every planet.
Trine Hampstead knows everything. She can tell you where to find your keys. She can tell you if your significant other is cheating on you. She can even tell you the coordinates of where to find your dog's missing toy. Although she may have knowledge of things many may kill her for, she can’t recall the mystery of how she acquired these powers.
Bested paired with: white chocolate cappuccino cookies
The perfect antidote to anyone craving summer. At Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet's camp for hard-core lady-types, things are not what they seem: three-eyed foxes, killer snow monsters, secret caves, creatures that live around the camp. Luckily, the gals of the Roanoke cabin are determined to have an awesome summer, and nothing will stand in their way.
Read this alone because Brian K. Vaughan never seems to disappoint, and paired with Cliff Chiang’s beautiful illustrations, this new series is not to be missed. In the early hours of Halloween of 1988, four teen girls go about their paper route when they realized that something strange and possibly alien may have invaded their town.
Welcome to Gotham Academy, the most prestigious school in Gotham City. Here you will follow protagonist Olive Sliverlock, an exceptional student who, after this past summer, has a bad case of amnesi, an even worse attitude and a new unexplained fear of bats.
Olive and her friends uncover the mysteries of the school and some of them are more terrifying than they imagined.
Best paired with: lemon-glazed candied-ginger cookies
Adrienne Ashe never wanted to be a princess. She hates elaborate dinners, is uncomfortable in fancy complex dresses, and has never wanted to wait on someone else to save her.
However, on the night of her 16th birthday, her parents, the King and Queen, send her into a deep slumber and lock her away in a tower guarded by a dragon to await the rescue of some prince. Little do the King and Queen know she has befriended the dragon guarding her and intends to save herself.
A fast-paced adventure that follows twins Cleopatra and Alexander as they go on a journey with the bad black book gang in hopes to find their father. Little do they know, they may be in for more than they bargained for.
Tired of reading books in series? This one is for you! Told primarily through beautiful black and white illustrations, the classic story of Snow White (in this story she is Samantha White) that takes place during the 1920’s in New York City. The evil stepmother is actually Ziegfeld star with the mafia out tracking poor Snow White.
Did you know that Edgar Allan Poe, the author of "The Tell-Tale Heart," "The Raven," and "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," was born 208 years ago today? Typically, we honor the birthdays of our favorite authors with a tribute to our favorite works, but for Poe, we wanted to do something a bit more... gruesome. We figured the best way to commemorate this master of horror was to round up our ten favorite deaths throughout his work, from premature burial to orangutan attack to sweating out all your blood. It's not exactly festive, but we think Edgar would have wanted it this way.
This lesser-known tale of Poe's tells of a disgraced boy of noble birth, who meets a fellow student at school who seems to be his exact double, right down to their name and birthday. William is haunted by his double throughout his whole life, and their rivalry finally culminates when William's double comes between him and the object of his affection in Rome. William stabs his doppelganger, only to realize that he has killed himself.
You all know this one: the unnamed narrator shares a dwelling with an old man, who has an "evil eye" that drives the narrator nuts. When the old man catches the narrator watching him sleep (creepy, right?), the narrator smothers him in his bed, chops him up, and hides him under the floorboards. But he doesn't get off scot free: the sound of the old man's still-beating heart from under the floorboards makes the narrator mad with guilt, leading him to give himself up to the police. Our advice: if your roommate is bothering you, try drawing up a list of house rules so you can avoid this situation.
Montresor, an Italian noble, seeks revenge on his frenemy Fortunato, so he liquors him up under the pretense of a wine tasting and the promise of a fine vintage amontillado. When Fortunato is sufficiently sloshed, Montresor leads him to the catacombs, chains him up, and walls him in, brick by brick. Then, just to make completely sure Fortunato will die, he tosses a torch inside before putting in the last stone. Overkill, right? (No pun intended).
This one's a twofer: the narrator owns a black cat named Pluto, and one night, after getting irritated with the pet, he takes it out to the garden and hangs it. When another Pluto-like cat mysteriously shows up, the narrator believes it to be his old enemy haunting him; he tries to kill it with an axe, but his wife interferes, and he ends up killing her instead and stuffing her in the wall. Thankfully, our double murderer is caught when the police show up and hear a strange, inhuman cry from the wall -- turns out he accidentally sealed the cat in with her alive. This murder gets extra points for the neat revenge exacted by the cat. It's a victory for animal rights groups everywhere!
A strange, depressed man named Egaeus marries his sickly cousin Berenice, and becomes obsessed with her smile. One night, a servant tells Egaeus that Berenice has died, and, prone to fainting, he passes out. When he wakes up, he sees a shovel and a small box: he realizes that Berenice wasn't dead at all, but he attempted to bury her alive. To his horror, he opens the box to reveal Berenice's extracted teeth. This story is one of Poe's most hair-raising, and though it's not technically a death, we couldn't do this list without this gruesome tale.
