A reader writes:
My real problem with New York is literary. Because the bulk of American literary agencies, publishing, and criticism occurs in New York, authors are rewarded for overindulging in New York as a setting. And when they set their novels in New York, it's considered acceptable to geographically structure the work in such a way that non-native readers are punished. Street intersections and local landmarks can be alluded to without the slightest regard for descriptive context because the people who are really important (the publishers and the agents and the critics) will get the reference. The rest of us, I guess, just have to stomach the void in setting this entails, and hope the author writes well enough for the characters to interact meaningfully in a vacuum.
Auster and Lethem are two authors whose writing I respect a great deal, but make excellent examples of this phenomenon. Though, in light of this, I've found that steering clear of the New York Review of Books and, really, any fiction published to acclaim within the last 10-20 years often saves me the trouble of leaving books unfinished.
The iconic example of NYC snobbery is early bar closing times -- 2am in Boston, and 1am in Ptown. "What? They're closing?? You know, in New York, everything's open til at least 4!" Once, at Spiritus Pizza, I responded to the New Yorker's complaints thus: "I bet if you got in your car now, you could make it back to New York in time for last call. Not only would you be happier - so would I."
A few readers come to the city's defense. One writes:
I was raised here and know a lot of others who were. We all came out just fine and in fact were far more prepared for what the real world is REALLY like rather than the manufactured innocence and boredom of the suburbs. New York forces you to think on your feet, trust your gut, and do your homework.
One needs to work one's ass off to send their kids to private or parochial school if they can afford it. But being a kid in NY means being exposed to major institutions of learning and scholarship and some of the best brains in whatever industry. All through elementary and high school, we had field trips to the Museum of Natural History, the Met, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, and the MoMA. All we had to do was jump on the subway or walk around the corner. That shapes you and your expectations; I think for the better.
I would much rather be old in New York City vs. Florida or Arizona. You can spend the rest of your days mentally stimulated by art, lectures, world-class music and culture and still have the independence to be able to leave your home without being forced to drive and put your life and the lives of others at risk. I'd rather do that than golf.
Granted NYC is not the easiest place to live. But I think what comes off as narcissism is more about pride. If you can live in what is a congested, crowded and dirty place and still have an occasional smile on your face, you'd be proud of yourself too. New Yorkers are survivors. That's what makes us strive to be better.
I'm from a redneck town of about 50,000 people in Missouri, and I've lived in Brooklyn and worked in Manhattan for almost 7 years now. One of the things I love about New York is that there is really no such thing here as a big fish in a small pond (I'm sorry to use this cliche). A big fish in the pond of New York is, I don't know, Bjork. Most of the rest of us -- at least those of us who are not fundamentally assholes to begin with -- have been humbled by the realization that while we might have been one of the smartest and artiest 10 people in our hometowns, in New York there are hordes of us -- tens of thousands of people the same age, with the same clothes and the same music and the same "obscure" books. Once this really sinks in, it makes one much less of a dick. And for this reason I'll take New Yorkers over St. Louisans or the coolest 20- and 30-somethings in Kansas City any day.
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