The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood

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The Washington Post hailed Roger Rosenblatt's Making Toast as "a textbook on what constitutes perfect writing," and People lauded Kayak Morning as "intimate, expansive and profoundly moving." Classic tales of love and grief, the New York Times bestselling memoirs are also original literary works that carve out new territory at the intersection of poetry and prose. Now comes The Boy Detective, a story of the author's childhood in New York City, suffused with the same mixture of ...

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The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood

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The Washington Post hailed Roger Rosenblatt's Making Toast as "a textbook on what constitutes perfect writing," and People lauded Kayak Morning as "intimate, expansive and profoundly moving." Classic tales of love and grief, the New York Times bestselling memoirs are also original literary works that carve out new territory at the intersection of poetry and prose. Now comes The Boy Detective, a story of the author's childhood in New York City, suffused with the same mixture of acute observation and bracing humor, lyricism and wit.

Resisting the deadening silence of his family home in the elegant yet stiflingly safe neighborhood of Gramercy Park, nine-year-old Roger imagines himself a private eye in pursuit of criminals. With the dreamlike mystery of the city before him, he sets off alone, out into the streets of Manhattan, thrilling to a life of unsolved cases.

Six decades later, Rosenblatt finds himself again patrolling the territory of his youth: The writing class he teaches has just wrapped up, releasing him into the winter night and the very neighborhood in which he grew up. A grown man now, he investigates his own life and the life of the city as he walks, exploring the New York of the 1950s; the lives of the writers who walked these streets before him, such as Poe and Melville; the great detectives of fiction and the essence of detective work; and the monuments of his childhood, such as the New York Public Library, once the site of an immense reservoir that nourished the city with water before it nourished it with books, and the Empire State Building, which, in Rosenblatt's imagination, vibrates sympathetically with the oversize loneliness of King Kong: "If you must fall, fall from me."

As he walks, he is returned to himself, the boy detective on the case. Just as Rosenblatt invented a world for himself as a child, he creates one on this night—the writer a detective still, the chief suspect in the case of his own life, a case that discloses the shared mysteries of all our lives. A masterly evocation of the city and a meditation on memory as an act of faith, The Boy Detective treads the line between a novel and a poem, displaying a world at once dangerous and beautiful.

