Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York

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“The couples in this book hail from across America and the world. Most don’t live in New York City. Some never did. What mattered to me was that they met there, in one of its iconic public places. Each of the nine stories begins just before that chance meeting—when they are strangers, oblivious to how, in moments, their lives will irrevocably change.”
—from the Introduction

The handsome Texas sailor who offers dinner to a runaway in Central Park. The Midwestern college girl who ...

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Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York

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Overview

“The couples in this book hail from across America and the world. Most don’t live in New York City. Some never did. What mattered to me was that they met there, in one of its iconic public places. Each of the nine stories begins just before that chance meeting—when they are strangers, oblivious to how, in moments, their lives will irrevocably change.”
—from the Introduction

The handsome Texas sailor who offers dinner to a runaway in Central Park. The Midwestern college girl who stops a cop in Times Square for restaurant advice. The Brooklyn man on a midnight subway who helps a weary tourist find her way to Chinatown. The Columbia University graduate student who encounters an unexpected object of beauty at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A public place in the world’s greatest city. A chance meeting of strangers. A marriage. Heart of the City tells the remarkable true stories of nine ordinary couples—from the 1940s to the present—whose matchmaker was the City of New York.

Intrigued by the romance of his own parents, who met in Washington Square Park, award-winning author Ariel Sabar set off on a far-ranging search for other couples who married after first meeting in one of New York City’s iconic public spaces. Sabar conjures their big-city love stories in novel-like detail, drawing us into the hearts of strangers just as their lives are about to change forever.

In setting the stage for these surprising, funny, and moving tales, Sabar, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, takes us on a fascinating tour of the psychological research into the importance of place in how—and whether—people meet and fall in love.

Heart of the City is a paean to the physical city as matchmaker, a tribute to the power of chance, and an eloquent reminder of why we must care about the design of urban spaces.

 

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Inspired by his parents' story of meeting in Washington Square Park, National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Sabar (for My Father's Paradise) looks at the "environmental psychology" of New York City's iconic public spaces and asks, "Could some places actually encourage people to take the first steps toward falling in love?" A chance meeting in 1941 between a runaway teenage girl and a sailor in Central Park results in a marriage of 64 years. A recently separated woman taking the ferry to the Statue of Liberty meets a vacationing man and marries him two years later. Sabar introduces these stories with descriptions of the locations; rather than adding insight, however, they reveal an attempt to deepen a thin premise. Central Park, for instance, was conceived of "a social philosophy: that a city riven by economic stratification owed its masses an oasis from the ravages of toil." When a man meets his future wife in the subway, Sabar could be describing the city itself when he notes its appeal: "Anonymity-the ability to be simultaneously surrounded by and withdrawn from other people." Sabar may want readers to deeply consider his thesis but the strength of this effort lies in its sweetness. (Feb.)
From the Publisher

Kirkus Reviews
“Love stories and urban studies merge in these… cozy, seductive narratives.”

Elle, February 2011
“If you’ve ever felt romantic upon seeing the Chrysler Building at dusk or excited instead of skeeved out by the rush of humanity in Times Square, you’re not alone; environmental psychologists do too. As does journalist Ariel Sabar in Heart of the City. He not only reports on the science of attraction in man-made environments…but also, more compellingly, offers true stories as evidence that the answers are yes and yes…All these tales have a similarly happy ending…but if this book’s clever packaging makes its joy seem somewhat mechanical, well, joy is worth having no matter how or where it’s found.”

Town & Country
, February 2011
“Ask anyone from Woody Allen to Carrie Bradsaw: there’s no love story quite like a New York love story. In Heart of the City Ariel Sabar tells nine true—and very moving—stories of people who met in the Big Apple.”
 
BookPage, February 2011
“Sabar’s thoroughly engaging Heart of the City profiles nine couples who met at famous New York City public spaces…Sabar has teased out each of these couples’ magnificent, ordinary stories and compiled them into a sparkling love letter to the city.”
 
Publishers Weekly, 1/17/11
“Inspired by his parents' story of meeting in Washington Square Park, National Book Critics Circle Award-winner Sabar looks at the ‘environmental psychology’ of New York City's iconic public spaces…The strength of this effort lies in its sweetness.”
 
Lisa Loeb
"With each story I felt like I was watching a mini movie. I couldn't put the book down, which led to many late nights...This collection affirmed my belief that people can find true love in life if they keep their eyes open.”
 
Quirky Geeky Scribbles, 1/17/11
“If you like true stories and especially if you love New York: this is a must read.”
 

New YorkJournal of Books,2/14/11
“[A] delightful collection of essays (stories, really) that recount initial contacts in notable landmarks of America’s most famous city, all of which resulted in marriage… richer we are, simply because 18 people happened to be in the right place at exactly the right time—and a writer had enough curiosity, and foresight, to capture their stories.”
 
St. PetersburgTimes, 2/6/11
“Charming true stories.”
 
New YorkTimes, 2/13/11
“The apparent connection between personal passion and public place inspires a beguiling romp into environmental psychology, which then leads to nine couples whose first encounter (and illuminating, sometimes bittersweet postscripts) represent an affirmation of the everyday miracle that is New York.”
 
New YorkTimes, 2/17/11
“Mr. Sabar is shamelessly romantic…The results have the power to make saps out of us all.”
 
TorontoStar, 2/13/11
“An engaging, moving and lively read…Each of these nine stories define serendipity and provoke wonder. How can they not?”
 
Christian Science Monitor, 2/14/11
“The stories…are sweet and charming…Heart of the City is about what can happen when people let down their guard in a sharp-elbowed, often daunting, city, where routine contact with strangers is a fixture of public life. A random encounter can change everything.”
 
