Review of “Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York” by Roz Chast

I love Roz Chast; we have so much in common! Well, except for her huge amount of talent. But that’s just a detail…. And in fact, one of the most common reactions to reading Chast is “OMG, this is ME!” Well, if you’re sort of neurotic.

This graphic novel is a guide book to New York, written for Chast’s daughter before she left home in the suburbs of Connecticut to attend college in Manhattan. Chast explains how to get around, what to see, and where to live, all in hilarious detail.

On some pages, she sounds like me responding to my husband, when he is rhapsodizing over mountains, and I am finding them boring. As Chast confesses:

“For some reason, I’ve always preferred cities to Nature. I am interested in the person-made. I like to watch and eavesdrop on people. And I really like DENSITY OF VISUAL INFORMATION.”

When she talks about the onset of winter, it’s also as if she were channeling me:

“I was still getting used to the early darkness. Mostly I liked it. It made the day shorter: ‘YES! Almost time for bed.’”

I love how she points out things to see in the city one might not notice, from the different objects that are lying around the streets to the collections of disparate objects in shop windows. She gushes over the way you can find anything to buy or admire or eat. She writes:

“If you feel that there’s ‘nothing to do’ while you’re in Manhattan, then this is DEFINITELY not the book you should be reading. Also, you might be dead.”

She marvels over whole stores full of only ribbons; vintage clothes; amazing art; eccentric art; formal and informal theater; and any food you could imagine, with cartoons depicting a variety ranging from “Kosher Fondue” to “International House of Rabbit.”

She also has a very funny set of panels in which she highlights “Ancient Landmarks” such as a sidewalk crater that “has been there since the time of the Pharaohs.”

Humorously, she points out to her daughter that in Manhattan, there are almost no “private houses” (or “what mainland America calls a ‘house.’”) She reviews the type of apartments available (or not) in the city and what neighbors and “wildlife” you can expect to find in them or on the nearby streets.

She denies she includes much history in her guidebook, but does add this interesting quote from E.B. White in his 1949 book, Here is New York:

“The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible. A single flight of planes . . . can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions. . . . All dwellers in cities must live with the stubborn fact of annihilation, [but] New York has a certain clear priority. In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning, New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm.”

She ends by including something of a Valentine to the city:

“I will always feel gratitude and astonishment that Manhattan allowed me to make my home there. It’s still the only place I’ve been where I feel, in some strange way, that I fit in. Or maybe, that it’s the place where I least feel that I don’t fit in.”

Evaluation: I so enjoyed this guide to New York, which, in spite of it being a humorous commentary full of cartoons, would also be incredibly useful to take along on a trip to New York City. In fact, I wish she had added a section on affordable hotel rooms, because she certainly made me want to visit!

Rating: 4/5

Published by Bloomsbury, 2017


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5 Responses to Review of “Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York” by Roz Chast

  1. Kay says:

    i need to read this – not because I want to visit New York (I know, I’m terrible!), but because I love Roz Chast’s cartoon. Loved her book about her parents – well, it was sad, but it was very well done. Think it’s one of those that you either really like or really don’t.

  2. Beth F says:

    Ooooh, I love the sound of this! I’m not a city person (as you know), but I’m beginning to tolerate NYC.

  3. I can totally see the similarity between you and Roz Chast! I feel like you both have a very dry sense of humor (which, obviously, I really enjoy). And I’m excited to read this — I looooooved Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant, and obviously I love New York, so it’s a match made in heaven.

  4. Mystica says:

    I too like to people watch when I am overseas specially! My children think it’s eccentric.

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