I saw this book in several bookstores in April, when Emma and I were out book shopping. I had never heard of it before (it’s a new edition, originally published in 1969 and has been out of print for a long time), but I knew immediately that I needed it.
Here’s the description from the back cover:
From 1954 to 1981, Maeve Brennan wrote for The New Yorker’s “Talk of the Town” column under the pen name “The Long-Winded Lady.” Her unforgettable sketches – prose snapshots of life in small restaurants, cheap hotels, and crowded streets of Times Square and the Village – together form a timeless, bittersweet tribute to what she called the “most reckless, most ambitious, most confused, most comical, the saddest and coldest and most human of cities.” First published in 1969, The Long-Winded Lady is a classic celebration of one of The New Yorker’s Finest Writers.
And here are a few passages:
Except in our minds, there is no connection between the little American Farmhouse and the Hungarian cats and the Hungarian pigeon, but in our minds these stories remind us that we are always waiting, and remind us of what we are waiting for – a respite, a touch of grace, something simple that starts us wondering. I am reminded of Oliver Goldsmith, who said, two hundred years ago, “Innocently to amuse the imagination in this dream of life is wisdom.” (page 48)
In the period since my first visit there, Philippe had passed from being a distressing ghost to being the skeleton who rattles and will not get into the cupboard and be still. I was sorry about that. I thought it might have been a good idea for Philippe’s old colleagues to greet every returning old customer with a glass of champagne in which to toast their dead friend, but since this was not done, I can only hope that Philippe’s long and dreary wake will soon be over. I think he would have hated it. I hope that his next incarnation, when his bones cease their rattling, will be amid pleasant things that would have been familiar to him, amid sounds – the sounds of a prosperous and friendly restaurant at its best hour, the sounds from the kitchen when it is busiest, and the sounds of corks being drawn from bottles and of ice being shaken and of knives and forks and of waiters’ questioning voices and of customers in cheerful conversation over a good dinner, sounds that we all know and that signify perhaps the most amiable moments of our days, wherever we are, or, as we all happen to be, in the midst of life. (pages 191-192)
Even if you bought nothing, you came out much better off than you were when you went in. (page 194 – in a description of the International Book & Art Shop)
This book is perfect for anyone who loves New York, or who is interested in a first hand account of life in New York in the 50s and 60s, when the city was a little rougher and more interesting.
It’s also a great book for anyone who likes essays – Maeve Brennan is an excellent writer and it’s lovely to read her portraits of every day life in New York. She writes about simple, every day occurrences and yet with her skill they are beautiful and moving.
I was sad when this book ended. I looked on my complete New Yorker DVDs to see if there was anything else by her that was not in this collection. It looks like this is a complete collection of her essays, but that there are still some short stories to read and discover.
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