BN.com Gift Guide

Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York

( 3 )

Overview

Not long after Adam Gopnik returned to New York at the end of 2000 with his wife and two small children, they witnessed one of the great and tragic events of the city’s history. In his sketches and glimpses of people and places, Gopnik builds a portrait of our altered New York: the changes in manners, the way children are raised, our plans for and accounts of ourselves, and how life moves forward after tragedy. Rich with Gopnik’s signature charm, wit, and joie de vivre, here is the most under-examined corner of ...
See more details below
Paperback (Reprint)
$12.14
BN.com price
(Save 24%)$16.00 List Price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (52) from $1.99   
  • New (12) from $4.55   
  • Used (40) from $1.99   
Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 7.0
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 4 NOOK 10.1
  • NOOK HD Tablet
  • NOOK HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK eReaders
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$13.99
BN.com price

Overview

Not long after Adam Gopnik returned to New York at the end of 2000 with his wife and two small children, they witnessed one of the great and tragic events of the city’s history. In his sketches and glimpses of people and places, Gopnik builds a portrait of our altered New York: the changes in manners, the way children are raised, our plans for and accounts of ourselves, and how life moves forward after tragedy. Rich with Gopnik’s signature charm, wit, and joie de vivre, here is the most under-examined corner of the romance of New York: our struggle to turn the glamorous metropolis that seduces us into the home we cannot imagine leaving.
Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"A wonder of a writer. . . . The very model of urbanity: frankly, unsentimentally, wisely enchanted." —Los Angeles Times“In the same way that Woody Allen and E.B. White slipped a permanent lens on New York so that no one will ever again be able to experience it without filtering it through their vision, Gopnik has captured and redefined our first and best city.” —Chicago Sun-Times “A love song to Manhattan. . . . As in his Paris memoir, Gopnik explores the city through the wondrous, exhausting and often hilarious scrim of parenting.” —San Francisco Chronicle“Brilliant . . .  How can you not love Adam Gopnik?” —Seattle Post-Intelligencer
John Leland
His results are always impressive, sometimes precious, more allusive than engrossing—and eminently recyclable, especially if you travel within the circle whose tics he chronicles and mimics…Some set pieces may seem dated, like the yoga moms or the battles for taxis, but this is only because glossy magazines have moved on, not because New Yorkers have; real moms still downward dog and steal your cab.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
Back from living in Paris with his wife and two kids, as chronicled charmingly in Paris to the Moon, Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker, records in his tidy, writerly and obsessive fashion his family's relocation to the city of his earliest professional aspiration: New York. No longer the grim, decrepit hell of the 1970s, New York of the new century has become a children's city, infused by a "new paternal feeling," and doting father Gopnik is delighted to walk through the Children's Gate of Central Park to relive the romance of childhood. His 20 various essays meander over topics dear to the hearts of New York parents, such as learning to be appropriately Jewish ("A Purim Story"); working with the ad hoc committee called Artists and Anglers at his son's hypercaring private school, on methods of flight for the production of Peter Pan; and his four-year-old daughter's imaginary playmate, Charlie Ravioli, who is simply too booked to play with her. The less structured series of essays on Thanksgiving are most pleasing and read like diaries, ranging from the rage over noise to the safety of riding buses. Gopnik conveys in his mannered, occasionally gilded prose that New York still represents a kind of childlike hope "for something big to happen." 150,000 copy first printing. (Oct.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Gopnik (The New Yorker) picks up where he left off in Paris to the Moon, with his family's move from Paris back to New York City in 2000. From touching and poignant stories of the post-9/11 city to the amusing anecdotes that arise from child rearing in this one-of-a-kind environment, Gopnik's accounts explore the wide array of life in the city. The reader can lament the decline of department stores and the changes in Times Square, hunt for the elusive perfect New York City apartment, treasure the unfolding of the city through the eyes of children, laugh at the absurdities of imaginary friends and the city's social scene, and explore the art and music that are part of the city's fabric. This collection of humorous and sentimental essays, which show modern New York City as both a home and a playground, comprises many previously published articles from The New Yorker but will be welcome as a collection by readers who enjoyed Paris to the Moon. Recommended for public libraries. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/06.] Sheila Kasperek, Mansfield Univ. Lib., PA Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400075751
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/6/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Sales rank: 310,906
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.71 (d)