In this Gothic classic, the narrator visits the wealthy Roderick Usher, who lives in an enormous castle with his sister, Madeline. Both are prone to illness -- I guess none of these rich people in Poe's stories find the time to visit a doctor -- and when Madeline succumbs, Roderick sticks her in the family vault under the house. But one dark and stormy night, Roderick reveals that Madeline was buried alive, and as the house starts to crack and collapse, Madeline returns, killing her brother. The narrator flees the scene just before the falling castle crushes him, thus ending the "House of Usher" once and for all.
This little piece of flash fiction contains one of Poe's most chilling deaths: a beautiful young woman marries a painter, who tells her to sit for a portrait. The painter's obsession with his own work causes him to slave at the painting for days, while his wife poses perfectly still. Finally, the painter's work is done: he's created a portrait so life-like it seems real. But when he turns to his wife, he sees she has died.
This is one of the few Poe tales in which we root for the murderer. Hop-Frog is a disabled jester, forever taunted and beaten by the king and his fellow noblemen. When the king asks him for suggestions for costumes for their upcoming masquerade, Hop-Frog cleverly tells them to dress as chained-up beasts covered in tar. When the noblemen come into the ballroom to scare their guests, Hop-Frog reveals that they are in fact joined by a chain to the ceiling. Hop-Frog hoists his tormentors high and lights them ablaze, terrifying the party guests, as his "last jest."
This tale is widely credited as being the first detective story, so its two gruesome murders get an extra bonus for the historical significance. A Paris inspector, Dupin, investigates the death of a mother and daughter, one brutally beaten and the other strangled and stuffed in a chimney. No one can figure out how somebody could be strong enough to commit the deed -- until Dupin deduces that the culprit wasn't human at all, but an escaped orangutan. That twist may seem antique today, but in its time, "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" was a revolutionary tale that begat a whole genre of fiction.
This one ranks highest on our death list out of sheer goriness: a plague known as Red Death has ravaged the countryside, while the nobility throws a huge masquerade party, safely quarantined in the castle walls. When one guest shows up dressed as a victim of the plague, the host of the masquerade becomes offended and pursues him. Chasing him from down the halls, they finally end up in an all-black room, when it is revealed that there is no one under the costume at all: it's the Red Death itself. One by one, the guests start to show the signs of disease: sharp pains, contorted faces, and uncontrollably sweating blood. It's perfect Poe: a condemnation of the decadence of the upper class, a slow burn of tension, and some really nasty gore.
And remember: you can find most of these tales in this book of Poe's short stories, available at the Library. Any other favorite Poe fatalities? Let us know in the comments!
Every January, the American Library Association’s Midwinter conference makes headlines with its announcement of the newest Newbery Medal and Honor winners. The coveted awards, which mark the best children’s books of the year, began in 1922.
The list of past winners boasts many familiar faces — Ramona Quimby, Frog and Toad, the Witch of Blackbird Pond, Mrs. Frisby and her rats, the Cricket in Times Square — as well as a host of lesser-known titles worth exploring.
Our Readers Services librarians picked out six of our favorite Newbery winners, plus a dozen bonus titles at the end.
Readers travel through the city on a bus with CJ and his grandmother, as he asks questions and gets answers about why his family is less privileged than others around him. The book reflects the life of an urban kid who isn’t often depicted in more conventional (and more pastoral) picture books for young children. Words of wisdom from Nana: “Sometimes when you're surrounded by dirt, CJ, you're a better witness for what's beautiful.”—Gwen
A character-driven, intricately plotted, first-person narrative with a touch of science fiction. A twelve-year-old NYC girl tries to make sense of a series of mysterious notes while her mom prepares to be a contestant on The $20,000 Pyramid. —Lynn
Stanley Yelnets finds himself at a juvenile correctional facility for boys in the Texas desert. The boys are required to dig a 5x5 hole every day — ostensibly to build character, but actually to help a corrupt warden in her search for treasure. The dialog in the book is well crafted, and the multiple plotlines snap together in the end in the most satisfying way.—Lynn
When Annemarie — a Danish girl in Copenhagen during World War II — sees what's happening to her best friend and other Jews in her town, she's moved to join the Resistance and do what she can to help. Number the Stars is often the first work of fiction about the Holocaust that kids are exposed to, and it's an amazing book: moving, realistic, simply but beautifully written. The perfect introduction to an impossibly difficult historical reality. —Gwen
A more beautiful tale of friendship, love, and imagination has never been written. Paterson's masterpiece traces the story of a boy and a girl who together invent a magic land in the forest that eventually helps one of them cope with the devastating loss of the other. (I will always remember my third-grade teacher sobbing as she read the end of this book out loud to us. Devastating, but wow, what a demonstration of the power of children's literature.) —Gwen
Claudia and her brother run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she sees a statue so beautiful that she's compelled to identify its sculptor. To find out, she must visit the statue's former owner, the elderly Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It's no coincidence that both this book and When You Reach Me are on my list. They share a wonderful sense of place (NYC) and the kids in both books enjoy an agency that feels nostalgic to me. They run around, no parents, solving mysteries. —Lynn
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!
