Thomas’s pick: “Brooklyn: The Sane Alternative,” by Pete Hamill in New York magazine
It’s 2013—three long years since New York magazine asked “What was the hipster?”—and yet there are still people for whom Brooklyn means Bedford Avenue. It’s depressing that so played out a trope could displace, in the popular imagination, everything else that the borough is: more populated than Manhattan and three times as massive; a patchwork of neighborhoods, some of which, incredibly, aren’t Williamsburg or Park Slope; and a place whose history stretches as far back as the country’s.
A restorative for the trend piece du jour is Pete Hamill’s “Brooklyn: The Sane Alternative,” a New York magazine cover story from 1969. It’s an oldie but goodie, a look at the borough’s bounce back from what Hamill sees as its postwar (and post-Dodgers) decline. As a snapshot of an evolving Brooklyn from decades ago, the story’s a fascinating read today. And Hamill’s wide-angle view of the borough’s complexities, as well as his celebration of its energy and diversity, still rings true.
Raphael’s pick: “Gentrified Fiction,” by Elizabeth Gumport in n+1
There’s a story many Brooklynites tell in which the moment of their arrival in a neighborhood coincides with the last breath of its “authentic” life. Those who came after, this story goes, never knew the “real” neighborhood. They missed the junkies who hung out on the stoops down the block, the bodega on the corner that sold 40s, the drop ceilings and vinyl siding and linoleum. It’s a seductive story, to hear and to tell. But it’s also a destructive story—really a myth—that valorizes an arbitrary authenticity at the expense of a more complex understanding of the place we call home. What is the “real” Brooklyn—what is the “real” anywhere?
If you’re interested in interrogating that question, I strongly recommend Elizabeth Gumport’s 2011 essay “Gentrified Fiction,” which explores the fixation on authenticity in contemporary literature about Brooklyn.
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