Meet the Author

Adam Gopnik

ADAM GOPNIK has been writing for The New Yorker since 1986. His work for the magazine has won the National Magazine Award for Essay and Criticism and the George Polk Award for Magazine Reporting. From 1995-2000, Gopnik lived in Paris, where the newspaper Le Monde praised his "witty and Voltairean picture of French life." He now lives in New York with his wife, Martha Parker, and their two children, Luke and Olivia.
Read More Show Less

Read an Excerpt

Through the Children’s Gate: Of a Home in New York

In the fall of 2000, just back from Paris, with the sounds of its streets still singing in my ears and the codes to its courtyards still lining my pockets, I went downtown and met a man who was making a perfect map of New York. He worked for the city, and from a set of aerial photographs and underground schematics he had turned every block, every highway, and every awning—every one in all five boroughs!—into neatly marked and brightly colored geometric spaces laid out on countless squares. Buildings red, streets blue, open spaces white, the underground tunnels sketched in dotted lines . . . everything in New York was on the map: every ramp to the Major Deegan Expressway and every abandoned brownstone in the Bronx.

The kicker was that the maniacally perfect map was unfinished and even unfinishable, because the city it described was too “dynamic,” changing every day in ways that superceded each morning’s finished drawing. Each time everything had been put in place—the subway tunnels aligned with the streets, the Con Ed crawl spaces with the subway tunnels, all else with the buildings above—someone or other would come back with the discouraging news that something had altered, invariably a lot. So every time he was nearly done, he had to start all over.

I keep a small section of that map in my office as a reminder of several New York truths. The first is that an actual map of New York recalls our inner map of the city. We can’t make any kind of life in New York without composing a private map of it in our minds—and these inner maps are always detailed, always divided into local squares, and always unfinished. The private map turns out to be as provisional as the public one—not one on which our walks and lessons trace grooves deepening over the years, but one on which no step, no thing seems to leave a trace. The map of the city we carried just five years ago hardly corresponds to the city we know today, while the New Yorks we knew before that are buried completely. The first New York I knew well, Soho’s art world of twenty years ago, is no less vanished now than Carthage; the New York where my wife and I first set up housekeeping, the old Yorkville of German restaurants and sallow Eastern European families, is still more submerged, Atlantis; and the New York of our older friends—where the light came in from the river and people wore hats and on hot nights slept in Central Park—is not just lost but by now essentially fictional, like Nu. New York is a city of accommodations and of many maps. We constantly redraw them, whether we realize it or not, and are grateful if a single island we knew on the last survey is still to be found above water.

I knew this, or sensed some bit of it, the first time I ever saw the city. This was in 1959, when my parents, art-loving Penn students, brought my sister and me all the way from Philadelphia to see the new Guggenheim Museum on its opening day. My family had passed through New York a half century earlier, on the way to Philadelphia. My grandfather, like every other immigrant, entered through Ellis Island, still bearing, as family legend has it, the Russian boy’s name of “Lucie,” which I suppose now was the Russianized form of the Yiddish Louis, actually, same as his father’s. The immigration officer explained with, as I always imagined it, a firm but essentially charitable brusqueness that you couldn’t call a boy Lucy in this country. “What shall we call the boy, then?” his baffled and exhausted parents asked. The immigration officer looked around the great hall and drew the quick conclusion. “Call him Ellis,” he said, and indeed my grandfather lived and died in honor of the New York island as Ellis Island Gopnik. Well, as Ellis Gopnik, anyway—though Ellis was regarded as a touch too New York for Philadelphia, and Lucie-Ellis actually lived and died known to all as Al.

For the Guggenheim occasion, my mother had sewn a suit of mustard-colored velvet for me and a matching dress for my sister, and we stood in line outside the corkscrew building, trying to remember what we had been taught about Calder. Afterward, we marched down the ramp of the amazing museum and then walked along Fifth Avenue, where we saw a Rolls-Royce. We ate dinner at a restaurant that served a thrilling, exotic mix of blintzes and insults, and that night we slept in my aunt Hannah’s apartment at Riverside Drive and 115th Street. A perfect day.

