BOOKS

Here Is New York

Author: E.B. White

Rating: 5 / 5.0

As mentioned previously, the NYC Link kiosks have been posting NYC quotes and provided a pointer to E.B. White’s travel guide to NYC. At the time of the writing, White had left New York for Maine where he had set up a bucolic existence. He returned to the city during a heat wave and, in a vein similar to Steinbeck, had occasion to reflect on what had happened to the town where he’d cut his teeth.

What’s left is a reflection on the bliss and indignities of New York life. It is always, and ever was, the agony and the ecstasy, all the time. Every line is a gem. White’s gift for laconic, efficient text is on full display here. I highly recommend reading through the notes for some solid laugh-out-loud takes on the magic, majesty, mystery, and sweaty crowdedness of NYC.

And, should you be on a flight into Our Fair Town any time soon, load this bit of reading up for the flight. It will fill you with the excitement and expectation that only Gotham knows how to provide.

While I always include my notes as JSON, I’ve extracted these lines out for easier enjoyment after the jump.

Highlights

White’s piece, one can see, became a chance for him to revisit himself as a younger man: a would-be writer just starting out in New York in the 1920s, alone but burning “with a low steady fever” of excitement at being on the same island with Heywood Broun and Robert Benchley and Ring Lardner.

the piece also resounds everywhere with loneliness and isolation and the romance of what has been lost: the great old newspapers, the young intellectual and his lady love whispering together in a restaurant booth, the memory of speakeasies and “so many good little dinners in good little illegal places.”

The couple who put their little all into an apartment here because it was cheap and felt fresh now hold on to it because it has turned into an investment. “Remember when—?” they say to each other. “Wasn’t this where—?”

Every “enormous and violent and wonderful” event here is still optional, even when the option is passed up.

It has never been more difficult or expensive for them to hang on here but they would not be anywhere else, not for the world.

each has embraced New York with the same intense excitement that… made him try to hold onto that time in this book, years later, when he was older and had left New York for good. Like the rest of us, he wanted it back again, back the way it was.

On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.

the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail.

The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck.

No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.

New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb almost anything that comes along (whether a thousand-foot liner out of the East or a twenty-thousand-man convention out of the West) without inflicting the event on its inhabitants; so that every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his

Although New York often imparts a feeling of great forlornness or forsakenness, it seldom seems dead or unresourceful; and you always feel that either by shifting your location ten blocks or by reducing your fortune by five dollars you can experience rejuvenation.

Many people who have no real independence of spirit depend on the city’s tremendous variety and sources of excitement for spiritual sustenance and maintenance

There are roughly three New Yorks.

Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.

The suburb he inhabits has no essential vitality of its own and is a mere roost where he comes at day’s end to go to sleep.

He has fished in Manhattan’s wallet and dug out coins, but has never listened to Manhattan’s breathing, never awakened to its morning, never dropped off to sleep in its night.

Manhattan has been compelled to expand skyward because of the absence of any other direction in which to grow. This, more than any other thing, is responsible for its physical majesty.

It is a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible.

Mass hysteria is a terrible force, yet New Yorkers seem always to escape it by some tiny margin:

they meet confusion and congestion with patience and grit—a sort of perpetual muddling through.

But the city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin—the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan

To an outlander a stay in New York can be and often is a series of small embarrassments and discomforts and disappointments:

A man starts for work in the morning and before he has gone two hundred yards he has completed half a dozen missions:

In summer the city contains (except for tourists) only die-hards and authentic characters.

The city is always full of young worshipful beginners

Brick buildings have a way of turning color at the end of the day, the way a red rose turns bluish as it wilts.

the Bowery does not think of itself as lost; it meets its peculiar problem in its own way—plenty of gin mills, plenty of flophouses, plenty of indifference, and always, at the end of the line, Bellevue.

The collision and the intermingling of these millions of foreign-born people representing so many races and creeds make New York a permanent exhibit of the phenomenon of one world.

The citizens of New York are tolerant not only from disposition but from necessity. The city has to be tolerant, otherwise it would explode in a radioactive cloud of hate and rancor and bigotry.

Men go to saloons to gaze at televised events instead of to think long thoughts.

There is greater tension and there is greater speed. Taxis roll faster than they rolled ten years ago—and they were rolling fast then. Hackmen used to drive with verve; now they sometimes seem to drive with desperation, toward the ultimate tip.

the city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience—if they did they would live elsewhere.

The subtlest change in New York is something people don’t speak much about but that is in everyone’s mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.

this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled.

it symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete, and the steady reaching for the sun.

If it were to go, all would go—this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death.

