My trip to NYC

Okay, so I wrote yesterday that I spent the day in Manhattan with Emily and others; what we were doing was going on a book group field trip to the Tenement Museum on the Lower East side. This book group likes to read books that have some local connection and then visit the place. We read (or were supposed to read) two books, Triangle, about a fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911 where 146 workers, mostly immigrant women, died, and Bread Givers by Anzia Yezierska, a novel about an immigrant girl growing up in the NYC tenements. I’d read Bread Givers a few years ago for a class, but didn’t have a chance to read Triangle.

The museum consists of actual tenements that tour guides will take you through; we saw two apartments, both of them tiny. Each apartment consisted of a living room, a kitchen, and a bedroom, all of them very small, and each apartment housed a family with five or so children. One of them was also converted into a garment shop during the day, when several women would come in and piece together dresses. The building was dark and claustrophobic; in some rooms electric lights had been installed, but in others they had only gas lights to give us the sense of the gloom people lived in until electric lights became available. I spent the tour trying to imagine what it would be like to live in these conditions; what’s most memorable about it is how cramped the housing was and how impossible it would have been ever to be alone. As someone who values privacy very highly, I simply can’t comprehend what it would be like to have none. This is an important theme in Bread Givers, which describes the crowding in the tenements and the streets and the main character’s striving to find some space for herself — both physically and mentally.

There’s a little bookshop across the street from the museum, and although I didn’t buy anything (I really don’t need it!), I was tempted by its collection of books about NYC.

After the tour, we went on a trek to find lunch; Emily and her husband Bob knew of a very authentic, neighborhood Chinese place where lots of good food could be had for very cheap. This was one of the nicest parts of the day as we sat around for what must have been a couple of hours talking — a bit about the books, but as not everyone had completed the reading (in fact, I don’t think anybody had completed the reading), we wandered off into other topics. Is there anything nicer than sitting around for a couple hours with a group of smart, friendly people, talking about books and about life? In that moment, at least, there wasn’t.

I often say that I should spend more time in NYC, although when the weekend comes and I have the chance to go, I begin to feel lazy. The city is close enough to be easily accessible for day trips, although far enough for the trip to take up most of the day. But there is so much to see …

If you’re in the city and have the time, I do recommend the Tenement Museum tour, and if you’re interested in the area and in immigrant histories, you will probably like Bread Givers.

12 Comments

Filed under Books, Life

12 responses to “My trip to NYC

  1. I’d love to take that tour–if I ever get to NYC–and I’ve added Bread Givers to my wish list.

    I’ve read Triangle and think you’ll really like it when you get around to it.

  2. Cam

    Thank you for writing about the Tenement Museum. I am very interested in seeing it sometime. I’m in NYC monthly on business and I’m hoping that when it is warmer, I’ll be able to arrange more of my trips so that I can stay through the weekend & enjoy some of what NYC offers. For my trip this week, though, I’ll have to be content with some great food (expense account helps!) followed by a trip to Strand Books.

  3. I think it’s a great idea for a book club: to read a novel and then visit a location linked to it. Is this the first time you’ve participated and if not, what other places have you been to?

  4. Sounds like a lovely trip, Dorothy. I wish more book bloggers lived near me, although given that there aren’t so many attractions here as NYC there would have to be more sitting around chatting about books and less visiting!

  5. I agree. There’s absolutely nothing better than sitting around and chatting with like-minded people for hours on end. I wish I could get paid to do nothing but that all day (well, and to read books of my choice all day as well).

  6. I’ve already got Triangle on my list and now I’ve added Bread Givers. Your day sounds great. I’ve never been to NYC before but when I go someday I’ll try to include the tenement museum in the itenerary.

  7. I keep meaning to go to the Tenement Museum, but it’s always the New Yorkers who are the last to go to the museums, isn’t it? There’s a tea room called Teany just a block from the museum, it’s maybe one day I’ll jump on the subway and make my own little package tour.

  8. Question not related to this post—what made you move to WordPress? How do you like it? I’ve been nosing around to other sites based on troubles I always seem to run into on blogger. Let me know your thoughts.

    Thanks

  9. Glad the trip went well!

    I would definitely suggest reading Bellow: he’s one of my very favorite authors, and well worth the effort.

  10. That sounds like a fun weekend! I would love to visit NYC sometime–I bet there are lots of literary places to visit! I can’t imagine living in such a closed environment either–I would hate it. I need lots of space and lots of quiet! I have both books now (thanks to your earlier suggestion about The Bread Givers), and I look forward to reading them! I think the closest I could come to doing something like your group would be to read Willa Cather and then visit Red Cloud, but that is on the other side of the state practically from me. I love the idea, though.

  11. LK

    I think that sounds like a great way to spend a weekend. Next time I am in NYC, I’d love to visit that museum (and the bookstore across the street, naturally).

  12. Susan, I will have to read Triangle then! It does look very interesting and the group liked it a lot too. Cam — enjoy those restaurants and have a great time at the Strand! Those are my two favorite things to do in NYC, eat out and visit bookstores. Imani, this is the first time I’ve participated in a field trip; I’ve discussed a book with them before, but that one didn’t have a relevant trip connected to it. I think it’s a cool idea too. Litlove — that kind of book group event sounds wonderful too! Emily, that would be the life, wouldn’t it? I hope you enjoy both of the books, Stefanie, and also your NYC trip when you get there! Catherine — I’m bad about doing some of the “touristy” things too — you’re right, it’s the locals who don’t go see the cool stuff available. Itchybits — I like WordPress fine so far. I don’t have any of the problems I used to have with Blogger — publishing is easy and quick and there haven’t been the outages and slowdowns blogger had. It’s easy to use; you don’t have access to the code that you had with Blogger, but that’s okay with me. Thanks Edwardhenry, I will certainly have to read Bellow one of these days (who knows when, but I will have to). Danielle, there ARE tons of literary places to visit and I’m sure you’ll have a good time when you make it there. I hope you enjoy the books! LK, it was a great way to spend the weekend.

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