Saturday, October 6, 2012

Literary Adventures

New York`s one of those places that most of us get to know from books, movies and TV before we ever set foot here. This always causes an odd kind of sensation when I walk around: so many buildings and streets and corners have something associated with them. If and when the city doesn`t conform to our expectations we have to shake it off and remind ourselves that the New York as portrayed in art is not the same as the New York in reality.

Something Hisham Matar said last night stuck in my brain and won`t exit: that for certain cities (like New York, like LA perhaps, like London or anywhere that we encounter extensively in a literary context before visiting), we have to remain longer to really `be` there. Though I have been to New York many times, I have never stayed for more than a few days at a time and this means it is hard to shake off the preconceived ideas I have about the city. It`s hard to really `get at` New York unless one can talk to many people, spend enough time here for the city to develop as a character independent of all that`s written about it.

Hassam`s Washington Square Arch
Another interesting concept discussed was how reading certain books is like visiting a city: the example was Joyce`s Ulysses (which figured widely in last night`s discussion). Just as we don`t visit every neighborhood in a city when we visit, we hit a few spots, meet a few people, sit on a few park benches, eat a few restaurants, we still feel that `know` the city in a certain way. And we can also do this with books: pick it up, read a chapter, put it away and feel confident that we know that book in a certain way without having to read it all.

I think about many writers as I walk around New York: Henry James especially around Washington Square. Theodore Dreiser (I love Sister Carrie). Pete Hamill (who, in his novel Forever, is granted eternal life as long as he never leaves Manhattan.

And, of course, Woody Allen. I probably know far more about New York from watching Woody Allen films than I do from anything I`ve ever seen here with my own eyes.

I keep looking for Diane Keaton

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