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Place, idea, and contested symbol, as essayist Phillip Lopate allows in his introduction, Brooklyn harbors a new generation of writers, who offer a good variety of essays on places and people they know. Russian emigre Lara Vapnyar recalls the Russian "parody" of Brighton Beach; John Burnham Schwartz brings his father back to no-longer-Jewish Brownsville; Ethiopian-born Dinaw Mengestu revels in polyglot Kensington; and Lawrence Osborne finds commonality between waterfront Red Hook and his former stomping grounds in Bangkok. Several pieces are miniatures-e.g., Emily Barton on her seltzer man-while Colin Harrison is one of a few with a broader canvas, describing how youth baseball has taken him and his son around the borough. There's almost nothing about black and Caribbean Brooklyn and not enough about the borough's ongoing transformation, though gentrification is a recurring theme. Novelist Jonathan Lethem, almost a professional Brooklynite, offers a hybrid piece titled "Ruckus Flatbush," offering sardonic insider wordplay, then reflecting on his role fighting "shockingly bad" redevelopment; Vijay Seshadri, assaying changes in his neighborhood of Carroll Gardens, once mostly Italian and Hispanic, acknowledges "the commonplace but nonetheless sharp recognition that I only began cherishing it when I understood it was disappearing." Walt Whitman, source of the book's title, might agree. For essay collections, especially where New York is of interest.
Posted August 30, 2009
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