I remember looking out the window of the little maid’s room where we had been installed, seeing the lights of the Palisades across the way, and thinking, There! There it is! There’s New York, this wonderful city. I’ll go live there someday. Even being in New York, the actual place, I found the idea of New York so wonderful that I could only imagine it as some other place, greater than any place that would let me sleep in it—a distant constellation of lights I had not yet been allowed to visit. I had arrived in Oz only to think, Well, you don’t live in Oz, do you?

Ever since, New York has existed for me simultaneously as a map to be learned and a place to be aspired to—a city of things and a city of signs, the place I actually am and the place I would like to be even when I am here. As a kid, I grasped that the skyline was a sign that could be, so to speak, relocated to New Jersey—a kind of abstract, receding Vision whose meaning would always be “out of reach,” not a concrete thing signifying “here you are.” Even when we are established here, New York somehow still seems a place we aspire to. Its life is one thing—streets and hot dogs and brusqueness—and its symbols, the lights across the way, the beckoning skyline, are another. We go on being inspired even when we’re most exasperated.

If the energy of New York is the energy of aspiration—let me in there!—the spirit of New York is really the spirit of accommodation—I’ll settle for this. And yet both shape the city’s maps, for what aspi- rations and accommodations share is the quality of becoming, of not being fixed in place, of being in every way unfinished. An aspira- tion might someday be achieved; an accommodation will someday be replaced. The romantic vision—we’ll get to the city across the river someday!—ends up harmonizing with the unromantic embrace of reality: We’ll get that closet cleaned out yet.

In New York, even monuments can fade from your mental map under the stress of daily life. I can walk to the Guggenheim if I want to, these days, but in my mind it has become simply a place to go when the coffee shops are too full, a corkscrew Three Guys, an alternative place to get a cappuccino and a bowl of bean soup. Another day, suddenly turning a corner, I discover the old monument looking just as it did the first time I saw it, the amazing white ziggurat on a city block, worth going to see.

This doubleness has its romance, but it also has its frustrations. In New York, the space between what you want and what you’ve got creates a civic itchiness: I don’t know a content New Yorker. Complacency and self-satisfaction, the Parisian vices, are not present here, except in the hollow form of competitive boasting about misfortune. (Even the very rich want another townhouse but move into an apartment, while an exclusive subset of the creative class devotes itself to dreaming up things for the super-rich to want, if only so they alone will not be left without desire.)

I went back to New York on many Saturdays as a child, to look at art and eat at delis, and it was, for me, not only the Great Romantic Place but the obvious engine of the working world. After a long time away, I returned, and then in 1978 I returned with the girl I loved. We spent a miraculous day: Bloomingdale’s, MoMA, dinner at Windows on the World, and then the Carnegie Tavern, to hear the matchless poet Ellis Larkins on the piano, just the two of us and Larkins in a cool, mostly empty room. (A quarter century later, I haven’t had another day that good.) We were dazzled by the avenues and delighted by the spires of the Chrysler Building, and we decided that, come what might, we had to get there.

For all that the old pilgrimage of the young and writerly to Manhattan had become, in those years, slightly Quixotic, we determined nevertheless to make it—not drawn to the city romantically, as we were then and later to the idea of Paris, but compelled toward it almost feverishly—deliriously, if you like—as the place you needed to be in order to stake a claim to being at all. This feeling has never left me. I’ve lived elsewhere, but nowhere else feels so entirely, so delusionally—owing more to the full range of emotional energies it possesses than to the comforts it provides—like home.

