Sunday, May 06, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #126: Going Into Town by Roz Chast

I've never been a New Yorker. Back when I was young and poor, I was too poor to afford it, and had the luck of a mother who lived in commuting distance. Now that I'm old and less not-poor than I'd like, it's even more unaffordable, and family roots keep me stuck in suburbia even if resources allowed.

So I was a commuter, to and near Manhattan, for most of the last three decades. It's not the same, obviously, but it's enough to get a sense of the place, and to want to be there more. (Even if that will never happen.)

Roz Chast is a New Yorker -- born and raised in Brooklyn -- and a mainstay of the magazine of that name, too, if that gives her any more legitimacy. But she's lived in suburbia -- north of the city, up the Hudson -- for my entire adult life, having moved out, like so many others, when she had kids and realized they needed more room than her family could afford in the city. (Which is about right: these days, Manhattan living is for the young and willing, for the rich and indulgent, and for the rent-stabilized for thirty years, without much in-between.)

Eventually, Chast's daughter went to college in NYC, and Chast made a little booklet to explain the city to her. That booklet expanded, eventually, to a generally available real book -- it's called Going Into Town, and it came out last year.

Going aims to be a useful book in a way Chast's work hasn't in the past -- it's not quite a guide, but the subtitle sums it up well: "A Love Letter to New York." It can tell you how to get around and have fun in Manhattan, though it won't tell you everything. But it will give you that real New Yorker's love for the place, full of examples and enthusiasm and humor. (With Chast, you know it's going to be funny throughout, and she delivers.)

So, after a brief personal history-slash-explanation for the book, Chast dives right into Manhattan's layout and how to get around it (walking and subway, of course), and then looks at museums, parks and city animals, food, and the bizarre wonder that is a NYC apartment. All along the way, her joy and love for the city is palpable, even when she's explaining how to get your super to kill an infestation.

I have a sense that Chast has fans across the country -- maybe into other countries! -- who are not as likely to live in or even have an extended visit to NYC. Those people may not find this book quite as useful as others, but, frankly, anyone who's been in or near NYC regularly and is at least thirty knows all of this stuff anyway. Going Into Town is about rekindling that love for the old and cynical of us, and igniting that love for the young and energetic. It's a great book about a great city, by a great cartoonist.

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