During the week, it can be tough to stay on top of everything. On Fridays, though, we suggest kicking back to catch up on all the delightful literary reading the internet has to offer. Don’t have the time to hunt for good reads? Never fear. We've rounded up the best bookish reading of the week for you.
No need to get up! Join our librarians from the home, office, playground — wherever you have internet access — for book recs on Twitter by following our handle @NYPLrecommends from 10 AM to 11 AM every Friday. This week, we're taking a break, but you can check NYPL Recommends any time for more suggestions.
We started the New York Public Library podcast in 2014. This past year, we doubled down, launching The Librarian Is In, a biweekly podcast hosted by Gwen Glazer and Frank Collerius about books, culture, and what to read next. And once again in 2016, guest after guest has kept us intrigued, delighted, and hungry for more. We've talked about breakthroughs in genetics with a Pulitzer Prize-winning doctor-author, gotten the lowdown on Sherlock Holmes from a six-time NBA champion, and heard from two luminaries of autocriticism. Whether you're new to the NYPL podcast or already a subscriber, we hope you enjoy some of our favorite podcast episodes from 2016. Tell us the episodes you loved in the comment section below.
"The first thing I feel looking at a Beyoncé video is old. You know, and I'm not sure I understood it. It is a very deep change because of hip-hop from my political generation in the attitude toward materialism. Of course the revolution was righteous and so you expected people to give up all this stuff, which you know, no one wanted to go to the demo and sneak off. This generation doesn't feel any contradiction between success and being black. And I think that's really very good, and here's this woman married to this tycoon, and she's a tycooness, and she's got an amazing body and can do this stuff that my mother would really not approve of. It would shock her so much. The lyrics I found shocking once I understood them. I didn't get them right away."
"I don’t feel like a very creative person; I feel like a clarifier, and I think via the act of clarifying the magic is that you may end up making something... [T]his kind of idea of writing or via clarity you could show yourself you know, offer the thread that leads back out of the labyrinth so that you got back to someplace before you became trapped seems to me the whole game, you know, and I think what’s amazing about it, and this is the amazing thing about words is that well, I always think about this Robert Creeley quote where he said, 'in poetry I’m trying to express something very, very specific, it’s just not the same as saying, I’ll be back in five minutes or I have to go to the bathroom, but it’s still something specific that you’re trying to say.'"
"One of the things I'm really concerned about with the future of living is how much we can trust the devices that are in our home and that we wear? How often do they have your interests fully at stake or are they actually of mixed motives because if you are an attention merchant, you have an advertising platform. Many of our phones for example, they are both doing what we say, they call people, but they also want to be able to deliver us to advertisers at the right time... Most devices now they sort of do what you say but they also manipulate you. These devices, they want to buy stuff for you or the self-driving car wants to go where you say but they might also have some other things they'd like you to do. I'm worried about a future where everything is a trip to a gift store."
"Part of one of the clichés of the immigrant dilemma is that if the kids get supereducated, they’re alienated from their community. I’ve never felt that thing, and though I live in a different even country from many of my family members and so forth, so I’ve felt—I mean I feel the privilege of this back and forth, but there is this feeling. I mean, I don’t think it’s—people often think with me it’s language because I write in English, but I think there’s a feeling that all people who write, for example, must feel this sense that a lot of people won’t be—a lot of people dear to you, you know, in my case, even in my family, won’t be able to participate in the story this particular way."
"We are at a quickening for a particular kind of genetic intervention in humans. We are trying to find out how these interventions can be managed, what their future might be, we don’t know, we don’t have any precepts to know what to do about it but the technology marches right on. Just to give you an example, this week, I didn’t anticipate all this in the book, this week, as you very well know, in the news, there’s an attempt to artificially synthesize, based from chemicals alone, a full human genome... and the idea is that what if I could take that thing that makes David Remnick David Remnick and synthesize, not all of it, but one quarter of it, from scratch, I would string together the chemicals, and in principle, we don’t know, in principle, if I were to introduce those chemicals into a cell, into an embryonic cell that I’d unhusked, taken its own genetic material away, would that now cell become your clone? Would that be you in what way, similar ways, dissimilar ways? We have no moral or personal or literary or scientific precepts to know what the hell to do with that kind of idea."
