I love reading on the subway, and one of the more enjoyable aspects of my subway commute is checking out what my fellow New Yorkers happen to be reading. Admittedly, this was easier in the days before e-readers but I find with some good old fashioned nosiness you can still usually make out what folks are consuming. By employing this well-honed peripheral vision technique, last week I noticed two separate people reading Dennis Lehane’s recently published “Live By Night” and sensing a trend, I picked up a sample. By page 7, I ordered it.It is by turns a period noir, a mob thriller and an epic, though what I ultimately found it to be was compelling. I enjoy literature that is not easily digested and although by no means a shallow read, Live By Night is not deep. Where it succeeds, however, is in the rare art of being a terrific page-turner and it’s completely entertaining. The plot is tight, with well-rendered characters and sharp, believable dialogue. This novel cries out “I’m a movie!” like nothing I’ve read in recent memory (save for The Sisters Brothers, and I think that has been optioned already.) So, pick it up. Lehane is a good writer. Be entertained!
There was a cool article in the New York Times online recently about this old market analysis for advertisers from the 1940′s that was based on then-current Census information. That admittedly sounds like a snooze, but what is fascinating are some of the pictures and descriptions of the neighborhoods. For example, here is an excerpt of one of their “Neighborhood Profiles” on Chelsea:
This is a very active industrial and manufacturing district. At 14th St. and Ninth Avenue there are wholesale poultry and meat houses. New York’s fur and florist center is located in the area from Sixth to Eighth Avenues and from 26th to 30th Streets. Although almost deserted at night, it is one of Manhattan’s most crowded areas by day. Poor grade tenements prevail. But there’re some excellent apartment developments. London terrace at 23rd St. between 9th and 10th avenues is one of these.
That’s a good one, right? “Almost deserted at night” is practically the opposite of Chelsea in 2012. I also enjoyed their hardscrabble profile of the Lower East Side in 1940′s.
Visitors to New York find the Lower East Side an amazing show. There is nothing comparable in America. It is the most populous, most crowded, most old-world district in New York City. It’s more than 100,000 foreign-born population gives the Lower East Side a tinge that is essentially alien. But the district is changing. It has lost more than 40,000 foreign-born since the previous Census. Total population has dropped 225,000 in 20 years. Slum clearance has added many parks and playgrounds. The pushcart markets, Chinatown, the Bowery, barber colleges, tattoo shops, flop houses, second-hand clothes exchanges provide color and atmosphere seldom encountered in the American scene.
Nary a mention of hipsters, fixed gear bikes or ironic moustaches… but “tattoo shops, flop houses and second-hand clothes exchanges”? Funny how much things change in 70 years, and also how they do not.