A delight for New York aficionados. Every city needs a version of this artist and her book.

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TENEMENTS, TOWERS & TRASH

AN UNCONVENTIONAL ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF NEW YORK CITY

In busy cartoons and archly entertaining prose, New Yorker artist Wertz (Museum of Mistakes, 2014, etc.) serves up a grandly alternative history of Gotham.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Times Square was a locus of hookers and nude dance shows rather than Disney-fied tourist traps. More pointedly, writes the author, it was “a garbage covered shithole full of strip clubs, porn theaters and seedy characters”—which, naturally, she characterizes as representing “the good old days.” As Wertz cautions, the sordidness hasn’t entirely disappeared; you just have to know what to look for, and then look. This graphic book, rendered in a style that seems a distant cousin to that of Roz Chast, is all about looking. Wertz is a transplant from the Bay Area who came to New York, found her nirvana, and began exploring the history and actuality of the place. It’s a tragic note that, evicted from her studio in an up-and-coming Brooklyn neighborhood, she couldn’t find affordable digs anywhere in the city and returned to California, where she discovered that “it was an absolute fucking torture drawing and writing about a city I no longer lived in but desperately loved.” It’s easy to gauge that affection from her pages, which recount long walks through the city fueled by a steady diet of histories and trivia (“Pinball was banned in NYC until 1978! It was a ‘pinball prohibition,’ and officials would smash the machines with sledgehammers, and dump them in the river”) that she recounts in ever salty prose. Wertz, for instance, revisits the history of the many instances of Ray’s Pizza, a synecdoche of a kind: founded by mobsters as a money-laundering site, the operation became legit in the hands of immigrants who worked there, quit, and opened their own versions of the place, name and all, so that there are now somewhere between 20 and 40 unrelated Ray’s outlets in the city.

A delight for New York aficionados. Every city needs a version of this artist and her book.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-50121-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Black Dog & Leventhal

Review Posted Online: July 25, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

THE LIBRARY BOOK

An engaging, casual history of librarians and libraries and a famous one that burned down.

In her latest, New Yorker staff writer Orlean (Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend, 2011, etc.) seeks to “tell about a place I love that doesn’t belong to me but feels like it is mine.” It’s the story of the Los Angeles Public Library, poet Charles Bukowski’s “wondrous place,” and what happened to it on April 29, 1986: It burned down. The fire raged “for more than seven hours and reached temperatures of 2000 degrees…more than one million books were burned or damaged.” Though nobody was killed, 22 people were injured, and it took more than 3 million gallons of water to put it out. One of the firefighters on the scene said, “We thought we were looking at the bowels of hell….It was surreal.” Besides telling the story of the historic library and its destruction, the author recounts the intense arson investigation and provides an in-depth biography of the troubled young man who was arrested for starting it, actor Harry Peak. Orlean reminds us that library fires have been around since the Library of Alexandria; during World War II, “the Nazis alone destroyed an estimated hundred million books.” She continues, “destroying a culture’s books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never happened.” The author also examines the library’s important role in the city since 1872 and the construction of the historic Goodhue Building in 1926. Orlean visited the current library and talked to many of the librarians, learning about their jobs and responsibilities, how libraries were a “solace in the Depression,” and the ongoing problems librarians face dealing with the homeless. The author speculates about Peak’s guilt but remains “confounded.” Maybe it was just an accident after all.

Bibliophiles will love this fact-filled, bookish journey.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4018-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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