"My dad went to Julliard School of Music, and he was a trombone player. In order to get out he had to take piano. He had to play Moonlight Sonata. I think it's Beethoven. I'm pretty sure. And he'd be practicing it all the time. I ended up where I knew it by heart just listening to him practice all the time, and I remember I'd be in my room, and he'd be out practicing, and I'd be like, 'When is he ever going to stop playing that song?' but I went on ahead and practiced my hook shot in the same way and same determination to make it, to get into high school, to get a scholarship to high school."
"The Hubble is only three hundred miles over our heads, so just to give you a sense of this new telescope that is being built. Because we don’t talk about it much, we don’t have time to show you those clips. The James Webb Space Telescope will be, yes, a hundred times more powerful than Hubble, but there are other things about it that make it quite remarkable. One of the most remarkable things of it is it’s bigger than can fit in a rocket. So it has to fold up, it’s really an origami telescope... So talk about precision. This thing has to fold up perfectly and then it has to unfold perfectly, and the difference with Webb, of course, is that with between Hubble, Hubble is one mirror, it looks like basically a ground-based telescope, only in space, but Hubble has eighteen mirrors, all of which have to work together, fold up, unfold, work together to create a single image, and also unlike Hubble, Hubble is 250 miles over our head, the James Webb Space Telescope, because it is also an infrared telescope, it has to be very cold, has to be much further away from the Earth, it’s going to be a million miles away."
"Citizen suggests some relationship with your neighbors, your block, your town, with the village. After World War II they stopped using that word and we were consumers. That’s all you could hear, the American consumer this and the American consumer that. And we bought things for status and that’s what we were supposed to do. Now, what are we? We are taxpayers. All of a sudden, it’s about my little tax, my little money, I don’t want to give it to the government, those people who should not have it. You know, the people, we talk about capitalism sort of seeping into the blood, they just change the language and redefine us and we go for it. My driver was fussing about his taxes. I said, 'so what? You pay taxes, so what?' But you know, all of a sudden we lose who we are, or are redefined. And when the language changes, we change. The labels change, so all of a sudden it’s about taxes. If I hear any something else about taxes—but if we were still citizens, that’s a different thing. We feel some obligation. We don’t pass by people."
"Plot is always the hardest thing for me. It's always the thing I wrestle with the most. It's a part of writing books that I hate the most, and to be honest, it's a part of reading them in a way that I hate the most because it's always because of plot that character is betrayed. Like when a book goes wrong, and you start to feel like 'He wouldn't say that, he wouldn't do that, she wouldn't do that to him.' That's when you can feel the author's wrestling to get the character onto the armature of plot, and when a book is really well-plotted, so tightly plotted, so suspenseful, I hate that the most. I can't stand suspense. I would rather never find out what happened than have to like suffer through the tension of waiting to find out."
"I mean the whole notion that there can be a market system which is at an arm’s length separated from a state, which is the enemy, is the sickest joke in the history of humankind. If you think that this narrative of private wealth creation which is appropriated by the big bad wolf, the state, on behalf of trade unions and the working class that need a social welfare net, is just a preposterous reversal of the truth that wealth is being created collectively and appropriated privately but right from the beginning. I mean, the enclosures in Britain would never have happened without the king’s army and without state brutality for pushing peasants off their ancestors’ land and creating the commodification of labor, the commodification of land which then gave rise to capitalism. Just half an hour ago, we were being shown, some of us, the magnificent collection of maps of the city of New York in this wonderful building and you could see in one of the maps of Alabama, the precise depiction of the theft of land from Native Americans, the way in which it was parceled up, commodified. Now that would never have happened without the brutal intervention of the state and created the process of privatization of land and therefore of commodification."
"To me though in a very funny way the most moving memorials, whether it’s the memorials to the missing in World War I that you brought up or what you just read, it’s all about absence, and it’s about there is an impossibility you absolutely can’t attain. So this is—this memorial, which is Lutyens’s Memorial to the Missing in Thiepval, France, is very directly connected to my design for the Vietnam Memorial, not so much formally, but twofold... [W]ritten on the white stone are the names of I think over a hundred thousand soldiers killed in one battle, over I think it was a three-day period, the Battle of the Somme, and they’re all missing. Why are they missing? Because there are no dog tags. So I had—you know, everyone knows this story. I designed the memorial, Vietnam memorial, as a class project, in the class project as a senior at Yale you have an option, you can set up your own class, so seven of us said, 'we’re interested in funereal architecture.' The design we did, right before we decided, 'oh, let’s design the Vietnam memorial, there’s a competition, that’s a great way to end the school.' The assignment was to design a memorial to World War III, and so I had started studying all about memorials, so you get back into the plot about the famous versus the missing or the individual."
“We have a colleague who said, OK, I am going to read to my child’s class, and I work at the New York Public Library; I have to be good… so I said, Well, this book has the word ‘underpants’ in it. The fact that it has ‘underpants’ — you’ll have them at ‘underpants.’ It’s so crazy, but it’s true. You need sound effects and the words ‘underpants,’ ‘booger,’ ‘butt’… I point to my butt and the kids are rolling on the floor. I’m not embarrassed at all; I’m always willing to make fun of myself.”
