Funny Jewish Memoir
February 23, 2007 8:47 AM   Subscribe

Author/Title? Comic memoir about Jewish childhood in pre-WWII tenements in NYC.

Help! I've been driving myself crazy trying to remember the title and author of a book that I read 30 years ago. I think the author might have been fairly famous in the 60's and 70's but not so widely read now. I thought the title was Penny Candy but that turned out to be a Jean Kerr book. The author wrote at least two memoirs of his life growning up in NYC.

And if you want to recommend other books about life in NYC between 1890-1940 that would would be great.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy to Writing & Language (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Sounds like Will Eisner? Could it be A Contract with God?
posted by pullayup at 8:56 AM on February 23, 2007


For the latter part of your question - not a book, but a play and later a movie: Brighton Beach Memoirs, by Neil Simon.
posted by hangashore at 8:57 AM on February 23, 2007


Maybe I took comic too literally.
posted by pullayup at 8:57 AM on February 23, 2007


Could it be Brighton Beach Memoirs by Neil Simon?
posted by nomad73 at 8:58 AM on February 23, 2007


I don't think this is the one you're looking for, but I always loved the All-of-a-Kind Family books by Sydney Taylor. They're based on her life growing up in a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in the early 1900s. They're similar to the Little House books in the way they shed light on the daily lives of families from that time and place.
posted by katemonster at 9:00 AM on February 23, 2007


The Lower East Side Tenement Museum might be a good resource. Mrs. Gunn and the little shooters were just there the other day and said it was a great place and the staff was really really patient and helpful.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:09 AM on February 23, 2007


oh, and A Drinking Life by Pete Hamill is a fantastic book about growing up in the 30s, 40s, 50s in NYC. Mostly centers on Brooklyn, and, as the title suggests, his father's and his own drinking.
posted by nomad73 at 9:14 AM on February 23, 2007


Brighton Beach Memoirs-- seen it, love it.

Will Eisner
-- not the author I am thinking about.

Sydney Taylor-- sounds like a ovely series, I will look for them in my library.

The Museum looks very interesting and if I am ever in NYC I will try to see it.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:22 AM on February 23, 2007


Call it Sleep by Henry Roth?
posted by sagwalla at 9:24 AM on February 23, 2007


I am almost sure the author's first name is Sam.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:30 AM on February 23, 2007


Teitlebaum's Window, by Wallace Markfield?

Do you remember any other details about the book?
posted by PlusDistance at 9:30 AM on February 23, 2007


And if you want to recommend other books about life in NYC between 1890-1940 that would would be great.

Allegra Maud Goldman. Not the book you're looking for, but worth checking out.
posted by amro at 9:31 AM on February 23, 2007


I know it's the wrong city and not even a book, but how about Avalon?
posted by ilsa at 9:34 AM on February 23, 2007 [1 favorite]


The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Michael Chabon, is a novel about Jewish comic book authors in NYC in the '30s and '40s... I know it's not exactly what you're looking for, but it's a great read nonetheless.
posted by kdar at 9:55 AM on February 23, 2007


Heh. To echo the first response— I immediately thought of the Dropsie Avenue series by Will Eisner.
posted by klangklangston at 9:59 AM on February 23, 2007


This book is the opposite of "gritty" or grim. It is the very sunny, happy memories of growing up Jewish and poor. I remember it was shelved in the 828's (rather than the 92's) next to Erma Bombeck and Will Rogers and James Thurber, so call it comical essays rather than autobiography.

I was thinking about it because my husband and I are listening to Angela's Ashes at the moment and we were both struck by the difference between Frankie McCourt's kindly, generous neighbors in NY and his largely indifferent family in Ireland. The nighbors bring soup and mashed potatoes when Angela miscarries, but the Irish grandmother and aunts and uncles eat in front of the starving McCourt children without offering a bite.

This book I am thinking of has the same place setting-- the cold water walk-up in a largely immigrant neighborhood with the one toilet per floor. The Jewish mothers are always cleaning and cooking and watching out for all the kids in the neighborhood. The kids play in the streets. There is dire poverty yet there are plenty of feasts. I Remember Momma but Jewish instead of Swedish.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:01 AM on February 23, 2007


Looooved The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 10:02 AM on February 23, 2007


Not a book, but Woddy Allen's Radio Days sounds like it would be up your alley.
posted by cosmicbandito at 10:07 AM on February 23, 2007


Maybe Everything But Money? Or another book by Sam Levenson....he was huge in the 70s.
posted by iconomy at 10:16 AM on February 23, 2007


Here are some descriptions of Everything But Money - sounds like it's the one you're after.
posted by iconomy at 10:23 AM on February 23, 2007


Streets by Bella Spewack is in the same genre. (And hey, her husband was named Sam.)
posted by staggernation at 10:29 AM on February 23, 2007


Possibly City Boy: The Adventures of Herbie Bookbinder by Herman Wouk, or The Education of H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N by Leo Rosten?
posted by ardgedee at 10:39 AM on February 23, 2007



_My Ears are Bent_ by Joseph Mitchell.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 11:11 AM on February 23, 2007


For the second part of your question:

Bronx Primitive by Kate Simon

Walker in the City by Alfred Kazin
posted by OmieWise at 11:59 AM on February 23, 2007


Pete Hamill is decidedly not Jewish. I'll bet anyone a chocolate egg cream that the book Gravy's looking for is For 2 Cents Plain, by Harry Golden.
posted by scratch at 12:42 PM on February 23, 2007


I don't think I'd call it a feel good book, really, but Michael Gold's Jews Without Money otherwise fits your description of a novel about growing up in a Jewish tenement in pre-war NYC.
posted by onlyconnect at 3:06 PM on February 23, 2007


I'm reading Joseph Mitchell's Up at The Old Hotel right now and can recommend it to anyone interested in old New York.

As for the book I was thinking of, perhaps I have mixed up For 2cents Plain and Everything But Money-- I am sure I read both of them back in the 70's. So I have ordered both of those titles plus Allegra Maud Goldman (and thank god for Amazon!) I look forward to their arrival.

And thank you all for your imput.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 3:52 PM on February 23, 2007


Also, in the omgIcan'tbelieveiforgot department, there is Luc Sante's Low Life, which addresses exactly the period you're researching, and which is an absolutely talismanic favorite of mine. When I see it on a new acquaintance's bookshelf, I can know to a near-certainty that the two of us will become friends.

Here's a sample of Sante's mighty verbiage. (Low Life, being a straight-up history, isn't written like this piece, but it should give you an idea of the feel. )
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 4:53 PM on February 23, 2007


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