Saturday, January 22

New Yorkers by Craig Taylor review – the Big Apple cut to the core | Society books


IIn 2011, Canadian author and oral historian Craig Taylor published Londoners a series of textual interviews with citizens from all walks of life for a book whose objective was to build a kaleidoscopic portrait of the city. Now, almost a decade later, he has visited New York and taken the same approach. But its residents live in a more terrifying time, in the shadow of Trump, the BLM protests and a global pandemic. Taylor wrote the book between 2014 and 2020, and even in these six years the city changed significantly. The world depicted here may be harsh and bleak, but not without humanity and resourcefulness, which Taylor superbly captures.

Armed with 71 notebooks and 400 hours of recorded interviews, the author tries to make sense of a confusing and fascinating metropolis. Her first thought, as she prepares to leave her apartment, is that she should “prepare to step into ocean power” – one of the many joys of this excellent book is the way its overlapping prose aptly complements the adrenaline rush of the frenetic ballet. daily. Taylor calls the people of New York “the greatest glimmer of human life I have ever known,” and quotes photographer Gus Powell, whose work encompasses “the everyday poetry” of the city, as well as the spirit of life there. As Powell says, “It’s an incredibly generous place … that’s why you can get things done here.” Taylor’s own experience volunteering at a lunch program in the Flatiron District gives him firsthand insight into the city’s harsh goodness, especially in his evoked friendship with Joe, an indomitable homeless Vietnam veteran.

However, in the midst of generosity and compassion, there is also selfishness and almost sociopathic eccentricity. As one female AP puts it, city residents “can have a fucking breakdown in a way that wouldn’t be tolerated anywhere else on the planet.”

Throughout the sections titled Unbroken Rush, Crime and Punishment, and Winning and Losing, Taylor encounters everyone from bankers with “too much time, too much money, too much ego,” who cry from cutting themselves shaving and thus ruining a $ bond. $ 100, for those who crawl into the base of society, and sometimes not even that. There are Dickens characters like a Brooklyn lice consultant whose job is directly related to how busy the city is, trying to “make a good experience with a lousy one” and a flamboyant personal injury attorney straight out of Better call Saul who has a special interest in where the cracked pavements are, so that their clients can take full advantage of the falls.

Subjects are talkative and often very self-aware, leading to some memorable and dark humor vignettes. A protester yells at the police: “Don’t touch me, this is Dior!” before worrying he’s losing his leftist credibility, while a Wall Street HR executive notes that he was briefly unpopular because one man he fired was supposed to be the Santa Claus company at the Christmas party. As another interviewee wisely put it: “New York City can be divided into those who pee in their elevators and those who don’t.”

New York is a place that rewards and punishes its residents, sometimes seemingly arbitrarily. Antwon Shavers is an upbeat aspiring singer from Arkansas hoping to launch a career on Broadway. However, when Taylor meets him later, in the last section, Getting Out, Shavers has addressed loneliness and nostalgia, and his acting dreams remain just that. However, he is still optimistic: “I feel like I’m in a movie … it’s going to be a happy ending.”

The city is full of immigrants. An old adage is that there is no native New Yorker, only an adopted one. But Taylor is well aware of the way the original hospital crucible is changing. As one subject ironically points out, the city’s much-announced welcome to immigrants is being tense: “bring us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses who yearn to breathe freely” has become “the last to enter, close the door”.

New Yorkers by Craig Taylor is published by John Murray Press (£ 25). To support the guardian order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Shipping charges may apply


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