Showing posts with label Robin Shulman. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Robin Shulman. Show all posts

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Armchair traveling to New York: Eat the City and Brooklyn

I visit NYC a couple of times a year, but I like to visit it even more often in my reading. Reading is a great way to tap into the heartbeat of a place and I find my sense of place is stronger after I've read about a place I visit.

Last November I got my husband Robin Shulman's Eat the City: A Tale of the Fishers, Foragers, Butchers, Farmers, Poultry Minders, Sugar Refiners, Cane Cutters, Beekeepers, Winemakers, and Brewers Who Built New York for his birthday.  By Christmas he hadn't had a chance to read it yet, so I snagged it and read it in tandem with a couple of other books that I wanted to get under my belt early in the year.  I enjoyed it quite a bit and found the stories and people Shulman dug up to be interesting and inspiring in various ways.

I like to grow and prepare as much of our food as possible--I'm not fanatical about it--but I do try to eat locally and in season, and I find how people procur food to be interesting in and of itself.  Also interesting is the rules and regulations that evolve as a city/society's values ebb and flow.  Beekeeping, for example, was in the not too distant past outlawed in the city, but now it is allowed again.  People have converted vacant lots to vegetable patches during lean, leave-the-city times, and those same lots are now being swallowed by urban renewal.

I also really liked reading about how various waves of immigrants worked to recreate the food from their homeland and youth, and how they worked in the different aspects of the food industry over the centuries that New York has been around.

My second New York book for this month was a novel, Brooklyn, by Colm Tóibín.  The back cover describes it as a bittersweet coming-of-age story, and that is the best description possible.  It's a quiet read about a quiet Irish girl, Eilis Lacey, who immigrates to Brooklyn shortly after WWII.  She battles homesickness and the boredom of a clerk job, but finds a new life, ambition (she enrolls in a bookkeeping program at Brooklyn College) and falls in love with an absolutely wonderful young man, Tony. 

A family tragedy back in Ireland forces her to return home, where she is increasingly pulled back into her old life and struggles to extricate herself from the circumstances and feelings that hinder her return to Brooklyn.  At one point in the story, Eilis and Tony go to the beach at Coney Island and she talks about the pull of the tides and the undertow.  Tóibín is not overt when it comes to symbolism and metaphor--his writing is calm and strong and a pleasure to read--but the forces that pull Eilis are not unlike the tides and undertow that can exhaust and claim even the strongest swimmers. 

Eilis is just the kind of character I love--she is fully of many admirable traits and is attractive in many ways, but very human, subject to jealousy, self-doubt, irritability, and guilt. Her story is one that feels so true--as the daughter of immigrants, I've heard all my life of the disconnection that comes from living in a country you love and admire but always feeling the pull of "back home."

The strength of the story took me by surprise.  I gobbled it up and read it every chance I could while traveling this past week, but when I read the final third of the book on the plane ride back to Colorado, I found myself with tears streaming down my face. 

Brooklyn is a soft, strong story about finding one's own life without being being swept out to sea by forces that can pull you to pieces without your even noticing.

Brooklyn was one of the books I bought for myself during one of Borders many "going out of business" sales.  It's been on my shelf for awhile, and I finally got around to reading it thanks to the TBR Pile Challenge that I signed up.  One down, eleven to go!