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” nymag.com/anniversary/40th/culture/45763/. 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.