A home in New York! However will we have one? The exclamation of hope is followed at once by the desperate, the impossible, question. The idea of a home in Manhattan seems at once self-evident and still just a touch absurd, somehow close to a contradiction in its own shaky terms, so that to state it, even quietly, is to challenge some inner sense of decorum, literary if not entirely practical. In literature, after all, New York is where we make careers, deals, compromises, have breakdowns and break-ins and breaks, good and bad. But in reality what we all make in Manhattan are homes (excepting, of course, the unlucky, who don’t, or can’t, and act as a particularly strong reproach to those of us who do). The Life is the big, Trumpish unit of measure in New York, but the home, the apartment with its galley kitchen and the hallways with its cooking smells, is the real measure, the one we know, and all we know. We make as many homes in New York as in any other place. To make a home at all in New York is the tricky part, the hard part, and yet, at the same time, the self-evident part. Millions of other people are doing it, too. Look out your window. “Do New York!” Henry James implored Edith Wharton in a famous letter, meaning encompass it, if you can, but when we try to do New York, it does us and sends us reeling back home. (When the great James tried to come back home to do it, what he did was the house on Fourteenth Street where he was born, and the other homes, around the corner on Sixth.)

I still recall our first efforts at making a home, when my wife and I arrived on a bus from Canada and moved into a single nine-by-eleven basement room, on Eighty-seventh Street. I remember it, exactly a quarter century after, with something approaching disbelief: How did we use so many toggle bolts on three walls? But doing it a second time doesn’t seem easier, or more supple; I can’t walk into a housewares store in Manhattan without feeling myself the victim of a complicated confidence trick, a kind of cynical come-on. We’re really going to use a toaster and a coffee-maker every morning? And then, of course, we do, just like they do in Altoona, just like we did . . . back home.

To make a home in New York, we first have to find a place on the map of the city to make it in. The map alone teaches us lessons about the kind of home you can make. The first New York home we made was in one of the small basement apartments strung along First Avenue. Then there was Soho in its Silver Age, when the cheese counter at Dean & Deluca and the art at Mary Boone conspired to convince one that a Cultural Moment was under way. But that era has passed—a world gone right under, as they all do here—and coming home this time, we hoped to land in one of the more tender squares on the map, the one that kids live in.

We came back to New York in 2000, after years away, to go through the Children’s Gate, and make a home here for good. The Children’s Gate exists, and you really can go through it. It’s the name for the entrance to Central Park at Seventy-sixth Street and Fifth Avenue. The names of the gates—hardly more than openings in the low stone wall describing the park—are among its more poetic, less familiar monuments. In a moment of oddly Ruskinian whimsy, Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux gave names to all the entrances of Central Park, calling them gates, each accommodating a class of person to enter there: a park for all the people with entrances for every kind. There was, and is, the Miners’ Gate, and the Scholars’ Gate, and—for a long time this was my favorite—the Strangers’ Gate, high on the West Side. The Children’s Gate is one of the lesser known, though the most inviting of all. On most days you can’t even read its name, since a hot-dog-and-pretzel vendor parks his cart and his melancholy there twelve hours a day, right in front of where the stone is engraved. It’s a shame, actually. For though it’s been a long time since a miner walked through his gate, children really do come in and out of theirs all day and, being children, would love to know about it. Now my family had, in a way, decided to pass through as children, too.

This was true literally—we liked the playground and went there our first jet-lagged morning home—and metaphorically: We had decided to leave Paris for New York for the romance of childhood, for the good of the children. We wanted them to go not to baffling Parisian schools—where they would have gotten a terrific education, been cowed until seventeen, and only then begun to riot—but to a New York progressive school, where they’d get a terrific education and, we hoped, have a good time doing it. Childhood seemed too short to waste on preparation. And we wanted them to grow up in New York, to be natives here, as we could never be, to come in through the Children’s Gate, not the Strangers’ Gate.

A crowd came through the gate with us. Twenty-five years ago, Calvin Trillin could write of his nuclear family of two parents and two kids as being so strange that it was an attraction on bus tours, but by the time we came home, the city had been repopulated—some would say overrun—with children. It was now the drug addicts and transvestites and artists who were left muttering about the undesirable, short element taking over the neighborhood. New York had become, almost comically, a children’s city again, with kiddie-coiffure joints where sex shops had once stood and bare, ruined singles bars turned into play-and-party centers. There was an overrun of strollers so intense that notices forbidding them had to be posted at the entrances of certain restaurants, as previous generations of New Yorkers had warned people not to hitch their horses too close to the curb. There were even special matinees for babies—real babies, not just kids—where the wails of the small could be heard in the dark, in counterpoint to the dialogue of the great Meryl Streep dueting with a wet six-month-old. Whether you thought it was “suburbanized,” “gentrified,” or simply improved, that the city had altered was plain, and the children flooding its streets and parks and schools were the obvious sign.

