Thursday, July 13, 2017

Review: Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York

Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York by Sari Botton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“There is the ache of not having another place in the world where I might ever feel so alive and alone, invisible while visible, ever again. Alone in exactly the right kind of way.”

Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York is a collection of essays from writers who have loved, left and maybe still long for those days when they could write and live in New York.

(This review combines this essay collection with the second collection Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York because both collections are so similar.)

The essays in both books represent a wide range of writers, from those who have always called the city their home to those who felt a pull or a calling to move to New York just to write, in many cases because pop culture has long established that “it's just what you do.” They explore their lives, loves, random jobs to pay the rent, terrible places to live, and the love affair that they feel with the city—with a few referencing the movie Manhattan as to give some sort of a visual representation of that type of infatuation with a place.

What becomes clear in both collections is that most of the writers participating entered New York at a vastly different time than it appears today. Many talk about moving to the city in the seventies, eighties and nineties (almost all essayists arrived in the pre-9/11 era) when there were still a few reasonable rents to be found and Times Square was a danger zone. It is not at all surprising that many of these writers ended up leaving some time after 2000 with skyrocketing rents and a somewhat harder time breaking into and keeping your head above water in the writing industry.

In both collections, there are a mix of those who left and never came back, those who still visit, and those who have stayed the course because New York is the only place to be. But every single essay seems to present a longing, even if the writer stayed. There's a longing to have that first feeling again of putting your feet on the sidewalk. There's the longing for all-night food delivery or being able to walk to any type of establishment you want to without ever seeing the same face twice. There's a longing for that one moment where the stars align before the city changes again.

These essays represent every reason why writers all over the world think that New York is the only place to be, but also wishing there was someplace more affordable or more forgiving than New York to thrive as a writer. Detroit keeps being recommended for those who want to have similar experiences to New York in the eighties, with just one problem—Detroit will never be New York. As one essayist puts it: “These days, being a creative person in New York is, in many cases, contingent upon inheriting the means to do it.”

But still I think these essays make a point that writers of all types should probably throw caution to the wind and have a New York period—whether that's a decade, a summer or one really good weekend. It needs to be explored an observed to be believed, because very few people on this earth come from a place as crowded, diverse, and amazing as New York. And you can't miss out on something like that.

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