welcome to the allan and laura new york city history reading club

The theme of this year's TD Summer Reading Club -- a national program (developed by Toronto Public Library) that more than 2,000 Canadian libraries participate in -- is Feed Your Passions, or as some are calling it, geeking out. Allan and I are going to join the fun with our own tremendously geeky reading, although it will take us considerably more than one summer.

For eons, we have had on our bookshelf Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, a massive 1,424 pages in very small print.

I've always wanted to read it, but it's a bit intimidating! And it's not like you can throw it in your backpack to read on the bus.

Then for my birthday this year, included among Allan's gifts and cards and general Celebration of Laura, was Wallace's follow-up: Greater Gotham: A History of New York City from 1898 to 1919.

This volume -- all 1200 pages of it -- has got to be fascinating, but we can't read the second book without reading the first! And, geez, that's a lot to read!

I suggested a solution, following in the footsteps of Phil Gyford, to whom literature and history geeks the world over are indebted. Phil is the genius who put The Diary of Samuel Pepys online, one daily post at a time. (I read the entire thing, usually in weekly installments. It took 10 years.)

To tackle this Big Read, Allan and I are going to read one chapter each week -- with the understanding that sometimes we may have to take a week off. We'll still also read whatever else we're reading. That's the plan at least. Starting... now!

Bonus points if you know without Google why the year 1898 is an important marker in New York City history.


allan said...

Wait! Where is the schedule? When do we discuss the chapter we have just read? Are we posting about any of this? (I'll have to post some stuff, I think.)

The first volume was published in 1999. The following year, The Gotham Center For New York City History was formed. Wallace is at work on a third volume. ("Greatest Gotham"? I wonder how many years that one will cover, maybe to the start (or end) of World War II?)

Looking at Wallace's bio at the Gotham Center site, he has done some interesting work:

"Mike Wallace is Distinguished Professor of History at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where he has taught the history of New York and crime in the city to police officers and others since 1971. ... [He studied] with the Pulitzer-winning historian Richard Hofstadter, with whom he collaborated on American Violence: A Documentary History (1970). He helped found and for thirty years helped publish and edit the Radical History Review, now affiliated with Duke University Press. In 1997 he published Mickey Mouse History and Other Essays on American Memory (1997), a series of essays that explore the ways history is used and abused in American popular culture, including pieces on Disney World, Colonial Williamsburg, the Enola Gay controversy at the Smithsonian and historic preservation. His 2002 book A New Deal for New York considered the future of post-9/11 New York in the light of its past. ... He is married to Carmen Boullosa, one of Mexico's most acclaimed novelists, essayists, poets, and playwrights ... They recently co-authored A Narco History: How the United States and Mexico Jointly Created the "Mexican Drug War" (2015)."

allan said...

A gorgeous map and 1915 skyline here.

Amy said...

I hope you WILL post about this as you go. I know I will never have the staying power for a non-fiction book that long, but I would love your (meaning a plural YOU) insights as you two read it.

MSEH said...

Total guess. Opening of the subway?

MSEH said...

Close. And, now that I’ve looked it up... “Who knew!?” Not me, obviously. 😉

laura k said...

Nope, sorry, not posting about it as we go along. That's the surest way to make this project too labour-intensive and unachievable. I have enough trouble finding time to write without adding a new weekly requirement on my plate.

Amy, if you wanted to read along with us, we could set up a group where we could post progress and share thoughts. That would help keep us all on track. It would also give us a way to invite people to read along.

laura k said...

That 1915 picture is a knockout. But that's not a photograph. It must be an ink drawing.

Yes, Mike Wallace's bio is very interesting!

laura k said...

MESH, I was very pleased that I knew. A fact and date that somehow got lodged in my long-term memory. :)

Amy said...

I have to admit that reading long fact-based books no longer appeals to me because I cannot retain the details. In one ear, out the other. I am much better when I read something shorter that emphasizes themes, trends, issues than a book length history. That's why I was hoping you'd be posting---but I get it.