I had never heard of Pete Hamill before spotting this book on the N Train one night on my way home from work. Apparently he’s written quite a few novels, but this memoir is the story of his love affair with the city of New York. He calls his city Downtown, but uses an unorthodox definition of his own devising, stretching up to Central Park South at times.
I have only lived in New York since 2004, though I grew up visiting my father’s lab in the Bronx frequently, and making visits to museums and Broadway shows a few times a year. I lived first at 26th Street, a block from Madison Square Park, then in the Financial District for three years before moving to Brooklyn last summer. Hamill made the opposite move in his young adulthood, from the ethic enclaves of Brooklyn to the gritty streets of 60s Manhattan.
Woven among Hamill’s memories of starting out in the newspaper business on Park Row (my first Financial District address) and visiting the clubs of the Village is an excellent history of the city’s slow climb from its southernmost point up the island. His narrative intersects my recent reads, House of Mirth and The Emperor’s Children, giving the history of times and places that inspired those works.
For someone without a strong grounding in the geography of the city, the stories can be hard to follow at times, but they’ll make even the casual visitor as nostalgic as a lifelong New Yorker for the old days, whether they were the 1600s or last week.