Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My Gateway Book by Denise Dee

You've heard of gateway drugs? Marijuana leading to heroin? Well, let me introduce you to one of my most dangerous gateway books

Dreamland by Kevin Baker - This was my first experience with 'historical fiction'; the very term used to make me cringe. Cracking this book open, I walked into a time machine and found myself washed up on the shores of early 1900's Coney Island; host to Dreamland and Luna Park. Baker mixes in gangsters, Triangle Factory workers, midgets, Freud and Jung, Tammany Hall bosses, opium dens and Bowery bars with a glossary to the colorful terms used by the Irish, Jewish and other characters populating the book. I became obsessed with turn of the century New York while reading this book, and it led me to:

Triangle: The Fire that Changed America by David Von Drehle - If you only read one book about the Triangle Factory fire, make it this one.

Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York by Luc Sante - Sante's pace and tone is perfection in conveying, yep, the lures and snares of Five Points and other 'unsavory' neighborhoods.

Gangs of New York by Herbert Asbury - You've seen the movie? Even more reason to read the book. The movie glosses over the reality that is described in these pages.

Five Points by Tyler Anbinder - I believe this to be the definitive book on the neighborhood. Ponder how many people were crammed into each square foot. Relive the stench and the sounds and the sights. That might sound depressing; it's anything but. A classic in urban studies.

When you think about how one of the roughest neighborhoods ever produced so much culture (music, dancing, writing), it's truly astounding. This is where the freed slaves met the freed Irish, which disgusted Charles Dickens enough to write home to London about it.

Hopefully this has inspired you to think about the dangerous path books can lead you down.


Tom Moran said...

Couldn't agree more with Ms. Denise on "Dreamland"! Long live the runt!!!!
For myself, this path also branches off into the more "popular" fiction of "The Alienist" and "Ragtime". (always thought The Coalhouse Walkers would be a great name for a band)

An ethnomusicological glimpse into the 1840s meshing of black and immigrant culture that Denise mentions is "Demons of Disorder" by Dale Cockrell. For my money, the real dope on the origins of the minstrel show beginnings of American pop culture: the gutter. Makes an interesting and valid connection back to medieval mummery and the Callithumpians.

Post a Comment