Readers gathered today in Bryant Park’s Reading Room, facing east towards the library, to listen to writers wax poetic about that great urban muse, New York City. On deck were Jonathan Ames (The Double Life Is Twice as Good: Essays and Fiction), Alice Mattison (Nothing Is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn), Colum McCann (Let the Great World Spin), Joseph O’Neill (Netherland), and Thomas Beller (Lost and Found: Stories From New York), who moderated the panel. Amid ruminations on finding inspiration in alleyways and slurs against New Jersey, we learned some valuable lessons. Read on after the jump for our top five takeaways.
1. According to Joseph O’Neill, himself an Irishman, “You’re a New Yorker from the minute you set foot in this city.” Unlike other cities, New York takes people in instantly. However, when pressed, O’Neill admitted that when it comes to being considered a real New Yorker, “I think the bagel is a crucial threshold.”
2. O’Neill and Mattison don’t see eye-to-eye on the relative niceness of New Yorkers. O’Neill called city-dwellers exceedingly polite, but Mattison recalled having to tone down her sarcasm when she left her native New York for New Haven.
3. McCann, whose book takes place in ’70s-era Manhattan, is inspired by the city’s endless capacity for renewal. He noted that Bryant Park used to be a place where even pigeons could get high. But now? A midday salon is totally de rigueur. Another source of inspiration? The fact that The New York Public Library’s stacks sit below Bryant Park, where they house millions and millions of books.
4. Mattison wrote one novel about the subway and says she’s “sort of obsessed with it.” She’s tried to stop writing about the subway, but no luck so far.
5. He didn’t mention this in the panel, but HBO’s upcoming New York City-set show Bored to Death is based on one of Ames’s short stories. Ames’s most recent book features a depiction of himself punching out himself in a boxing rink on the cover.