Despite loving Roz Chast’s work whenever I see it in the New Yorker (speaking of which: her recent cover is amazing), I hadn’t known she had written a book about NYC until Jenny from Reading the End mentioned it in a comment here last year. I immediately put a hold on it at the library, and after a lengthy wait, it finally arrived, right as I found my normal reading routines upended by an injury that means I can’t currently hold anything heavier than a coffee cup in my right hand, which makes reading on the subway pretty much impossible.

Ah well: this ended up being a perfect book to read on my couch in two sittings, though I am not entirely its ideal audience. I came to NYC for college and stayed after graduation: I’ve now been here for nearly 18 years if you count my time in college; I’ve lived in Brooklyn for nearly 14 years. So I don’t really need an explanation of uptown/downtown, how streets and avenues work, and where the different Manhattan subway lines go. That said, Chast’s style, both narration-wise and illustration-wise, totally works for me, so even her descriptions of basic Manhattan geography had their charm. (This book got its start as a guide for Chast’s daughter, who grew up in the suburbs and came to NYC for college, so it’s a little bit of a beginner’s guide to the city, but it’s also more than that.)

Where this book shines, for me, is in the more personal bits: the parts about Chast’s favorite things in NYC, the parts that capture her style and sensibility and sense of humor and way of looking at the world. There’s a bit about the time when Chast found an unusual item on the sidewalk that I’d read previously (I think it was published in the New Yorker) that still made me laugh out loud this time around. There are bits about the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. There’s a drawing of a street tree in winter with plastic bags caught in its branches, whose accompanying text is just: “If Manhattan had an official tree, it would be this one” (125). There are multiple bits about the pleasures of walking in the city, which I relate to a whole lot. “I am interested in the person-made,” Chast writes, and continues: “I like to watch and eavesdrop on people. And I really like DENSITY OF VISUAL INFORMATION” (40). (Which is followed by the totally excellent image you can see as the lead illustration in this NPR piece.) “If you are feeling antsy or out of sorts,” Chast advises, “pick a street and walk across it from coast to coast. Any street will do. The more nondescript your street is, the greater chance you have of making your own discoveries” (47-49). And Chast’s drawings and photographs show some of these sorts of discoveries: I love a drawing of a sign for a deli advertising “ham & cheese warps,” and photos showing different varieties of standpipe connections. I also like the way Chast quotes from E.B. White’s Here Is New York, another lovely book about the city that I should reread one of these days.

2 Responses to “Going into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast
Bloomsbury USA, 2017”

  1. Jenny @ Reading the End Says:

    Oh hon! Are you doing okay? I hope you’re going to have a speedy recovery and am sending you massive good wishes. <3

  2. Heather Says:

    Thank you! I fell while bouldering at the climbing gym in late January and managed to dislocate an elbow, which resulted in a torn ligament and a torn tendon. I also fractured a bone, though both my doctor and the surgeon I saw were less concerned about the fracture than the rest of it. It’s been a bit hard/frustrating and I’m sure will continue to be frustrating for a while, but I’m doing fine – and I’m really really looking forward to getting more of my range of motion back as I move along the path to recovery!

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