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Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review - Pete Hamill
To enter the world of this wonderful memoir is to leave the dull certainties of home and go wandering. The author's destination is always the great wide world Out There, and through his sharp, compact prose, Roger Rosenblatt takes the reader with him. He is, after all, what some 19th-century Parisians called a flâneur, a stroller sauntering through anonymous crowds in the noisy, greedy, unscripted panoramas of the city…In this extended essay, at once a memoir and a meditation on the literary form itself, Rosenblatt writes the way a great jazz musician plays, moving from one emotion to another, playing some with a dose of irony, others with joy, and a few with pain and melancholy…
Publishers Weekly
In the vein of his other recent works, Rosenblatt (Making Toast) has taken memoir writing—a subject he teaches at State University of New York at Stony Brook—and turned it on its head once again. Walking the Manhattan streets of his childhood, Rosenblatt uses the city landscape to delve into eclectic ruminations on the nature of time and space, the slipperiness of reality and memory. By mixing in history, literary references, geography, philosophy, and poetry, he is somehow able to create a 14th Street where (or when) Luchow, a 19th-century restaurant, sits side by side with a modern Trader’s Joe’s store. Rosenblatt’s writing is honest, yet it produces a magical world unto itself, as when he describes his writing process (“Why do I have to produce an ocean in the morning, much less paint the sun-streaks on it, much less the plaster clouds or the goddam sun itself?”). The title refers to the author’s childhood desire to be a detective on par with Holmes and Marlow, and the idea of controlling the uncontrollable comes into play throughout the book. But Rosenblatt isn’t out to uncover the meaning of life—he is celebrating the fact that “life calls for nothing but itself.” Agent: Gloria Loomis, Watkins/Loomis Agency (Nov.)
“With the beautiful, lyrical writing and thoughtful reflection for which he is known, Rosenblatt offers beautifully rendered memories of childhood and ongoing curiosity about the city he so obviously loves.”
Shelf Awareness
“Memoir, urban travelogue or summing up of a career grounded in the written word, Roger Rosenblatt’s The Boy Detective is an elegant and wise journey through an incomparable city and a meaning-filled life.”
People (4 stars)
“… the memoir is, at its heart, a valentine to the New York City of the ‘50s and today, and to the author’s favorite detective stories and films. . . No matter where you’re from, his story resonates.”
New York Journal of Books
“A hallmark of memoir is the self now reflecting on the self then. This book pulls off the high wire feat of illuminating that double identity and giving readers the mental atmospheres of both narrators, the rascal back then and the reflective adult today…deliciously satisfying.
Daily Beast
“Funny, intelligent, page-turning, this memoir doesn’t just describe a 1940s childhood in New York City; rather, it ruminates on the life of an artist born in and shaped by its streets.”
USA Today
“THE BOY DETECTIVE is filled with curves and knuckleballs and the occasional spitter. Hey, pal, have fun catching.”
New York Times
“That Roger Rosenblatt’s THE BOY DETECTIVE has no table of contents will make perfect sense to readers who follow the meandering path that constitutes his charming memoir of growing up around Gramercy Park. Categorizing his musings would be too confining.”
Washington Post
“The book is rich with recollections and with the lush wanderings of memory and imagination. In combination they draw the reader into one of the most entertaining, thoughtful and deeply moving minds among nonfiction writers today… [a] quiet, triumphant ambulation, a characteristically eloquent and multiply rewarding book.”
East Hampton Star
The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood is different, impressionistic, whimsical, and deliciously stuffed with description, commentary, asides about books, religion, movies, friendship.”
NPR's Fresh Air
“Roger Rosenblatt’s evocative memoir, The Boy Detective, also challenges easy categorization. His book combines a walking tour around vanished Manhattan with a meditation, not only on the classic mystery fiction he loves, but also on those larger metaphysical mysteries that defy even the shrewdest detective’s reasoning.”
Christian Science Monitor
“Readers who believe a journey is worth more than the destination will find a kindred spirit in Rosenblatt, who is generous company during his wanderings.”
New York Times Book Review
“…beautifully evocative essay - at once a memoir and a meditation on the form itself.”
Kirkus Reviews
A memoir that proceeds by stealth and cunning, rewarding patient readers with some fine writing and provocative insights, though the short vignettes generate little narrative momentum. A little past the 100-page mark, Rosenblatt (English and Writing/Stony Brook Univ.; Making Toast: A Family Story, 2010, etc.) asks, "Are we getting anywhere? Luckily we're not going anywhere, so there's nowhere to get." And so it seems within this elliptical and evocative mixture of memory and dream. "[A]nyone can write a memoir about the events of a life," writes the author near the end. "To do something originally yours, you must write about the dreams of your life, which are best disclosed in things you already know." Despite the subtitle, the text more often is autumnal in tone, written by the septuagenarian author and writing professor to whom the "boy detective" is father (in the Wordsworth-ian sense). Though the present and the past of his native Gramercy Park blur and blend, it really isn't one of those New York memoirs; only in certain sections does it offer what the author terms "the poem of the city." The narrative hopscotches back and forth across decades and neighborhoods, daring readers (often addressed directly, sometimes as students, more often as pals) to solve the mystery or determine what the mystery might be. While belaboring the connection between the detective's mission and the writer's, he shows a safecracker's precision in his reflections on death, truth and how the writer deals with both. Yet he resists letting readers pin him down. "Yours is the clarity, the shape and the theme," he writes. "Mine is the shambles. And if I say that I am lost in admiration of you, while that is true, it is truer that I am lost, period, lost in everything. Nonetheless, I proceed even without a course or destination." Parts of this will resonate deeply with certain readers, while others may wonder about the point of it all.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062241337
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 11/5/2013
  • Pages: 272
  • Sales rank: 799,288
  • Product dimensions: 5.36 (w) x 7.78 (h) x 0.98 (d)

Meet the Author

Roger Rosenblatt

Roger Rosenblatt's essays for Time and The NewsHour on PBS have won two George Polk Awards, the Peabody, and the Emmy. He is the author of six off-Broadway plays and sixteen books, including the national bestsellers Kayak Morning, Making Toast, Unless It Moves the Human Heart, Rules for Aging, the novel Lapham Rising, and Children of War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has held the Briggs-Copeland appointment in the teaching of writing at Harvard, and is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 3 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted November 5, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    Roger Rosenblatt is a very gifted writer. I truly enjoyed The Bo

    Roger Rosenblatt is a very gifted writer. I truly enjoyed The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood. It is a very interesting introspection about growing up in New York. At times slow, the book is ultimately a very enjoyable read. Four stars.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 17, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    The Game's Afoot

    The Boy Detective could most accurately be called a memoir. It is composed of seemingly random, train of thought ramblings, but that would be over simplifying. The small snapshots of live in New York are skillfully tied together. The author, now an old man, is looking back on the young boy he once was. He likens his life to that of a detective, trying to solve a life full of mysteries or is it life's mysteries? He likens his life to that of many a detective. Living by his own creed, true to himself and his beliefs, he seeks the answers to a myriad of mysteries. Even as a man, he is still the boy detective on the pursuit. The book was provided for review by Harper Collins.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 25, 2014

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