Oscar Hijuelos: Ex-Smoker, Still Anxious

Zoe Proom  | August 17, 2011 9:57 AM

It was the cacophony of construction noise from Donald Trump’s ongoing redevelopment of the Upper West Side that caused Oscar Hijuelos to anxiously reach for a phantom cigarette. Despite having kicked the habit years prior, this instinctive reaction inspired the title of his memoir, “Thoughts Without Cigarettes.”

In his first foray into non-fiction, Hijuelos initially set out to analyze his various anxieties about life, but instead reflected more on his formative years as the son of Cuban immigrants in New York.

This recent work comes 21 years after his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, “The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.” Hijuelos was the first Hispanic-American to win the prestigious award.



Q&A with Sapphire: The Push for Her Sequel ‘The Kid’

Christina Knight for NYC ARTS  | August 1, 2011 11:05 AM

Most writers’ first novels do not get made into an Oscar-winning film, but that’s what happened to the Brooklyn College M.F.A. graduate who goes by the pen name Sapphire. Her first work, the poetry and prose collection “American Dreams” (1993), won her intellectual literary acclaim, but “Push” (1997) propelled the New York-based writer from the city’s poetry circles to Hollywood (“Precious” is the book’s film adaptation) and book reading clubs across the country.

“Push’s” obese protagonist, Precious, is an abused, illiterate African-American teen mother from Harlem who bears two children by her father. Sapphire’s brilliant writing gives voice to an illiterate young woman and transforms her language on her path to literacy and self-esteem.

Fourteen years later, Sapphire’s second novel, “The Kid,” follows Precious’ beloved 9-year old son Abdul, who must cope when his mother dies of AIDS.


Sure it’s Hot Now, But You Shoulda Seen 1896…

Sam Lewis  | July 22, 2011 4:28 PM

As the heat wave spreads across the country, the Tri-State Region prepares for temperatures in the 100s. Here, a boy plays in water from a fire hydrant (Summer 2010). MetroFocus/Sam Lewis

As the nation’s sweltering heat wave moved to the East Coast on Thursday, life’s daily routines, like cooking and commuting, became daunting tasks.

For those without air conditioning, this year’s scorcher — which has temperatures in the Tri-State region in the triple digits — can pose a health threat. The heat wave may seem unprecedented, but it’s been worse before. A lot worse. (more…)

I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York

Avery Monsen  | July 11, 2011 6:00 AM
Authors: Avery Monsen & Jory John
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Publication Date: June 2011

It’s summertime in New York City. The days are longer. The nights are wilder. The backs are sweatier. We’re living the dream here, as long as your definition of “the dream” includes a sweaty, disgusting back.

Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself, though. There are a few things you should know.

First, I’m the co-author of a recently published book called “I Feel Relatively Neutral About New York.”

Second, since some people take the word “neutral” to mean “negative,” you should know that right now, I  live in Queens. Also, I moved here after writing that book.  (more…)

What Makes a New York Deli Truly Great?

Gabrielle and Ben Ryder Howe  | July 11, 2011 6:00 AM

Gabrielle Howe and Ben Ryder Howe know what makes a great deli. They used to run one. Photo courtesy of Henry Holt.

What makes a great deli? Who better to ask than Gabrielle and Ben Ryder Howe, a couple who took over a deli in the rapidly gentrifying neighborhood of Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. The story of how they broke into — and later exited — the deli business is detailed in Ryder Howe’s book, My Korean Deli: Risking It All for a Convenience Store.