Elena Kagan was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Obama in 2010. Since then, she has written opinions that are known for their clarity. She does not speak up much or ask many questions, but her comments have poignancy when she does opine about matters. At present, she is one of three female Supreme Court justices.
Kagan had an illustrious career before she made it to the nation's highest judicial function. After she obtained her law degree, she clerked with Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. She learned much from Marshall; she loved debating the legal and political aspects of each case that the Court chose to consider, out of the thousands that come before the Court each year.
She continued in this realm with the students that she taught at Harvard University. They adored her outgoing, questioning nature. She could be demanding with her students, but they learned much from her. Eventually, she became dean of Harvard Law School in 2003. She met Obama before he became president, and he was impressed enough with her to invite her to join the highest court.
It is interesting that Kagan encouraged practice of the Bat Mitzvah tradition for girls in Judaism in Manhattan, where she grew up. She did not think it was fair to deny girls the same religous involvement that their male counterparts enjoyed.
Career development workshop: Intro to Social Media, on Monday, January 23, 2017, 9:30 am - 12:30 pm, at Brooklyn Workforce 1 Career Center, 250 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. This workshop is for all interested job seekers to get an understanding of social media, and learn how you can use social media sites to help on your job search.
SAGEWorks Employment Assessments on Monday, January 23, Tuesday, January 24 and Wednesday, January 25 at the SAGE Center, 305 7th Avenue, New York, NY 10001. This is a 30 minute one-on-one session that will help you re-organize your job search. SAGEWorks assists people 40 years and older in learning relevant, cutting-edge job search skills in a LGBT-friendly environment. By appointment only.
Scotts Miracle-Gro Company will present a recruitment on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, 10 am - 12 pm, for Seasonal Merchandiser (10 openings), at New York State Department of Labor Workforce 1 Career Center, 250 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. By appointment only.
Basic Resume Writing workshop on Wednesday, January 25, 2017, 1:30 - 3 pm at Brooklyn Workforce 1 Career Center, 250 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201. Participants will learn the purpose of a resume, chronological and combination resumes and select the appropriate type for their specific needs.
Spectrum will present a recruitment on Thursday, January 26, 2017, 10 am - 3 pm, for Technician - Greenpoint (10 openings), Technician - Greenpoint (6 openings), Technician - Woodside (4 openings), Technician - Jamaica (3 openings), Technician - College Point (9 openings), Technician - Staten Island (1 opening), Technician - W 219th St. Manhattan (5 openings), Technical Operations Supervisor (2 openings), Technical Operations Supervisor (5 openings), Technical Operations Supervisor (2 openings), Supervisor of Construction (1 opening), Supervisor, Survey/Construction (1 opening), at Brooklyn Workforce 1 Career Center, 250 Schermerhorn Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201.
Spanish Speaking Resume Writing workshop on Thursday, January 26, 2017, 12:30 - 2:30 pm. at Flushing Workforce 1 Career Center, 138-60 Barclay Avenue, 2nd Floor, Flushing, NY 11355. All interested jobseekers will learn to organize, revise and update resumes.
The New York City Employment and Training Coalition (NYCE&TC) is an association of 200 community-based organizations, educational institutions, and labor unions that annually provide job training and employment services to over 750,000 New Yorkers, including welfare recipients, unemployed workers, low-wage workers, at-risk youth, the formerly incarcerated, immigrants and the mentally and physically disabled. View NYCE&TC Job Listings.
Digital NYC is the official online hub of the New York City startup and technology ecosystem, bringing together every company, startup, investor, event, job, class, blog, video, workplace, accelerator, incubator, resource, and organization in the five boroughs. Search jobs by category on this site.
St. Nicks Alliance Workforce Development provides Free Job Training and Educational Programs in Environmental Response and Remediation Tec (ERRT). Commercial Driver's License, Pest Control Technician Training (PCT), Employment Search and Prep Training and Job Placement, Earn Benefits and Career Path Center. For information and assistance, please visit St. Nicks Alliance Workforce Development or call 718-302-2057 ext. 202.
Brooklyn Workforce Innovations helps jobless and working poor New Yorkers establish careers in sectors that offer good wages and opportunities for advancement. Currently, BWI offers free job training programs in four industries: commercial driving, telecommunications cable installation, TV and film production, and skilled woodworking.
