So you know those Buzzfeed quizzes that have been going around lately? Where Should You Live? What Career Should You Have? My husband, a native of Portland, to his dismay got Portland every time. Even after switching his answers up. I got New York City. And that I should be a writer. Probably because I chose Oscar Wilde to have dinner with over Michelle Kwan, and I’m really only familiar with one Beyonce routine, the one Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake parodied on Saturday Night Live. I think when I was ten, I’d have wholeheartedly believed these quizzes with starry eyes. I do love New York. And I do love writing and indeed my jobs have always been centered around books. But life has taken me to a small off-the-grid cabin in Montana for now, about as far from a New York state of mind as it gets.
I’ve seen the This Is… books around on the internet, and was thrilled to actually find one in my aforementioned nanny-charge’s bookshelf. And of course, the one I found was This Is New York. The series covers London, Hong Kong, Paris, Ireland, San Francisco, and on and on, all by Miroslav Sasek. They were first published fifty-some years ago and only a few editions have been reprinted for our great reading pleasure.
The text of the book is filled with facts of New York- geographical, historical, and otherwise. Kind of a guidebook primer. We learn that the Dutch bought the island of Manhattan for the equivalent of $24 in traded goods, that New York is full of the “biggest” things- the tallest buildings, the biggest park, the thickest Sunday papers, and that with hard work and optimism, one can go from shining shoes on the sidewalk to eventually owning a shoe-shine business.
But where these books truly shine is in the illustrations. Lovely vintage cartoonish pictures grace each page. Somewhat reminiscent of Ezra Jack Keats, they evoke a more rosy, hopeful time.
There is an updated list of facts in the back of the book- obviously a lot changed over the years, such as the number of elevators and fire hydrants in the city, as well as the fact that in 1960 the Empire State Building was the tallest in the world, but at its republication date in 2003, it’s considered “one of the tallest.” Also interesting is that there’s no mention of the Twin Towers- because they were built after the original printing and collapsed before the reprinting. It’s not just the landmarks that make a city, but the community, and that’s what this book highlights. Even fifty years later, the charming pictures of children playing, impressive architecture, striking workers, and the many, many fire escapes of the city don’t feel dated. Rather the book showcases the beautiful diversity of the city.