Confession: I haven’t written a true “book review” since early high school, in the very least. The last book reviews I remember doing were for school projects in fifth and sixth grade — you know, the ones where you create a new book jacket, or dress up as a character and present a monologue to the class? Yeah, that was the last time this girl truly reviewed a book. Against her will, at that. So I suppose it’s time for me to take another stab at “reviewing” a book I recently read.
Also, I think I should share another confession: I have not been a big reader in many, many years. When I think back to my days of reading, like truly a lot, it was when I would read books for points in the “Accelerated Reader” program in, you guessed it, elementary school. Sad admission from a self-proclaimed aspiring writer, isn’t it? The point of this is to say that I am truly working on reading more so this hopefully will not be the first and last book review I post. Now that I am not a slave driver — I mean, waitress working over-time nearly every week, I have some time to really relax with books so, without further ado, here we go!
Since I’m not too involved with the “book” scene these days, I don’t really keep up with recently published books, but when I saw this book mentioned in an article I saw on BuzzFeed, I was immediately intrigued. The title of the article was, “Why I Left New York at the Age of 24.” Talk about reeling in your audience! Leaving New York at age 24? How about, GETTING to New York by age 24?! The article was an excerpt from this (at the time) soon-to-be-published book. I knew immediately that this was a book that was so, so incredibly perfect for me to read.
I pre-ordered it on my iPad and a week later, it appeared the day it was published. (I love tablets and eBooks, don’t you?!) I read the whole thing in less than a week and I must say, that is probably one of the fastest records I have, to date, on reading any book. My first thoughts after reading the BuzzFeed article created a turning feeling in my stomach. Writers? New York? LEAVING New York? Just how bad is it out there for a writer in New York? And not just for one lone writer, but for 28 of them to come together after having left New York to write a book about WHY they left?
Not a good sign. Especially for someone who is an aspiring writer who wants to move to New York someday so she can write.
Stab. In my heart. Ow.
But after reading the prologue, I realized that there was one more little phrase that could have been added to that subtitle, and that was, perhaps, “Writers on loving and leaving New York [and wanting to go back]“. This could have been a game-changer for me because I would have known that yes, these 28 writers moved to New York to write, and eventually left, and now are writing about it but also about how much they miss it. Phew, after I read that part, I thought…this may not be such a heartbreaking book after all.
Each of the 28 stories in here are so different from the next one, but they all appeared to have a common thread: most of them moved to New York when they were really, really young. Like, dropped-out-of-high-school young. Or maybe just-graduated-high-school young. These writers were not necessarily educated professionals looking to make a move to further their career; they were mostly young teenagers with a dream who wanted nothing more than to make that dream a reality.
So they live in walk-up apartments that are roach and bed bug-infested that have “cheap” rent because there’s seven of them sharing a two-bedroom. They get jobs at stores or as waitresses or bartenders and they still try to write in their free time. But hey, they live in New York and that’s what is important, right? All while reading the stories of their living conditions and their lives, I couldn’t help but try to find some commonalities with these authors and try to understand what it must have been like for them. But it was difficult to reach that empathetic point because I just couldn’t find it.
Another thing that made these stories hard to relate to was the fact that there was another common thread throughout many of them: drugs. Maybe it’s because I was a child in the 1990s when most of these stories took place — too young and too innocent to know what drugs were back then — or maybe it was because I grew up in a family that absolutely detests New York City and therefore I never visited — but wow. The stories that are in this book about the drugs in New York during this time are astounding to me. I had no idea how rampant so many hard, dangerous drugs were in parts of Manhattan back then. Parts of that island that are now considered “nice” and “good neighborhoods” once housed some of the most dangerous drugs and junkies, ever. That was incredibly eye-opening to read, and I am thankful to RG for cleaning up those neighborhoods and making New York safe again. (Otherwise I would never consider it as an option!)
The other common mention in every story is quite humorous, but also something I’m sure many present-day “New Yorkers” can attest to be all-too-accurate: the smells. Almost every single story described, in one way or the other, how the city in the summer smells like two distinct things: urine and hot dog carts. This is something I have yet to experience because the few times I’ve been in New York since my first visit in 2008, it has always been in the winter. The only constant smell during that time are the hot dog carts, thankfully.
Overall, I enjoyed reading these stories. They were each inspiring, but some were also sad and unfortunate. They were stories of not just achieving dreams, but of also growth. Sometimes growth means leaving a place you thought you’d spend the rest of your life, but I also think that growth could mean taking a leap of faith to find out just what you’re capable of not just doing, but also becoming.
Here’s to hoping I myself do not become contributor #29 to this book.