CMP (formerly Chinatown Manpower Project) in lower Manhattan is now recruiting for a free training in Quickbooks, Basic Accounting, and Excel. This training is open to anyone who is receiving food stamps but no cash assistance. Class runs for eight weeks, followed by one-on-one meetings with a job developer. CMP also provides Free Home Health Aide Training for bilingual English/Cantonese speakers who are receiving food stamps but no cash assistance. Training runs Mondays through Fridays for six weeks and includes test prep and taking the HHA certification exam. Students learn about direct care techniques such as taking vital signs and assisting with personal hygiene and nutrition. For more information for the above two training programs, email: firstname.lastname@example.org, call 212-571-1690, or visit. CMP also provides tuition-based healthcare and business trainings free to students who are entitled to ACCESS funding.
Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) trains women and places them in careers in the skilled construction, utility, and maintenance trades. It helps women achieve economic independence and a secure future. For information call 212-627-6252 or register online.
Grace Institute provides tuition-free, practical job training in a supportive learning community for underserved New York area women of all ages and from many different backgrounds. For information call 212-832-7605.
Please note this page will be revised when more recruitment events for the week of January 22 become available.
Hack the Holds Queue is a new series from Readers Services in which we alert you -- on the frontlines in libraries across the city -- to books getting a lot of attention. Your patrons will be in asking for them. You may have to put them on hold, but don’t let that reader leave empty handed!
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran is about a young Mexican mother placed in detention in the US and the Silicon Valley couple who foster her baby.
Lucky Boy was an Indie Next pick for January, the author was interviewed on All Things Considered and Publisher’s Weekly did an in-depth piece on the book’s origins.
Here are more thoughtful, moving stories with sympathetic characters:
Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, recognizing an African-American author and illustrator of outstanding books for children and young adults: March: Book Three written by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin.
Welcome to our biweekly update on events happening during the next two weeks at The New York Public Library. With 92 locations across New York City, a lot is happening at the Library. We're highlighting some of our events here—including author talks, free classes, community art shows, performances, concerts, and exhibitions—and you can always find more at nypl.org/events. If you want our round-up in your inbox, sign up here. We look forward to seeing you at the Library.
1/25: George Washington and the Hyper-Partisan Now: Daily Beast editor-in-chief John Avlon's new book, Washington's Farewell: the Founding Father's Warning to Future Generations, places Washington's legendary farewell address in the context of our nation's flourishing democracy. Avlon will speak with New York Times political correspondent Maggie Haberman on his book and how our first president's message resonates today. 6:30 PM. Wachenheim Trustees Room.
1/25: Four Generations:Filled with countless insights and treasures, the new book Four Generations: The Joyner Giuffrida Collection of Abstract Art is a journey through one of the most exceptional collections of art in America, and through the momentous legacy of African and African Diasporan art from the last hundred years. In celebration of this timely publication, join Christopher Bedford, Mary Schmidt Campbell, Thomas Lax, and Fred Wilson, in a conversation moderated by Sheena Wagstaff. 6 PM, Celeste Auditorium.
The Schomburg Center
1/26: Dear President: What You Need to Know About Race: The Schomburg hosts a series of micro-conversations in association with WNYC's "Dear President: What You Need to Know About Race," a series of first-person radio essays on racial justice and experience in America. Featuring WNYC's Rebecca Carroll and stand up comedy by Khalid Rahmaan. 7 PM.
2/2: Black Power at 50: Kicking off the Schomburg's 2017 Conversations in Black Freedom Studies, this panel discussion will examine several dimensions of the Black Power movement, then and now. Featuring Jamala Rogers, Mark Speltz, Stephen Ward, and Komozi Woodard. 6 PM.
Library for the Performing Arts
1/26: Some Enchanted Evenings: Author David Kaufman discusses his biography of Broadway star Mary Martin, best known for her originating roles in South Pacific andThe Sound of Music, as well as her Tony-winning turn as the title character in Peter Pan. Followed by a Q&A with theatre critic David Finkle. 6 PM, Bruno Walter Auditorium.
1/28: Pierre Bernac's Library: Songs of Poulenc, Leguerney, and Honneger: LPA houses the archives of baritone Pierre Bernac, a well-known interpreter of 20th-century French art song. Pianist Matthew Odell will present a recital inspired by Bernac's personal collection of scores, including songs by Poulenc, Leguerney, and Honneger. 2:30 PM, Bruno Walter Auditorium.
2/6: Lost Broadway Theaters with Jennifer Ashley Tepper & Guests: Jennifer Ashley Tepper is the author of The Untold Stories of Broadway, which tells the tales of the dozens of Broadway houses that have been demolished, gone bankrupt, or forced into disuse over the years. Featuring Ken Billington, Maria Di Dia, Michael John La Chiusa, and Don Scardino. 6 PM, Bruno Walter Auditorium.
Science, Industry, and Business Library
1/24: Introduction to Medicare: Eric Hausman, an independent consultant specializing in Medicare education and training, comes to the Library to give an overview of the Medicare program and your coverage options. 6 PM, Conference Room 018.
