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Manhattan Unfurled, Partying at The Paris Review

July 16, 2010 | by

I'm looking for good books about New York to give as host/hostess gifts. What would you recommend? —Elizabeth P., New York City

There is always E. B. White's little classic Here Is New York. The old edition is the one to buy for its beautiful jacket. Ten years ago I gave a copy to my friend Matteo Pericoli, a native Italian in love with the plain style in American prose. Matteo then turned around and created an even more beautiful book: Manhattan Unfurled. This unique object, which unfolds like an accordion, consists of two thirty-seven-foot pen-and-ink drawings. One portrays the western shore of Manhattan, the other the east. Matteo also made a children's version, See the City, with pencilled annotations, e.g. "This is a power plant"; "United Nations (I drew more than 3000 little lines!)"; "This is a not-so-famous building, but I like it." I don't know which version I prefer, loving them both as I do. If your hosts lives downtown, you may also want to give them Luc Sante's Low Life, with its haunting history of the tenement city New York used to be. Then, if your hosts are unemployed, you can always give them Gotham. Once, as a house-sitter in Greenwich Village, I spent the better part of a week in a gigantic Adirondack chair reading Gotham from cover to cover. I mention the chair because you need a big sturdy comfortable one, or a book stand. There is no question of reading the book in bed.

Recently, in the trailer for his new book, Gary Shteyngart gave a demonstration on how to act at a Paris Review party. What's your advice on how to act at literary shindigs? —Sally S.

As I remember, Gary got it more or less right: swirl the wine in your plastic cup, say you prefer early to late McEwan, guffaw. It's kosher to swap in Amis or Rushdie. The guffaw is optional. The main thing, really the crucial thing, is projection. Susan Sontag had it. Liesl Schillinger has it. Ditto my man Wyatt Mason—the late night DJ of high literary debate. Young Sam Munson's got a promising set of pipes, Rita Konig has an attack like Beethoven's Eroica, Sarah Crichton's laugh lights up a room; and I have heard the great poet August Kleinzahler silence a dinner of two dozen with only the slightest rise in pitch, and freeze the Russian Samovar for the length of a four-page sentence. These people know how to party from the diaphragm. But none can touch Gary's video collaborator Jay McInerney. The man could make himself understood over a no. 6 train in Union Station, and I mean on the other platform. All recovering mumblers, all of us who have struggled and failed to rise above the hum at George Plimpton's—or the truly deafening racket on White Street, when it's at capacity—must acknowledge McInerney's vuvuzelan preeminence. Respect.

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  1. Kristal | July 16, 2010 at 6:04 pm

    You Must Remember This: An Oral History of Manhattan from the 1890s to World War II by Jeff Kisseloff

  2. John Williams | July 16, 2010 at 10:54 pm

    I just finished reading Subways Are For Sleeping by Edmund G. Love, a charming series of pieces about various characters barely but imaginatively making ends meet in 1950s New York. It was published in 1957 and is now out of print, so might be hard to find. But if the taste of any of your hosts/hostesses runs to Damon Runyon or Joseph Mitchell, it might do the trick.

  3. Lauren Cerand | July 19, 2010 at 11:21 am

    I love GOTHAM – it has my favorite quote of publishing of all time in it: “What really assured New York of an unassailable lead in the book trade was cheap and easy access to western readers via the Erie Canal. Every fall, just before the onset of winter, and then again in the spring — a seasonal pattern that still rules the industry — city publishers dispatched crate after crate of books via the canal to retailers scattered across upstate New York, around the Great Lakes, and along the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.”

    As for city reading, it’s a little more parochial, but I like to give Truman Capote’s A HOUSE ON THE HEIGHTS.

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