The transformation of the city, and particularly the end of the constant shaping presence of violent crime, has been amazing, past all prediction, despite the facts that the transformation is not entirely complete and the new city is not entirely pleasing to everyone. Twenty some years ago, it was taken for granted that New York was hell, as Stanley Kauffmann wrote flatly in a review of Ralph Bakshi’s now oddly forgotten New York cartoon-dystopia Heavy Traffic, and every movie showed it that way, with the steam rising from the manholes to gratify the nostrils of the psychos, as if all the infernal circles, one through thirty, inclusive, were right below. E. B. White was asked to update his famous essay about the city, and that unweepy man, barely able to clear the bitter tears from his prose, declined to write about a city he no longer knew. In the seventies, Robert Caro’s life of Robert Moses, blankly subtitled “And the Fall of New York,” was the standard version of What Had Happened.

Everyone has a moment of personal marvel about how far things have gone or changed: Twenty-three years ago, I recall, they were toting bodies out of the Film Center on Ninth Avenue, and (nice lost word) the degenerates were brooding on it at the Film Center Café. Now the Film Center shines and the café across the street serves mussels and croissant sandwiches, having kept its Art Moderne front, so “period,” if nothing else. The scale of this miracle—and for anyone who remembers the mood of the city in the early seventies, miracle it is—leads inevitably to a rebound of complaint. It Is Not So Miraculous At All. Or: You call that a miracle? The cross-dressers in the Village sniff at the influx of nuclear families as the fleeing nuclear families once sniffed at the cross-dressers. Some of the complaining is offered in a tone of intelligent, disinterested urban commentary: The service and financial and media industries, they say, are too unstable a base for a big city to live and grow on (though, historically speaking, no one seems able to explain why these industries are any more perilous than the paper-box or ladies’ lingerie industries of forgotten days).

Most of the beefs are aesthetic and offered in a tone of querulous nostalgia: What happened to all that ugliness, all that interesting despair, all that violence and seediness, the cabdrivers in their undershirts and the charming hookers in their heels? This is standard-issue human perversity. After they gentrify hell, the damned will complain that life was much more fun when everyone was running in circles: Say what you will about the devil, at least he wasn’t antiseptic. We didn’t come to hell for the croissants. But the lament has a subtler and more poignant side, too. All of us, right and left, make the new Times Square a butt of jokes—how sickening it still is to be forced to gaze at so much sleaze and human waste, to watch the sheer degradation of people forced to strut their wares in lust-inducing costumes before lick-lipping onlookers, until at last The Lion King is over and you can flee the theater. These jokes are compulsive and irresistible because they speak to our embarrassment about our own relief, and to a certain disappointment, too. Safety and civic order are not sublime; these are awfully high rents to be paying to live, so to speak, in Minneapolis.

Still, croissants and crime are not lifestyle choices, to be taken according to taste; the reduction of fear, as anyone who has spent time in Harlem can attest, is a grace as large as any imaginable. To revise Chesterton slightly: People who refuse to be sentimental about the normal things don’t end up being sentimental about nothing; they end up being sentimental about anything, shedding tears over old muggings and the perfect, glittering shards of the little crack vials, sparkling like diamonds in the gutter. Où sont les neiges d’antan?: Who cares if the snows were all of cocaine? We saw them falling and our hearts were glad.

The more serious argument is that the transformation is Parisian in the wrong way: the old bits of the city are taken over by the rich (or by yuppies, which somehow has a worse ring) while the poor and the unwashed are crowded right off the island. By a “city,” after all, we mean more than an urban amusement park; we mean a collection of classes, trades, purposes, and functions that become a whole, giving us something more than yuppies in their co-ops and condos staring at other yuppies in their co-ops and condos. Those who make this argument see not a transformation but an ethnic cleansing, an expulsion of the wrong sort. Still, it is hard to compare the Mad Max blackout of ’77 with the Romper Room blackout of ’03 and insist that something has gone so terribly wrong with the city. No one can credibly infer a decline, which leads us back to the Times Square Disneyfication jokes. And toward remaking the old romance.