1/25: Business Legal Structures: Learn about various business structures to help you determine what kind of entity is most suitable for your emerging or existing small business. This program, presented in conjunction with the IRS, is part one in a series of Small Business Tax Workshops. 6 PM, Conference Room 018.
1/28: "Plato's Cave" with Bryan LeBoeuf and Simon Van Booy: Join novelist Simon Van Booy as he interviews painter Bryan LeBoeuf about his life, works, process, and vision for painting, and how these manifest in the current exhibition "Plato's Cave," created specifically for the Art Wall on Third exhibition series at the Mid-Manhattan Library. 2:30 PM.
2/1: Sarah Crowner in Conversation with Susan Cross: Acclaimed artist Sarah Crowner discusses her wrk with Susan Cross, Curator of Visual Arts at MASS MoCA, where Crowner's first solo museum exhibition in the United State is on view through January 2017. 6:30 PM, The Corner Room.
Around the Library
1/28: For The Public: Welcome to The Bronx: Come to the Bronx for an evening of poetry and speeches from activists and writers, on what it means to be an author of color after this election. Featuring Miles Hodges, Peggy Robles-Alvarado, Jose Olivarez, and The Peace Poets. 2:30 PM, Bronx Library Center.
Historias y temas de autoayuda, autorrealización y superación personal para ayudar a desarrollar la fortaleza interior y obtener los resultados deseados en este nuevo año. Obtenga una copia de la lista para adultos.
Cuando el prometido de Melanie sufre un accidente que lo deja en coma en víspera de su boda, ella visita a su bisabuela Hanna en busca de consuelo y allí descubre historias reveladoras sobre el amor y la vida.
Explica los factores fundamentales que las personas que buscan superarse deben cumplir para ayudar encontrar el propio camino a la autorrealización.
Obtenga una copia de la lista para adultos. Algunas de las obras también pueden estar disponibles en diferentes formatos. Para más información, sírvase comunicarse con el bibliotecario de su biblioteca local. Los amantes de la lectura y escritura podrían además disfrutar del club de los libros latinos de lectura de las Comadres y Compadres (en Inglés y Español). Para información sobre eventos, favor de visitar: Eventos en Español. Más Blog en Español. Síganos por ¡Twitter!
"He seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe, with all that was warm and sentient in him fast bound below the surface."
—the preface of Ethan Frome (1911)
January 24 marks the birthday of a great American writer, Edith Wharton. Writing during the late 19th century into the early 20th century, Wharton is best known by the adaptations of her work — and there have been many.
The most recent, and likely the most well known, are The Age of Innocence, Ethan Frome, and The House of Mirth. Collectively, they star some of Hollywood's biggest stars over time, and one can't help but wonder what brought about a resurgence of interest in Wharton's work in the latter part of the 20th century, almost 100 years after she began writing. To explore that question, we must look at more than just the text, but also at the woman who created such lasting works about life among the wealthy in New York City.
Wharton was born Edith Newbold Jones in a townhouse in New York in 1862. Her family was conservative and part of the wealthy society of old New York. Born into a life that expected little more of women than to pursue domestic interests, Edith had bold intellectual desires, but they were not encouraged.
Instead, she received the minimal education necessary — privately tutored, of course — and was pushed to fulfill the societal expectations for a woman of her status, which involved traveling to Europe and living life as a member of the upper class.
During these travels, she befriended writer Henry James, a fateful meeting with the man who would become a good friend and mentor. Encouraged by that relationship but unable to openly pursue her interests, Edith was still an avid reader; in her teens, she began writing poetry and short fiction. Some of the work she produced during that time appeared in well known publications such asHarper's and Atlantic. She even published her first short novel at the age of fifteen under the name David Olivieri, and she would continue writing off and on into her twenties.
After a few failed engagements, Edith was encouraged to marry an older man named Edward Wharton in 1885. A banker, Edward and Edith had little in common other than their respective positions in society. (Literature Resource Center)
Despite having grown up in the same social atmosphere as she'd married into, Edith was unhappy with the life of a society wife traveling, which focused on attending parties and other frivolous activities. Events such as the Light Guard Ball (pictured above) were a common occcurence in late 19th-century New York.
After years of unhappiness, she suffered a nervous breakdown in 1894 and was sent to a sanatorium to recover. Encouraged by doctors to write as a means of improving her condition, she began writing professionally soon after her stay.
By 1907, she lived in Paris full-time with her husband — and shortly after moving, she began a wildly passionate affair with journalist Morton Fullerton. This inspired some of her writing during this time. While the affair didn't last, neither did her marriage. After her husband suffered several breakdowns of his own, and after years of unhappiness, they divorced in 1913.
