Wednesday, May 03, 2006

If you buy only one book this year

it should be Toni Schlesinger's Five Flights Up and Other New York Apartment Stories.

I know I am prone to hyperbole, but trust me on this.

It's a collection of her Shelter columns for the Village Voice, and whether you're interested in (a) becoming a (better) novelist (b) learning how to capture voices on the page as a playwright (c) getting the urban anthropology-cum-archeology of New York (d) indulging your nosiness about how much rent people pay for their apartments (e) learning how formally extreme works of art can also be highly accessible (f) contemplating the human condition (g) laughing a lot (etc., etc.; I'm writing a longer piece about this for another publication, so will not say more now but will link if/when the time comes) then you must have this book.

Also it has an exceptionally attractive cover; I am fond of black cats, so it particularly appeals to me, but I defy anyone not to be charmed. (Here's a nice large-scale reproduction at the Observer's real-estate blog.)

So here's my "review" of the book at the Voice. We did it in the form of one of Toni's columns (i.e. demented interview), which might be puzzling if you've never read them, so check out a few first if you like: here is one of my favorites, with the snakes we talk about in the interview; and here are parts one and two of another one I especially like, about the housing activists Pauline and Barnard Goodman.

The cumulative effect of reading all these pieces bound together in book form is quite staggering and uniquely delightful.


  1. ditto on your rave review. just was reading five flights up
    schlesinger nails this new york living scene.

  2. At the Barnes & Noble reading tonight, I asked Toni whether she would advise a young person who wants to live a creative life to stay in the City or move away, and she said that people are either here because they've always been here, or else they came here for work -- nobody comes here for the quality of life. That got big laughs. She went on to say that she finds the city inspiring, and that we must each find a way to make it work. (One rule was to go out a lot, not stay in or think too much about one's housing situation.)

    The book is wonderful.