{
  "title": "Here is New York",
  "author": "E.B. White and Roger Angell",
  "highlightCount": 38,
  "noteCount": 0,
  "annotations": [
    {
      "highlight": "White’s piece, one can see, became a chance for him to revisit himself as a younger man: a would-be writer just starting out in New York in the 1920s, alone but burning “with a low steady fever” of excitement at being on the same island with Heywood Broun and Robert Benchley and Ring Lardner.",
      "location": 56,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the piece also resounds everywhere with loneliness and isolation and the romance of what has been lost: the great old newspapers, the young intellectual and his lady love whispering together in a restaurant booth, the memory of speakeasies and “so many good little dinners in good little illegal places.”",
      "location": 59,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The couple who put their little all into an apartment here because it was cheap and felt fresh now hold on to it because it has turned into an investment. “Remember when—?” they say to each other. “Wasn’t this where—?”",
      "location": 69,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Every “enormous and violent and wonderful” event here is still optional, even when the option is passed up.",
      "location": 89,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It has never been more difficult or expensive for them to hang on here but they would not be anywhere else, not for the world.",
      "location": 95,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "each has embraced New York with the same intense excitement that",
      "location": 97,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "made him try to hold onto that time in this book, years later, when he was older and had left New York for good. Like the rest of us, he wanted it back again, back the way it was.",
      "location": 98,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.",
      "location": 110,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the residents of Manhattan are to a large extent strangers who have pulled up stakes somewhere and come to town, seeking sanctuary or fulfillment or some greater or lesser grail.",
      "location": 112,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The capacity to make such dubious gifts is a mysterious quality of New York. It can destroy an individual, or it can fulfill him, depending a good deal on luck.",
      "location": 113,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "No one should come to New York to live unless he is willing to be lucky.",
      "location": 114,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "New York is peculiarly constructed to absorb almost anything that comes along (whether a thousand-foot liner out of the East or a twenty-thousand-man convention out of the West) without inflicting the event on its inhabitants; so that every event is, in a sense, optional, and the inhabitant is in the happy position of being able to choose his",
      "location": 149,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Although New York often imparts a feeling of great forlornness or forsakenness, it seldom seems dead or unresourceful; and you always feel that either by shifting your location ten blocks or by reducing your fortune by five dollars you can experience rejuvenation.",
      "location": 161,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Many people who have no real independence of spirit depend on the city’s tremendous variety and sources of excitement for spiritual sustenance and maintenance",
      "location": 163,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "There are roughly three New Yorks.",
      "location": 167,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.",
      "location": 172,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The suburb he inhabits has no essential vitality of its own and is a mere roost where he comes at day’s end to go to sleep.",
      "location": 177,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "He has fished in Manhattan’s wallet and dug out coins, but has never listened to Manhattan’s breathing, never awakened to its morning, never dropped off to sleep in its night.",
      "location": 182,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Manhattan has been compelled to expand skyward because of the absence of any other direction in which to grow. This, more than any other thing, is responsible for its physical majesty.",
      "location": 207,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "It is a miracle that New York works at all. The whole thing is implausible.",
      "location": 213,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Mass hysteria is a terrible force, yet New Yorkers seem always to escape it by some tiny margin:",
      "location": 224,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "they meet confusion and congestion with patience and grit—a sort of perpetual muddling through.",
      "location": 226,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "But the city makes up for its hazards and its deficiencies by supplying its citizens with massive doses of a supplementary vitamin—the sense of belonging to something unique, cosmopolitan,",
      "location": 228,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "To an outlander a stay in New York can be and often is a series of small embarrassments and discomforts and disappointments:",
      "location": 230,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "A man starts for work in the morning and before he has gone two hundred yards he has completed half a dozen missions:",
      "location": 249,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "In summer the city contains (except for tourists) only die-hards and authentic characters.",
      "location": 262,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The city is always full of young worshipful beginners",
      "location": 271,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Brick buildings have a way of turning color at the end of the day, the way a red rose turns bluish as it wilts.",
      "location": 316,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the Bowery does not think of itself as lost; it meets its peculiar problem in its own way—plenty of gin mills, plenty of flophouses, plenty of indifference, and always, at the end of the line, Bellevue.",
      "location": 325,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The collision and the intermingling of these millions of foreign-born people representing so many races and creeds make New York a permanent exhibit of the phenomenon of one world.",
      "location": 346,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The citizens of New York are tolerant not only from disposition but from necessity. The city has to be tolerant, otherwise it would explode in a radioactive cloud of hate and rancor and bigotry.",
      "location": 348,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "Men go to saloons to gaze at televised events instead of to think long thoughts.",
      "location": 375,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "There is greater tension and there is greater speed. Taxis roll faster than they rolled ten years ago—and they were rolling fast then. Hackmen used to drive with verve; now they sometimes seem to drive with desperation, toward the ultimate tip.",
      "location": 389,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "the city is uncomfortable and inconvenient; but New Yorkers temperamentally do not crave comfort and convenience—if they did they would live elsewhere.",
      "location": 401,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "The subtlest change in New York is something people don’t speak much about but that is in everyone’s mind. The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. The intimation of mortality is part of New York now: in the sound of jets overhead, in the black headlines of the latest edition.",
      "location": 403,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "this riddle in steel and stone is at once the perfect target and the perfect demonstration of nonviolence, of racial brotherhood, this lofty target scraping the skies and meeting the destroying planes halfway, home of all people and all nations, capital of everything, housing the deliberations by which the planes are to be stayed and their errand forestalled.",
      "location": 421,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "it symbolizes the city: life under difficulties, growth against odds, sap-rise in the midst of concrete, and the steady reaching for the sun.",
      "location": 425,
      "annotation": ""
    },
    {
      "highlight": "If it were to go, all would go—this city, this mischievous and marvelous monument which not to look upon would be like death.",
      "location": 427,
      "annotation": ""
    }
  ]
}