One-Minute Book Reviews

April 14, 2008

Maybe New York Magazine Should Have Called This Article ‘Books That Are Essential to Men’ — ‘Fear of Flying’ Doesn’t Fly With Sam Anderson

Filed under: Magazines — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 2:10 am
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Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying doesn’t make New York’s list of essential books about the city published in the past 40 years. But D. Keith Mano’s Take Five – what, you’ve forgotten it, already? – does make it.

Some writers are said to suffer from the curse of the Nobel. Sam Anderson may suffer from the curse of the Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing, which he received last month from the National Book Critics Circle. Anderson has written wonderful reviews in his current post as the book critic for New York. But if his byline has appeared on a less edifying article than a new list of 26 essential books about New York published the past 40 years, I haven’t seen it.

Anderson said he looked for two traits in books he considered for the list in New York‘s 40th anniversary issue, dated April 14: “all-around literary merit” and what he calls “New Yorkitude” And nobody could fault his choice of books such as Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities or Robert Caro’s The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, both modern classics.

But the birth of New York coincided with the emergence a new generation of female writers whose work indelibly stamped the literature of the city. And you would never know it from Anderson’s list, which has only six books by women.

Anderson chose Charles Mingus’s Beneath the Underdog, D. Keith Mano’s Take Five and Luc Santé’s Low Life but not Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying, Mary Cantwell’s Manhattan, When I Was Young, Nora Ephron’s Heartburn and other acclaimed books by women that reek of “New Yorkitude.”

Questions of literary merit and attitude are subjective. But anyone who wants to give Anderson’s list a reality test might reread John Updike’s review of Fear of Flying for The New Yorker, which said in part:“Fear of Flying not only stands as a notably luxuriant and glowing bloom in the sometimes thistly garden of ‘raised’ feminine consciousness but belongs to, and hilarious extends, the tradition of Catcher in the Rye and Portnoy’s Complaint — that of the New York voice on the couch, the smart kid’s lament.”

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. And where, might I ask, is Kay Thompson’s “Eloise” on this list? By far my favorite New York book.

    Here’s a link with some interesting notes:

    Comment by ggelliott — April 14, 2008 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

  2. Of course I had to rush to the list, looking more for memories of NYC books that I love rather than those that might meet his two criteria. I collect books, fiction especially, about New York.
    And one or two of them, I’m not even sure were in NYC.
    But New Yorkitude? Where’s Diary of Mad Housewife, Sex and the City, Emma Who Saved My Life, Slaves of New York, (ok, he gives small mention to the literati brat pack like Janowitz) and even, shall we say The Women’s Room which everyone, I mean everyone was reading on the subway that year…1979? but it probably doesn’t happen in NYC.) What about James’s Washington Square? Yeah, I know some of my choises are gonzo, like Skinny Legs and All, but I think some of the aforementioned kicked in genres, were time capsules, were…special…reflecting movements, moments,and multiple snapshots of the City.

    I was thrilled though to see Halperin’s A Winter Tale on the list. Sometimes, I can’t believe that book even exists, it was so, so, ephemeral? I loved it. Can’t even say why.

    And so, I LOVED today’s blog! which walked me right smack through the city I adore. That city of cities.
    And yes to Ggelliott who mentions Eloise. Yes, we love her and thanks for the web reference!

    Comment by oh — April 14, 2008 @ 10:14 pm | Reply

  3. GG: How can I never have read the “Eloise” books? I’ve always thought I’d love them … and will try to review them soon. Thanks for the reminder.

    Oh: Anderson was limited to books from the past 40 years because he was writing for the 40th anniversary issue of New York. But “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” “Sex and the City,” and “Slaves of New York” ALL came out within those four decades …

    You could argue that, for example, “Diary of a Mad Housewife” isn’t literary enough, but what’s the rationale for leaving out “Slaves of New York”? It’s so good and was excerpted in The New Yorker. And “The Bell Jar” came out in the U.S. in 1971. Some of the omissions are just bizarre and evidence of a rare tin ear in Anderson.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 14, 2008 @ 10:32 pm | Reply

  4. “Eloise” is just…delicious. This applies to the character as well as the experience of reading the book. She’s pint-sized, wry, and she swears.

    Unbeatable combination.

    Comment by ggelliott — April 14, 2008 @ 11:24 pm | Reply

  5. I’ve got to read her. In retrospect she takes on the added dimension of a certain historical interest now that the “old” Plaza is no more.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — April 15, 2008 @ 12:04 am | Reply

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