Reading in place

March 18, 2010

Here is New York, by E. B. White, Persuasion, by Jane Austen, Dubliners, by James Joyce.

These books may not appear to have anything in common, but they are all on my list of “Reading in Place Books.” There’s a particular thrill that comes from reading, or more likely, re-reading, a book in the location that it describes.  Anne Fadiman refers to it is You-Are-There-Reading in her book, Ex Libris.  Since I had always practiced this kind of reading, too, I was happy to discover that it’s a pleasure enjoyed by many.

 E. B. White’s essay, Here is New York, has long been a favorite because it so completely captures the spirit that gives New York its special character, even though it was originally published  in 1949, long before jet planes, cell phones, ubiquitous Starbucks storefronts, and the rise and fall of the World Trade Center.   Consider the opening sentence, “On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.”  Or this, “New York is the concentrate of art and commerce and sport and religion and entertainment and finance, bringing to a single compact arena the gladiator, the evangelist, the promoter, the actor, the trader, and the merchant.”  He might have been talking about A-Rod, Al Sharpton, Donald Trump, Bernie Madoff, or countless others in today’s world.  Although many of the details of New York in 1949 have altered or disappeared altogether, happily quite a few remain unchanged, although others, sadly in some cases, have altered too little.

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