Wharton saw little reason to return to the United States and only did so sporadically over the last 25 years of her life. She did return to recieve an honorary degree from Yale University in 1923, and she became the first woman to do so. Throughout her life she continued to write and do charitable work in Europe. She died in France and was buried in Versailles. (Biography in Context, Chambers Biographical Dictionary)
I must admit, my initial experience with Edith Wharton was not by choice. I was running a book club at my library branch and would always add at least two classics on the list we would read for the following year. I was familiar with Wharton mostly due to passing knowledge of the film The Age of Innocence, which I had never seen (and would not see until after I read the book).
I'm sometimes reluctant to read a book that is considered a "classic". The truth is, for every brilliant classic, there are quite a few that are hard to read or relate to — and the word is often tossed around in reference to virtually any title written within a certain timeframe, not just those that have earned it. But my first experience with Edith Wharton's writing convinced me that she is one of those rare writers whose work falls firmly into this category.
In The Writing of Fiction, Wharton described the focus of her novels as the conflict between the desire of the individual and the authority of social convention. Wharton constantly revisits this theme, especially in some of her most popular novels. The House of Mirth (1905) is the story of the gradual worldly decline of a society beauty named Lily Bart. She seeks wealth, security, and admiration in various groups of New York society, and, because of a mixture of Fate and her shortcomings (vanity and snobbery among them), is cast out by every class, ending her days in a miserable room, having failed to succeed even as a humble seamstress.
Ethan Frome (1911) explores the sad life of a taciturn yet sensitive man who has lived in a samll New England farming town all his life. He marries his cousin Zeena for reasons of expedience, and the loneliness and difficulty of life in the backwoods turns the already unsympathetic character into a bitter hypochondirac. A hired girl enters the picture and turns Ethan's small world upside down. Their brief and chaste, though passionate, romance ultimately leads to tragedy. (Literature Online)
A bit more light-hearted, although no less tragic, The Custom of the Country (1913) provides one of literature's most unlikeable characters in Undine Spragg. Undine is a social upstart from the Midwest who marries New York aristocrat Ralph Marvell, in the hope of social glory. Finding her husband too quiet and not rich enough for her extravagant taste, she seeks excitement with the super-wealthy, divorcing Marvell to pursue a millionaire. This behavior continues throughout the novel, with Undine leaving and pursuing men she believes will help her rise above her station. She has a son whom she often ignores or uses as a bargaining chip against his father. The story is ultimately a dark comedy of manners.
Wharton's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Age of Innocence(1920), is considered by many to be her finest work. Not quite as cynical as some of her other novels, the story concerns the love of New York gentleman Newland Archer for two women — "innocent" all-American May Welland and her cousin, exotic Ellen Olenska, returned from Europe after a failed marriage. Archer is engaged to May but falls in love with Ellen, having first supported "decency" by imploring Ellen not to create scandal by divorcing. By the end of the book, he begs her to release herself, marry him, and proudly eschew the social restrictions placed on them. Ellen and Archer eventually battle against their passion (though they gain no credit; society assumes they have been lovers), she returns to Europe and Archer marries May. (Literature Online)
I enjoy Edith Wharton's writing so much because of its authenticity. Whenever I read one of her stories, I feel as if I have entered another world — except it's one that really existed. It's fun reading about social mores in a different time period while knowing how things play out in modern New York, and finding simple things like the descriptions of parts of New York City that I know well, but at the time were entirely different or didn't even exist.
For example: The New York Public Library's flagship location on 42nd Street and 5th Avenue wasn't completed until 1911, a decade after Wharton's first full novel. I remember some descriptions in The Age of Innoncence of characters living in upper Manhattan and how those areas were practically wilderness, only just being built up at that time, so the rich would often build mansions there because of the space. There's something to be said for experiencing history as it was happening. For Edith, this was her world. She knew it inside and out and was able to create engaging stories centered on this life, which she seemed to both loathe and be fascinated by.
That juxtaposition certainly had a hand in her story telling. Reading and writing stories was something she had been doing since a young age so it seems her critical eye was turned, likely fairly early, to those around her. In doing so it would have meant she was also keenly aware of her role among the elite. Her stories are often about outsiders, whether it's a woman trying to join the wealthy and find a better place in society or people who can't pursue the lives they want because they're bound by the restrictions of their positions.
As an outsider herself, Wharton was all too familiar with having ones path layed out for them whether they wanted to follow it or not. Yet we know she didn't shy away from certain aspects that her family's wealth afforded her, including a world-class education, extensive travel, and a lavish lifestyle. Her position as an insider/outsider gave her a unique perspective to offer readers in a manner that was engaging and accessible.
In celebrating Edith Wharton's life, I wholeheartedly recommend reading her work. Much of it still has a vibrancy in its depictions and story-telling. Her writing, while rooted in a time long gone, survives because it is simply very well done. You don't have to be a New Yorker to enjoy it, and you don't have to be a history buff — you just need to appreciate good writing with a bit of angst mixed in.
Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your ideas too, so leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend. And check out our Staff Picks browse tool for more recommendations!