Jee’s Book Review: ‘New Yorkers: A City and Its People in Our Time’ by Craig Taylor @wwnorton #bookreview #eARC #NetGalley #NewYorkersbook #NewYorkers #NewYork #nonfiction #interviews


Title/Author: New Yorkers by Craig Taylor

Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company

Pages: 432

In a nutshell (Publisher):

A symphony of contemporary New York through the magnificent words of its people―from the best-selling author of Londoners.

In the first twenty years of the twenty-first century, New York City has been convulsed by terrorist attack, blackout, hurricane, recession, social injustice, and pandemic. New Yorkers weaves the voices of some of the city’s best talkers into an indelible portrait of New York in our time―and a powerful hymn to the vitality and resilience of its people.

Best-selling author Craig Taylor has been hailed as “a peerless journalist and a beautiful craftsman” (David Rakoff), acclaimed for the way he “fuses the mundane truth of conversation with the higher truth of art” (Michel Faber). In the wake of his celebrated book Londoners, Taylor moved to New York and spent years meeting regularly with hundreds of New Yorkers as diverse as the city itself. New Yorkers features 75 of the most remarkable of them, their fascinating true tales arranged in thematic sections that follow Taylor’s growing engagement with the city.

Here are the uncelebrated people who propel New York each day―bodega cashier, hospital nurse, elevator repairman, emergency dispatcher. Here are those who wire the lights at the top of the Empire State Building, clean the windows of Rockefeller Center, and keep the subway running. Here are people whose experiences reflect the city’s fractured realities: the mother of a Latino teenager jailed at Rikers, a BLM activist in the wake of police shootings. And here are those who capture the ineffable feeling of New York, such as a balloon handler in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade or a security guard at the Statue of Liberty.

Vibrant and bursting with life, New Yorkers explores the nonstop hustle to make it; the pressures on new immigrants, people of color, and the poor; the constant battle between loving the city and wanting to leave it; and the question of who gets to be considered a “New Yorker.” It captures the strength of an irrepressible city that―no matter what it goes through―dares call itself the greatest in the world.

My thoughts:

This is such a great collection of real-life stories about New Yorkers. Having come from abroad, I’ve always been fascinated by New York and everything it represents to many – hopes and dreams, status and prestige, a must-visit place before you die, a place of good food and pizzas. (I didn’t know pizza tour guide was a thing until I read this book!)

Diving into these stories made me realize, that living in New York is a lot like city-living, like in my case, back home, it’s Kuala Lumpur, a city where people from all walks of life converge, work and live. The city never sleeps. But New York held a different kind of hope and promise to many, yet it also made one realize that it was not all glitz and glamor.

I liked how the author described it, that, “New York meant more of everything. More joy, more sorrow, more pleasure, more pain. More experience, more possibilities to find love, more wealth, and a poverty with more of a sharp, punitive edge.” And in another paragraph, “Still it just felt like the city held more: more elevators, more LED lights, more nail salons, more rats, more bridges.”

How true that city life is certainly more of everything, so much so that living there can be overwhelming, like how a dance producer described it, “In New York, you’re in a million situations a day where you have to adjust your body to the reality of the situation.” But then again, living where the hustle and bustle is, gives you privacy too, because people are too busy with their own lives to be bothered with yours. Again from the dance producer, he said, “When things matter a lot to you, sometimes it’s nice to be in a world that doesn’t care. It’s relieving.”

A doctor said, “This city will drain you out of your last dollar. With no remorse, it ain’t no, ‘I’m sorry.’ It’s just, ‘Bye, thank you for this money, have a good time. Come back. Holler at me when you get your next paycheck, or when you get your next dollar. I’d be glad to take it.Cruel, but real. A recent arrival in NYC, shared the same opinion too, “It’s a nonstop hustle.”

A private cook thanked poverty for teaching him survival, he “can go in somebody’s fridge and see what they’ve overlooked and create a meal out of it. But he also had to deal with racism, being judged for his skin color and how he looked. One of his client described him as “chef was full of tattoos. I felt like he was gonna rob the place.” And clients rejecting him after realizing he wasn’t white.