No matter where you live in New York, it’s rare not to have a choice of convenience stores, known colloquially here as “the corner deli.” Every apartment that we have ever lived in had at least two delis within a five-minute walk. And every time we ran out of 2 percent milk or, back in the days when we smoked, a steady supply of cigarettes, we had to decide between, say, the deli that smelled badly and was depressing (yet closer) or the deli that could turn you into a drooling, stupefied zombie with its selection of ice cream (yet had a mean owner). (more…)

Sublime Summer Sports Books from an Unlikely Source (Hint: Lady, Gray)

Max Linsky  | July 11, 2011 6:00 AM

The New York Times isn’t exactly known as a sports writing powerhouse. Slipped into the back of Business Day for most of the week, the Sports section tends to feel like an afterthought. A chore, even. And that’s not changing anytime soon: on the paper’s iPhone app, the section falls below Science. Enough said.

So perhaps it’s not surprising that only one of the several Times reporters who released a sports book recently actually covered sports for the paper. And even that one, Robert Lipsyte, describes the section he joined in 1957 as “mediocre at best, perhaps by design.”

But even if the Times fails to scratch your sports writing itch on a daily basis, you’d still be hard-pressed to find three better sports books for your summer reading list than these: (more…)


Sharks and the City (Think ‘Jaws,’ Not Wall Street)

Juliet Eilperin  | July 11, 2011 6:00 AM

The New York Aquarium has launched an initiative to study sand tiger sharks and other species in the New York Bight. Flickr/Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk.

New Yorkers know from sharks when it comes to Wall Street, but what about the ones in our waters?

More than two dozen species of sharks swim in the New York Bight, a 15,000-square-mile region stretching from Montauk, N.Y., to Cape May, N.J., as well as the waters of Long Island Sound. They run the gamut from massive basking sharks and fierce great whites to the relatively mild sand tiger sharks, long-nosed blue sharks, tall-finned sandbar sharks and many in between. (more…)

My Greenpoint: From Interloper to Local

Kate Christensen  | July 11, 2011 6:00 AM

Author: Kate Christensen
Publisher: Doubleday
Publication Date: June 2011

Kate Christensen’s most recent novel, “The Astral,” tells the story of Harry Quirk — a middle-aged poet struggling against poverty, alcoholism and impending divorce in a rapidly gentrifying Greenpoint, Brooklyn — where Christensen lived for 20 years.

I first moved to north Brooklyn in 1990 when I was 28 and just starting out in life. I lived on Graham off Metropolitan Avenue, above a laundromat, in a small one-bedroom apartment with a skylight in the bathroom, a parquet floor, and a roof deck outside my bedroom door. It cost $350 a month. (more…)

Follow in Andy Warhol’s Footsteps

Mahalet Dejene  | July 11, 2011 6:00 AM

Upon his first visit to New York City, Thomas Kiedrowski’s friends asked him what he wanted to do. Instead of rambling off a list of tired tourist traps, Kiedrowski pulled out a list of addresses detailing all things Andy Warhol.

Out of that list grew “Andy Warhol’s New York City: Four Walks, Uptown to Downtown,” Kiedrowski’s detailed walking tours of important sites Warhol’s life and work in Manhattan.

The book features 12 original drawings made by Warhol’s former studio assistant Vito Giallo. It also features a system of stars to let readers know the degree to which featured locations still exist as they were in Warhol’s day.

One of the book’s more intriguing walks takes the reader through Murray Hill, then weaves across the island to Chelsea and meanders down to Greenwich Village. With 25 locations ranging from hotels to factories, the tour boasts a diversity of scenery and history. Below are several highlights from the downtown leg of that walking tour. (more…)

Why Is it So Easy to Fall in Love in New York?

Ariel Sabar  | July 11, 2011 6:00 AM

This article is adapted from Ariel Sabar’s book, “Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York.”

My mother and father met in Washington Square Park in the mid-1960s, and I’d thought I knew the story well. But not long ago, my father shared a detail I had not heard before. He said he’d actually spotted my mother on the streets outside, but didn’t have the nerve to approach until she’d entered the park.

Why? I asked.

The streets were too exposed, my father said. Attractive as she was, it would have felt improper to strike up a conversation there. The park, though, was different. It was like stepping into a village.