ProvidenceJournal, 2/14/11
“The stories touch the heart. They are poignant, compelling, absorbing, romantic, and just flat-out sweet. Reading them, even hardened cynics will feel the urge to hug someone.”
 
New YorkJournal of Books, 2/14/11
“[A] delightful collection…Richer we are, simply because 18 people happened to be in the right place at exactly the right time—and a writer had enough curiosity, and foresight, to capture their stories.”
 

The Daily Mail, UK, 3/17/11 “A wonderful, life-affirming collection of romances, all the better because they’re real…What really strikes home is the sheer humour, patience and good manners of most of the men, even the modern ones. New York, New York, it sure is a wonderful.”

Brides Magazine, 3/21/11
“Each story is undeniably sweet—even the most hardcore cynic couldn't deny that this book is utterly heartwarming. Definitely an excellent choice if you're looking for some light pre-wedding (or honeymoon) reading!”

BaltimoreJewish Times, 4/15/11 “[A] heartwarming and delightful set of true love stories” and said “Ariel Sabar enchants his readers…I highly recommend this book to those who are searching for something that is both cheerful and enlightening.”

Kirkus Reviews

Love stories and urban studies merge in these nine examples of relationships uniquely shaped by New York City's public spaces.

National Book Critics Circle Award winner and native New Yorker Sabar (My Father's Paradise: A Son's Search for His Jewish Past in Kurdish Iraq, 2008) explores how life in the most densely packed urban landscape in the country impacts how people form relationships. Using interviews with real-life couples, the author attempts to illustrate how NYC's adrenaline-spiking public spaces help steer potential lovers together. Sabar fashions these oral histories into cozy, seductive narratives, admitting to a modicum of poetic license. The book's most impressive aspect is its multigenerational scope, as it features the stories of couples from the 1940s to the present. The stark contrast between the first two stories illustrates, in jarring fashion, how a postmillennial gentrified sheen has affected the city's love connections. "Green," set in the postwar '40s, finds an impoverished Navy man from Texas who befriends, and eventually marries, an even poorer woman who sleeps in Central Park. In "Collision," Sabar tells the story of privileged 21st-century 20-somethings Sophia and Matt, who wandered into their upwardly mobile Manhattan love connection. There's also the story of the couple who bonded over their mutual morbid fascination with 9/11—an NYPD officer became intimate with a North Dakotan college student who was designing a 9/11 memorial for her architecture thesis project. The couple eventually got married on 9/11. Unfortunately, the author ignores the fact that the same civic attributes that foster occasional serendipitous matchmaking can just as easily make NYC the loneliest place in the world.

The astute urban theory Sabar adroitly integrates into each chapter mostly cancels out the collection's cloying weaknesses.

Library Journal
This collection of nine stories by Sabar (www.arielsabar.com), author of the National Book Critics Circle Award winner My Father's Paradise (2008), tells of real-life couples who met by chance in New York City's public spaces. Sabar prefaces the book with a lengthy and informative discussion of his research into environmental psychology and the landmarks of his favorite city; the stories that follow, which closely resemble the "how we met" accounts found in local papers, feature characters from diverse backgrounds and share in common happy endings. Musician/narrator Neil Shah's performance helps to impart a warm-hearted sweetness to the players in these chance encounters. This collection will appeal to New Yorkers for the love that Sabar lavishes on "The City" as well as to anyone enjoying charming, uplifting tales of romance.—Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780738213798
  • Publisher: Da Capo Press
  • Publication date: 1/11/2011
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 5.70 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Ariel Sabar

Ariel Sabar is an award-winning former staff writer for the Baltimore Sun and the Providence Journal. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and Mother Jones magazine. He lives with his family in Washington, DC.

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Table of Contents

Introduction ix

A Note on Method xxxv

Nine Stories

Green: Central Park 1

Collision: The Street 27

Navigation: Grand Central Teriminal 49

Freestanding: Liberty Enlightening The World 69

Depths: The Subway 89

Elevation: Empire State Building 111

Crossroads: Times Square 137

Renovations: The Metropolitan Museum Of Art 161

Sightlines: Washington Square Park 183

Epilogue 205

Postscripts 211

Acknowledgments 233

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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    A delight to read!

    In HEART OF THE CITY, Ariel Sabar introduces us to nine couples who met by chance at different landmarks or places in New York City from the 1940's through present day.

    The lenghty introduction in the book delves into the environmental and psychological effects of physical space on human interaction. The author infuses architecture into each story, providing us with short historical vignettes. Being married to an architect who is currently pursuing a PhD in Urban Planning, this was especially enthralling.

    As I finished each couple's story, my mind was racing with questions. What happened to them? What became of twenty-five year old Chris and forty year old Tina who met on the ferry to the Statue of Liberty in 1988? Are they still married twenty-two years later? Or Joey and Willis who met in Central Park so many years ago? Mr. Sabar very deftly provided the answers to all of my questions in the postscripts.

    This is a beautiful, fascinating and intelligent book about the impact of our physical environment and the happenstance of meeting and falling in love. HEART OF THE CITY was a delight to read. Lynn Kimmerle

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Described the book!

    I enjoyed reading about the different places that people met in New York. It was very personal, since one of the stories was about my best friend, so I thought the book was great and that the author did a terrific job.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Great book! Fun stories!

    I read this every night. It had great stories and made you look at people and the city a little differently! Loved it!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Very good book !!!

    I saw this book in people magazine and thought it would be interesting to read. I am very happy I purchased this book.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 6, 2011

    Fits the character of the book

    Book located by staff;I was unsure about what section is would be in.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2011

    loved it!

    really interesting account of how places influence people's behavior especially in meeting new people/falling in love. sweet and fun accounts of real people and their "how we met" stories. Highly recommended!!!

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