Monday, December 15, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #349: Overheard in New York by Friedman & Malice

People have been eavesdropping on each other ever since the invention of language, but it took the Internet to make that a business model. Back in early 2005 -- the golden age of blogs, when any crazy idea would attract millions of hits and the Google Ads flowed like wine -- two New Yorkers realized that the people around them were providing free content, and all they had to do was collect and publish it.

Thus was born the Overheard in New York blog, which spawned a mini-empire of similar content collected different places -- beach, office, etc. -- though it all seems to have died back a bit now, with a lot of dead pages on the main site. But New Yorkers keep saying strange things in public, and other New Yorkers write those down and send it to a website, so the cycle goes on.

Fairly early in that cycle, the folks behind the site got a contract to put together a book, because that's what blogs did in those days. And so, only a little more than a year after the site went live, there was Overheard in New York, the book, credited to S. Morgan Friedman and Michael Malice. (Those could be the legal names of two actual people, for all I know -- they are New Yorkers, after all. But I somewhat doubt it.)

The book is divided into three big sections -- stores, streets, and subways -- corresponding to where the conversations were captured. And perhaps it needs saying that all of these words, however racist, sexist, lunatic, deranged, or ill-conceived, were all said in public by actual human beings in the greatest city in the world. (I may perhaps be biased.) The book also features a foreword by Hairspray lyricist Marc Shaiman and an introduction by New York-based crime writer Lawrence Block, for added cultural cachet.

A slightly newer version of the book came out in 2008, but I read the 2006 version. Sure, everything from both editions was originally on the site, and is still on the site, but there's something about having these kind of fleeting moments of lunacy between two covers that's so much more satisfying.

I have a sense writers love this kind of thing the most, since it's a way to capture a lot of real human voices for inspiration. But anyone who appreciates the nuttiness of supposedly normal people can find a lot to enjoy here -- it's not a book to read straight through, but left in the appropriate place in a house, it can provide hours of occasional enjoyment, much like an irregularly updated blog does.

And so I'll leave you with one absolutely randomly-chosen snippet from page 51 of the book:

Old man: You put your hands on me again, I'll cut your fucking throat.
  - Post Office, Bensonhurst

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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