It is a strange thing to be the serpent in one’s own garden, the snake in one’s own grass. The suburbanization of New York is a fact, and a worrying one, and everyone has moments of real disappointment and distraction. The Soho where we came of age, with its organic intertwinings of art and food, commerce and cutting edge, is unrecognizable to us now—but then that Soho we knew was unrecognizable to its first émigrés, who by then had moved on to Tribeca. This is only to say that in the larger, inevitable human accounting of New York, there are gains and losses, a zero sum of urbanism: The great gain of civility and peace is offset by a loss of creative kinds of vitality and variety. (There are new horizons of Bohemia in Brooklyn and beyond, of course, but Brooklyn has its bards already, to sing its streets and smoke, as they will and do. My heart lies with the old island of small homes and big buildings, the sounds coming from one resonating against the sounding board of the other.)

But those losses are inevitably specific. There is always a new New York coming into being as the old one disappears. And that city—or cities; there are a lot of different ones on the same map—has its peculiar pleasures and absurdities as keen as any other’s. The one I awakened to, and into—partly by intellectual affinity, and much more by the ringing of an alarm clock every morning at seven—was the civilization of childhood in New York. The phrase is owed to Iona Opie, the great scholar of children’s games and rhymes, whom I got to interview once. “Childhood is a civilization with its own rules and rituals,” she told me, charmingly but flatly, long before I had children of my own. “Children never refer to each other as children. They call themselves, rightly, people, and tell you what it is that people like them—their people—believe and do.” The Children’s Gate exists; you really can go through it.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More Show Less

Foreword

1. Who is the implied reader of Gopnik’s essays – the person who lives in New York City, or the person who, like those who see the skyline from a distance, wants to get a taste of New York from afar? Does direct experience of life in New York City make a difference to how one experiences the book?

2. "Manners matter," Gopnik writes. "These are stories about the manners, the children, and the objects of the professional classes in what was and remains the world’s real capital, in a time of generalized panic and particularized pleasures, about the secular rituals of material but not unmindful people, a handful of manners pressed between the pages of a book" [p. 21]. In what way does he mean "manners matter," and how are New York manners different from those of other places in the time period of which he writes?

3. Gopnik calls himself a "comic writer" in his introduction [p. 21]. Is this an accurate assessment of his sensibility? Which essay, for you, best expresses the particular character of his sense of humor, and how does it do so?

4. Consider the following two observations: "If the energy of New York is the energy of aspiration . . . the spirit of New York is really the spirit of accommodation . . ." [p. 5] and "I love Paris, but I believe in New York and in its trinity of values: plurality, verticality, possibility" [pp. 5, 22]. How accurate are these brief assessments of New York?

5. In "Man Goes to See a Doctor," Dr. Grosskurth tells the author that his professional anxieties and arguments are of little importance because "No one cares! Peoplehave troubles of their own!" [p. 44]. How useful is this advice? What elements contribute to the considerable humor and pathos of this story?

6. "The art of child rearing," Gopnik writes, "is to center the children and then knock them off center; to make them believe that they are safely anchored in the middle of a secure world and somehow also to let them know that the world they live in is not a fixed sphere with them at the center; that they stand instead alongside a river of history, of older souls, that rushes by them, where they are only a single, small incident" [p. 87]. What is most useful or agreeable about this approach to child rearing?

7. Gopnik calls the genre in which he writes "the humane-liberal essay" and elsewhere, "the comic-sentimental essay. . .a kind of antimemoir, a nonconfession confession, whose point is not to strip experience bare but to use experience for some other purpose: to draw a moral or construct an argument, make a case or just tell a joke" [pp. 20, 186]. Discuss what Gopnik means by these terms as exemplified in your favorite essays in Through the Children’s Gate.

