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Here is New York by EB White – A Book Review

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BOOK: Here is New York

AUTHOR: E.B. White

YEAR OF PUBLICATION: 1949

REVIEW:

This one is short, and will take you perhaps half an hour to get through. It’s a half hour well spent, though. E.B. White’s essay, written during a heat wave in the summer of 1948, is really remarkable: well written, eloquent, a bit on the nostalgic side (he wrote it from a NYC hotel on a visit, having moved from New York to live in Maine), smooth, sweet, and rather prescient.

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The back cover of this edition quotes John Updike and Russell Baker singing its praises. And The New Yorker calls it “the wittiest essay, and one of the most perceptive, ever done on the city.”

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It was republished on its fiftieth anniversary with an introduction by Roger Angell (White’s stepson), giving some historical context and some discussion of the city’s changes between 1948 and 1999. Angell was a little skeptical that White’s opening would still ring true, but here it is: “On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.” And for what it’s worth, it still rings true to me. The whole essay does, really.

It’s an elegant bit of writing, in any case, whether you consider it a fond look back or some timeless truth.   But here’s the prescient part, toward the end: “The subtlest change in New York is something people don’t speak much about but that is in everyone’s mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumple the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions.   The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.”

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This is a book for anyone who loves New York, whether a native, a commuter, or a settler (from Italy, a small town in Mississippi, or the Corn Belt), or, like White himself, an exile. And if you don’t love New York, this essay should help explain why it is that so many do.

RATING (one to five whistles, with five being the best): 4 Whistles

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HOW TO PURCHASE: Amazon

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com

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