Here is New York. Where is Everywhere Else?
May 1, 2009 10:41 AM   Subscribe

I've been reading a collection of E.B. White's essays lately and stumbled across the wonderful "Here Is New York," wherein he tries to capture his city in print. I'm looking for similar odes to / summations of other places (preferably of essay-ish length.)

White's essay is a meditation on the city around him, an attempt to sum up this rather remarkable experience -- the atmosphere, people, essence of the place. He talks about geography, about history, but mostly about the subjective feel of New York.

And that's really what I'm looking for -- pieces from writers who know their city and put that essence across.

Thanks, all you literary Mefites!
posted by theoddball to Writing & Language (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: A little taste of the piece, for those who haven't read it:

"There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter -- the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. ... Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion."

(also, looks like kottke is a fan--more excerpt here.)
posted by theoddball at 10:42 AM on May 1, 2009

Carl Sandberg - Chicago
posted by chrisamiller at 10:58 AM on May 1, 2009

A.J. Liebling on Paris [recently described here].
posted by ijsbrand at 11:05 AM on May 1, 2009

These aren't exactly like White's essay, but they capture some of what you're looking for:

"Goodbye To All That" by Joan Didion
"The Santa Ana" by Joan Didion
posted by Ms. Informed at 11:06 AM on May 1, 2009

You might enjoy Bukowski's "Portions from a Wine-Stained Notebook" to read about Los Angeles. Not really an excerpt, but from Wikipedia, he spoke thus of LA;

"You live in a town all your life, and you get to know every bitch on the street corner and half of them you have already messed around with. You've got the layout of the whole land. You have a picture of where you are. ... Since I was raised in L.A., I've always had the geographical and spiritual feeling of being here. I've had time to learn this city. I can't see any other place than L.A."
posted by Lucubrator at 11:22 AM on May 1, 2009

The London Scene: Six Essays on London Life - Virginia Woolf

These are wonderful. Here is a link to one of the essays.
posted by kitcat at 12:06 PM on May 1, 2009

Holy Land by D.J. Waldie is about suburban L.A.

Portrait with Keys by Ivan Vladislavic is about Johannesburg, South Africa.
posted by ocherdraco at 12:55 PM on May 1, 2009

Perhaps more fictional than you're looking for but certainly descriptive of a time and a place in line with what you're after would be Mordecai Richler's novels that feature Montreal, including The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (you can also watch the movie which was shot in real locations that still exist (and some only lightly touched since filming).
posted by mikel at 2:36 PM on May 1, 2009

A few poetry suggestions:
The Bridge by Hart Crane - This is a rather long series of poems, but the first one, "To Brooklyn Bridge" is pretty amazing (if a little challenging the first few times through). Basically this is Crane's celebration of the Brooklyn Bridge and what it represents.

Walt Whitman - Thumb through Leaves of Grass and you'll find some really wonderful depictions of America (Crane was a big fan of Whitman), particularly New York.

"Notebook of a Return to a Native Land" by Aime Cesaire - Another long poem, this time about Martinique.
posted by 6and12 at 5:25 AM on May 2, 2009

Through The Children's Gate by Adam Gopnik is fairly recent, but I absolutely loved it.
posted by Remy at 6:25 AM on May 2, 2009

More New York instead of another city, but more contemporary, and by Colson Whitehead.

Also, Ben Hecht's brief articles about Chicago are wonderful and evocative.
posted by dizziest at 10:32 AM on May 4, 2009

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