To immigrants, New York meant hope and possibilities. A security guard at the Statue of Liberty, Justin Gonzalez, who could speak multiple languages for ‘belt, watch, wallet, cell phone, camera, keys, coins’ who shared what he learned of immigrants, that how happy they were when they saw the Statue of Liberty, the ‘symbol of freedom’, from their boat, “They would be dancing, they would be singing. Like, ‘Oh, we made it to America. Now we’re free. Now we can start a new life.”

For Yesenia Mejia, a house cleaner who arrived from El Salvador, never thought snow was real until she saw it, and how much she wanted her family to join her in the US to build a new life for themselves, because of how bad the situation back home was – from making a living to surviving the guerillas. It took her four years to save up and pay $12000 for her two daughters.

There were some stories that had me longing for more, only to realize their story had ended, rather abruptly. To name some, like the singer Frank Senior, who relied on his seeing-eye dog and sense of hearing to get around the city, the window cleaner Marvin Abrams, a former cab driver Zack Arkin (cab drivers’ stories are always some of the most interesting!) it felt like their stories had so much potential but for some reason, were cut short, and a few, I thought was longer than necessary. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed most of the stories in this collection.

It was so interesting to see how each individual from different backgrounds spoke so differently about New York – from their perspectives, to their word choices (being a logophile I noticed the differences in how they described and experienced New York, depending on their background and job) and what they appreciated or disliked. Topics covering the hustlers, views of people who work for or associated with the rich (I really enjoyed this; such an eye opener!) the ones who were born right there in the city, or those who immigrated hoping for a better life.

I also loved the interludes, those coming from Taylor’s perspective, which felt so honest, open and inspiring, especially his friendship with Joe, someone he met where he volunteered at St Francis Xavier every Sunday afternoon.

People go to New York, work there, live there, do so for many different reasons. From their stories, despite the hardships and hustles, complaints and resignations, there was always love and admiration for the city, warts and all.

I’ll end this review with a quote from Jaiquan Fayson, a painter, who described New York as: “New York is less of a melting pot and more of a mosaic. It’s really like different colored tiles, and different people being who they are.”

For those who love New York or have long been intrigued by this city, this is definitely a must-read!

Thank you Netgalley and the publisher for a free eARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are mine.

Have you read this book? What did you think? If you haven’t, do you intend to? Please share with me your thoughts!

13 Comments Add yours

  1. stargazer says:

    This sounds AMAZING! As you may know, I love New York. Before Covid, I went there regularly and I also lived there for a while, when I was younger. It definitely is a mosaic, rather than a melting pot. The stories of all of these individuals sounds like something I would enjoy. And I know it will make me want to go back to NY. Wonderful review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, stargazer! I so wanna visit NY again! You travel regularly to NY all the way from London? Why? Is it for work? (Don’t feel obligated to answer :)) I think you’d enjoy this book too!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. stargazer says:

        When I first started to go to NY it was work related, but in my current job, unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. I still like to go there, just on a long weekend.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Wonderful review. However, LOLOL I’m from Chicago and our pizza is BETTER. There’s a standing war between Chicago and NY when it comes to pizza. It’s all good fun, as long as they admit that ours is the best. Hahahaha

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      HAHAHAHHAAA I’m not aware of that! OMG Chicago. I’ve been wanting to go there! What’s the best part of living in Chicago, you think?


  3. Rosie Amber says:

    This sounds very interesting, lovely review Jee.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Rosie!


  4. nsfordwriter says:

    Sounds super interesting! I’ve never been to New York but it’s in so ma y TV shows etc that I feel I know it 🙂 Great review.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, my friend! It’s a lot different real life 🙂 I think you might enjoy this too, NS!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is a beautiful review, Jee! I love reading non-fiction revolving around cities, even though I have read only one. But yes, from a journalist’s perspective, with their wild observation skills…I think they bring out the best and the worst and everything in between of a place…😍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Shaina! I agree with you which is why this book is such a treasure 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I do love the city and find it so intriguing! Thanks for putting this on my radar, Jee, and fab review!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jee Wan says:

      Thank you, Jennifer! Hope you’ll get a chance to read it too! And thank you for stopping by! So nice to hear from you again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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