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East Village: Reading About New York While Living in New York

Updated on September 1, 2015

My Bistro Cup and Saucer Collection

Dishware bought from the Veselka Restaurant
Dishware bought from the Veselka Restaurant | Source

New York Fact or Fiction?

I don’t know how many countless times I read New York City fiction while I was living in the Big Apple, but at least a few of those times had to be at my favorite East Village hangout; a local Ukrainian Restaurant. The Eastern European flavor of the atmosphere helped me realize my own Bohemian dream. The steady fare of pierogies and blintzes with hot coffee made both meeting with friends or having a private read a delicious use of my time.

There were two categories of my New York reading. One was the eloquent fiction from the 1920’s to the 1940’s. The other type of writing was of the underground mosh-pit of modern living during the 1980’s and 1990’s. Let’s do the second category first.

Life in Alphabet City

Technically not a book but the Broadway Show Rent, plus the movie of the same name personified almost exactly the feelings and emotions of the people I lived with in the lower East Side. Watching this play was like seeing my life from 1984-1989.

Alphabet City is an area of the lower East Side in which the avenues switch from numbers to letters. Once a rundown immigrant section of town. Alphabet city became the musicians and artists hangout. Finally, as I was leaving the lower East Side, it became more gentrified.

Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz

No, I wasn’t a slave in New York, but the depicted action and lifestyle resonates with my time there and the people I knew in the 1980’s. The term 'slave' pertains to how if you're a down and out artist with no money trying to stay in New York, you often need to align yourself with a more successful partner with a great apartment who may just be using you for their own needs and conveniences. It's a cynical look but Janowitz portrays the heroine in a positive way, following her New York City journey to become successful and independent in her own right.

The Slaves of New York

The Antoinettes

The Antoinettes
The Antoinettes | Source

Rockin' 1984

Me on the left with the smiley face. I could never look fierce enough for the camera.

When I first came to New York City, it was summer and a band mate had arranged that we could stay at a friend of a friend’s apartment sublet in the East Village. Because they went abroad every summer, they did not have air conditioning. We just arrived with no jobs (we were a punk band, looking to live and perform regularly in Manhattan), so during that transitional summer, we were looking for work and practicing at ‘The Space’ near Times Square.

At night the four of us would lay on the loft futons with fans blowing in our faces and take turns going to the Korean market down the street to get plastic containers of chilled, cut fruit. It was still months before we started playing regularly at CBGB’s and entered the Rock scene of the lower East Side.

Strawberry Fields

The author in Strawberry Fields, Central Park
The author in Strawberry Fields, Central Park | Source

What Reading Materials Were in My Backpack?

There's a feeling you get walking through the neighborhoods on the hot pavement in summer. The city is empty, you and a couple other friends are the few that never left for the beach. You have the parks and cafes almost to yourself. The frenetic pace is slowed. You get splashes of delicious air when you enter the old, cold movie theaters or the cool tunnels of Central Park.

Imagine Taking a Walk

My future husband and I travelled to New York and Central Park in 2001. Not only did we visit my old haunts (CBGB’s, The Strand Book Store and Washington Square), we rowed a boat on the lake and visited Strawberry Fields in Central Park.

F. Scott Fitzgerald


Collected Short Stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald

I'm not the usual reader of soap opera type dramas. It stresses me to read about people causing their own problems, living in their own pettiness etc. But Fitzgerald's writing and his character studies are so good, it captures you in the telling and makes you feel the humanity of some of his most selfish, shallow characters. He makes you realize all of us have our human struggles even those that are hard to empathize with.

Some good story examples are "The Lost Decade" 1939 and " Bernice Bobs Her Hair" 1920.

Here is New York by E.B. White

It's not as well known but E. B. White didn't write just children's books; he also wrote wonderful essays for the New Yorker. I found this by accident at a book store and devoured it. His clear writing style and humorous anecdotal musings are a delight and an inspiration for any beginning writer.

One of the most striking quotes from this essay written in 1949 became prophetic to me and many others after 9/11 with his imagery of towers and planes. You can see this Goodreads quote at”>

"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."

Here is New York

Dorothy Parker


A Journey into Dorothy Parker’s New York by Kevin C. Fitzpatrick

Her wit and writing style was sharp and extraordinary however I was drawn more to reading about her- her life living in New York, her successes and failures. She is a fascinating study and although she was not born in New York, she exemplifies the quintessential New Yorker. This is an excellent biography that doesn't try to compete with her wit, but creates a stage for its viewing. I especially liked how Fitzpatrick included many photographs of the places she went to in New York.

Wonderful Goodreads quote "This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force."

My Corner I Called “Veselka, Beselka.”

My corner I called “Veselka, Beselka.”
My corner I called “Veselka, Beselka.” | Source

East Village 1988

New York carries a duality; some things never change and at the same time are constantly changing. If you love New York City, you need to embrace it all. What you are left with is the feeling. If you've been there, you know what I'm talking about.

Photo Above: My street corner where I walked everyday. Restaurants, including my beloved Veselka, are still there feeding the masses, and giving artists, musicians and students a little piece of home cooking.

And, like New York, it’s open 24 hours. Tell them I sent you with book in hand.

Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle

Slaves of New York Movie Trailer

© 2014 Kim Milai


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    • Kim Milai profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Milai 

      4 years ago

      Thank you TreasuresBrenda for stopping by! Scott I'm happy to hear there's still a little of the Antoinettes info online. I can't believe is almost 20 years ago.

    • profile image

      Scott A McCray 

      4 years ago

      OK...there was music involved so I went searching. I read the write-up on "I Remember Scorgies" and it just made me smile. Worth a Google search, y'all! How cool. Awesome hub, too!

    • TreasuresBrenda profile image

      Treasures By Brenda 

      4 years ago from Canada

      I love reading books about places that I am going to visit. Hopefully, I'll get to New York one day and read some of these books.

    • Kim Milai profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Milai 

      4 years ago

      Thank you so much favored, I'm so glad I could convey some of the specialness of being in the big Apple in my own way. I always loved White's children's novels and finding his essays was like a gold mine for reading.

    • favored profile image

      Fay Favored 

      4 years ago from USA

      New York is such an exciting place and I like how you shared something different than what others usually write on this topic. Your photo is spot on for the period. Strolling through the park is something I have shared with others that it is a must do when they visit. Thanks for showing the "insides" of this great city. BTW I like by E.B. White as well.

    • Kim Milai profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Milai 

      4 years ago

      I strongly feel the New York Duality of old and new overlapping. Sometimes tourists only get to see the big sights and not the interesting niches of New York City. Thanks for stopping by!

    • BrianRS profile image

      Brian Stephens 

      4 years ago from France

      I have never visited New York but I think it will need to go on my bucket list of things to do. You have painted a very interesting picture of New York, a bit different to the usual.


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