8. In "The City and the Pillars," Gopnik writes, "More than any other city, New York exists at once as a city of symbols and associations, literary and artistic, and as a city of real things" [p. 122]. How does it compare in this sense with other cities, like London, Istanbul, Rome, Chicago, San Francisco? What effect did 9/11 and its extended impact have on Gopnik’s experience of the "real city" of New York
[p. 123]?

9. In "Urban Renewal," Gopnik discusses W. H. Auden’s poem "September 1, 1939," referring to its prescience in the context of 9/11. Read the complete poem here, and discuss Gopnik’s idea that the poem suggests we should "follow our authentic self-interest, which means being in touch with the reality of what is and is not actually possible in the world" [p. 130].

10. Is Gopnik’s sister Alison, a developmental psychologist, correct in counseling her brother that, if Olivia’s imaginary friend Charlie Ravioli is not only too busy to play with her, but also has an assistant to whom she has to speak, he should move his family out of New York [p. 163]? What is most funny, and what is most disturbing, about this story?

11. "Memorable description depends on startling metaphors," Gopnik writes [p. 166]. In thinking about Gopnik’s own style, examine a couple of sentences in which he uses particularly startling metaphors. Or you might comment on the following sentence from "The Cooking Game”: "Cooks, I learned, indulge the gaping outsider – I want to run away with the circus! – without even trying to explain to him what they know too well, that the tricks are easy; the hard part is preventing the clowns from committing suicide and the lion trainer from getting into bed with the ringmaster’s wife" [p. 172]. To what does this extended metaphor refer? How effective is it? Why is it funny as well as accurate?

12. Gopnik reflects on the time after 9/11, "A Steinbergian drawing of New York in these years would show eight million people, each person standing on a pole above an abyss of anxiety. . ." [p. 190]. How accurate are his observations about fear and anxiety and his idea that "structures of delusional domesticity" are a New Yorker’s way of coping with fear [p. 194]? Taken as a whole, is Through the Children’s Gate a hopeful book?

13. In "Fourth Thanksgiving: Propensities," Gopnik comments, as a parent, on the difficulty created by the ubiquitous "screens" that dominate children’s lives today – the computer, the television, the iPod, the cell phone, and so on [p. 235]. What does he think about the effects of electronic media on the inner lives of children?

14. Kirk Varnedoe is the hero of the book. What is most extraordinary about Varnedoe’s character as revealed in "Last of the Metrozoids"? What is the gift that the boys on the football team are most likely to take away from the experience of having known him?

15. Gopnik discusses the significance of the "secular ritual" in modern life [p. 287]. How does Thanksgiving function for him, and for this book, as a ritual? What do you notice about the four Thanksgiving essays? Do they create their own kind of narrative and meaning as the book progresses?

16. If you have read Paris to the Moon, how has New York changed Gopnik’s thinking about everyday life? What might have been different had he decided to stay in Paris to raise his children?

17. Gopnik’s own aspiration, with regard to New York, is contained in his early desire and determination to write for The New Yorker, which represents the ideal of New York sophistication to reading audiences. If you have read some of these essays in The New Yorker, do they take on a different feeling here? Can you locate a storyline or structure in the order of the essays in the book, and if so, how does it affect your reading?

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

1. Who is the implied reader of Gopnik’s essays–the person who lives in New York City, or the person who, like those who see the skyline from a distance, wants to get a taste of New York from afar? Does direct experience of life in New York City make a difference to how one experiences the book?

2. “Manners matter,” Gopnik writes. “These are stories about the manners, the children, and the objects of the professional classes in what was and remains the world’s real capital, in a time of generalized panic and particularized pleasures, about the secular rituals of material but not unmindful people, a handful of manners pressed between the pages of a book” [p. 21]. In what way does he mean “manners matter,” and how are New York manners different from those of other places in the time period of which he writes?

3. Gopnik calls himself a “comic writer” in his introduction [p. 21]. Is this an accurate assessment of his sensibility? Which essay, for you, best expresses the particular character of his sense of humor, and how does it do so?

