Dead Trees

by Philip Greenspun.

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Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.  California's White Mountains.


The standard guidebook to New York City is the Michelin Green Guide . You can carry it in a coat pocket. It is well-organized. It has lots of little maps. But it is kind of boring. I usually love the Cadogan City Guides and their New York offering is a reasonable example of the breed. Personal, literate, and with suggestions that you won't find anywhere else, it pains me to say that the book falls short of its competition in the area of photographs and maps.

My new favorite guidebook to New York is the Eyewitness guide. Profusely illustrately with brilliant three-dimensional maps, this is the book to carry if you don't want to be disoriented. The city is more than a little too big to fit into any 250-page guidebook so don't think that you're going to learn too much from one book.

If you are really going to be a building nerd then you want the Aia Guide to New York City . Alternatively, Gerard R. Wolfe's walking tours will give you the same information organized in a more tourist-friendly manner.
Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.  California's White Mountains.


In my experience, the greatest writer about New York is my favorite American author, Edith Wharton. She basically wrote two kinds of novels. The first kind is about what it is like to be poor and living in miserable cold and boring western Massachusetts. Titles here include Ethan Frome and Summer . The second kind is about what it is like to be rich and socially prominent and living on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. These include House of Mirth and Age of Innocence . Both are set in the late 19th century. I like the Library of America edition of Wharton's novels. It doesn't cost that much more than the paperbacks of the four novels it includes and you will be proud to hand it down to your grandchildren.

Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.  California's White Mountains. If Wharton's novels, which usually end in suicide, disappointment or financial ruin, are too sunny for you, then your turn-of-the-century author is Theodore Dreiser. His most New York book is Sister Carrie . If you want rich and light, The Great Gatsby is a good place to start on F. Scott Fitzgerald.

For a more modern take on the city read Bright Lights, Big City. Jay McInerney earns my eternal awe for this one line: "she had a voice like the New Jersey State Anthem played on an electric razor." Prince of Tides gives an outsider's perspective on the city.

Nonfiction accounts of life in New York City can be just as richly textured. The rash of social services created in response to Jacob A. Riis's How the Other Half Lives : Studies Among the Tenements of New York demonstrated that sometimes the pen is, if not mightier than the sword, at least fairly mighty. To see how 17th century Poland mixes with 20th century Brooklyn, read Lis Harris's excellent Holy Days : The World of a Hasidic Family . Liar's Poker is a brilliant account of life on Wall Street in the 1980s.

If you don't know how to read, watch some Woody Allen videos, or Breakfast at Tiffany's . Winner of the 1955 Oscar for Best Picture, Marty gives some insight into the small-time New York merchant's life. Scent of a Woman should give you some ideas on how to live high in the Manhattan of the 1990s.

Text and pictures copyright 1992-1996 Philip Greenspun. The trees are ancient bristlecone pines, from my Sierra Nevada exhibit.