The park shrank the city, he told me. It slowed time. With its roving paths, its fountain and trees, it filtered away the facelessness and noise of the street. Once inside, he said, people ceased being strangers.

For a fleeting moment, they were on common ground. They were sharing something: not just the leaves and grass and water, but the human carnival.

And that got me wondering: Were some public places more likely to induce friendly glances than others? Could some actually encourage people to take the first steps toward falling in love? In doing some research on those questions, I found myself knee-deep in the little-known field of environmental psychology.

The park shrank the city, he told me. It slowed time. With its roving paths, its fountain and trees, it filtered away the facelessness and noise of the street. Once inside, he said, people ceased being strangers.

Environmental psychology came of age with the social movements of the late 1960s, when architects and psychologists began discussing how the design of everything from rooms and buildings to streets and cities might contribute to social ills like poverty, crime, mental illness, overcrowding and isolation. Underlying the research was a universal question: how do the physical places where we live, work and play shape us?

One of the most consistent findings across decades of studies is that the closer any two people are — whether in dorms, offices, classrooms, or neighborhood streets — the more likely they are to become friends or at least think well of one another. As the authors of one environmental psychology treatise concluded, “the architecturally determined and accidental arrangements of persons can have dramatic effects on their relationships.”

But did the research go further? Could some public places actually stoke, well, lust?

The author's parents — Yona Sabar and Stephanie Kruger — on Thanksgiving 1966, in Stephanie’s parents’ Greenwich Village home.

The anthropologist Helen Fisher is an expert on the neurochemistry of love. (She’s the brains behind the online dating site Chemistry.com and is quoted at length in a recent New Yorker article about dating.)

Fisher is also a native New Yorker — she lives on the Upper East Side — and a devotee of what she calls “urban hiking.”  She told me she knows “every inch” of Central Park and spent hours in Washington Square Park in the mid-1960s as an undergraduate at New York University.

She’s not surprised that strangers visiting Manhattan landmarks occasionally meet and fall in love. “Those are supremely good places,” she told me. “They’re open, they’re full of street life, they’re exciting, they’re full of novelty and adventure — and that drives up dopamine in the brain and can push you over the edge into falling in love.”

Ever mindful of biology, she threw out an idea I had yet to consider: busy public spaces, of the sort found in Manhattan, are excellent places to size up the Darwinian fitness of prospective mates. How does he carry himself in a crowd? How does she react to stress? Is he coordinated or a klutz? In public settings, away from the comforts and crutches of home, she told me, “you see more of the person.”


It was Labor Day 1966, late morning. My father, Yona, 27, an immigrant, had been in America for less than a year, for graduate school at Yale. He was depressed, homesick and lonely, and was in New York for the long weekend to see friends in the East Village. My mother, Stephanie, 28, was a caseworker at a foster agency in upstate New York. She’d driven to Manhattan for a few days to be with her parents.

Yona’s friends had gotten up early to see a parade, but Yona was too dejected to join them. He left the apartment and soon found himself walking under an arch into a leafy refuge of curving paths in the heart of Greenwich Village. A sign said Washington Square Park. Yona wanted only to clear his head, to think.

A woman he’d first glimpsed on his way in was now here, a few yards away. She was in a raincoat and was photographing people — beggars, unwashed street musicians — on benches around the central fountain.

He did not know that her name was Stephanie, or that she was an amateur photographer whose parents lived just a few blocks away. Watching her flit through the park with her camera, he knew only that he wanted to talk to her, to see if she knew something about this country and its people that he had yet to grasp.

He closed his eyes for a moment, then opened them. Then, his legs moving as if by a force not wholly his own, he approached.

“Pardon me,” he said. “Are you a tourist?”

Four months later, they were married.

Ariel Sabar is an award-winning journalist and author. “Heart of the City” is his second book. His first book, “My Father’s Paradise,” won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. For more information, visit www.arielsabar.com.

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