LITERARY BROOKLYN - The Writers of Brooklyn and the Story of American City Life
By Evan Hughes
337 pages. Henry Holt & Company. $17.
by Patricia Wall/The New York Times
...For generations — long before it became fashionable — Brooklyn has taken in writers fleeing from Manhattan’s steep rents and steeper pretensions. In the first sentence of “Sophie’s Choice” (1979), William Styron’s narrator, Stingo, turns out his pockets and says, “In those days cheap apartments were almost impossible to find in Manhattan, so I had to move to Brooklyn.”
It’s been a refuge too for those who simply needed some quiet, a place that had human scale and dirt under its fingernails. “Young men were writing manifestos in the higher magazines of Manhattan,” Thomas Wolfe said in the 1930s about his years in the borough, “but the weather of man’s life, the substance and structure of the world in which he lives, was soaking in on me in those years in Brooklyn.”
As anyone who has paid attention to the Book Review, Styles and Dining sections of The New York Times is aware, things have changed in Brooklyn. Over the past decade or two it has filled with heat-seeking young writers, editors, artists and chefs, so much so that it’s become the butt of unfair but funny anti-hipster tirades. The novelist Colson Whitehead was compelled to cool the warm jets in 2008 by writing a witty essay in The Times titled: “I Write in Brooklyn. Get Over It.”
What American writers have sought and found in underdog Brooklyn across the centuries, from Walt Whitman and Marianne Moore through Norman Mailer and Jonathan Lethem, is the subject of “Literary Brooklyn,” Evan Hughes’s intelligent but poky first book. He traces how Brooklyn has grown to become fully, as its borough president, Marty Markowitz, puts it, “New York’s Left Bank.”
Mr. Hughes is a young journalist and critic — he’s written for good magazines and book sections...more...