4. Consider the following two observations: “If the energy of New York is the energy of aspiration . . . the spirit of New York is really the spirit of accommodation . . .” [p. 5] and “I love Paris, but I believe in New York and in its trinity of values: plurality, verticality, possibility” [pp. 5, 22]. How accurate are these brief assessments of New York?

5. In “Man Goes to See a Doctor,” Dr. Grosskurth tells the author that his professional anxieties and arguments are of little importance because “No one cares! People have troubles of their own!” [p. 44]. How useful is this advice? What elements contribute to the considerable humor and pathos of this story?

6. “The art of child rearing,” Gopnik writes, “is to center the children and then knock them off center; to make them believe that they are safely anchored in the middle of a secure world and somehow also to let them know that the world they live in is not a fixed sphere with them at the center; that they stand instead alongside a river of history, of older souls, that rushes by them, where they are only a single, small incident” [p. 87]. What is most useful or agreeable about this approach to child rearing?

7. Gopnik calls the genre in which he writes “the humane-liberal essay” and elsewhere, “the comic-sentimental essay. . .a kind of antimemoir, a nonconfession confession, whose point is not to strip experience bare but to use experience for some other purpose: to draw a moral or construct an argument, make a case or just tell a joke” [pp. 20, 186]. Discuss what Gopnik means by these terms as exemplified in your favorite essays in Through the Children’s Gate.

8. In “The City and the Pillars,” Gopnik writes, “More than any other city, New York exists at once as a city of symbols and associations, literary and artistic, and as a city of real things” [p. 122]. How does it compare in this sense with other cities, like London, Istanbul, Rome, Chicago, San Francisco? What effect did 9/11 and its extended impact have on Gopnik’s experience of the “real city” of New York
[p. 123]?

9. In “Urban Renewal,” Gopnik discusses W. H. Auden’s poem “September 1, 1939,” referring to its prescience in the context of 9/11. Read the complete poem here, and discuss Gopnik’s idea that the poem suggests we should “follow our authentic self-interest, which means being in touch with the reality of what is and is not actually possible in the world” [p. 130].

10. Is Gopnik’s sister Alison, a developmental psychologist, correct in counseling her brother that, if Olivia’s imaginary friend Charlie Ravioli is not only too busy to play with her, but also has an assistant to whom she has to speak, he should move his family out of New York [p. 163]? What is most funny, and what is most disturbing, about this story?

11. “Memorable description depends on startling metaphors,” Gopnik writes [p. 166]. In thinking about Gopnik’s own style, examine a couple of sentences in which he uses particularly startling metaphors. Or you might comment on the following sentence from “The Cooking Game”: “Cooks, I learned, indulge the gaping outsider–I want to run away with the circus!–without even trying to explain to him what they know too well, that the tricks are easy; the hard part is preventing the clowns from committing suicide and the lion trainer from getting into bed with the ringmaster’s wife” [p. 172]. To what does this extended metaphor refer? How effective is it? Why is it funny as well as accurate?

12. Gopnik reflects on the time after 9/11, “A Steinbergian drawing of New York in these years would show eight million people, each person standing on a pole above an abyss of anxiety. . .” [p. 190]. How accurate are his observations about fear and anxiety and his idea that “structures of delusional domesticity” are a New Yorker’s way of coping with fear [p. 194]? Taken as a whole, is Through the Children’s Gate a hopeful book?

13. In “Fourth Thanksgiving: Propensities,” Gopnik comments, as a parent, on the difficulty created by the ubiquitous “screens” that dominate children’s lives today–the computer, the television, the iPod, the cell phone, and so on [p. 235]. What does he think about the effects of electronic media on the inner lives of children?

14. Kirk Varnedoe is the hero of the book. What is most extraordinary about Varnedoe’s character as revealed in “Last of the Metrozoids”? What is the gift that the boys on the football team are most likely to take away from the experience of having known him?

15. Gopnik discusses the significance of the  “secular ritual” in modern life [p. 287]. How does Thanksgiving function for him, and for this book, as a ritual? What do you notice about the four Thanksgiving essays? Do they create their own kind of narrative and meaning as the book progresses?

16. If you have read Paris to the Moon, how has New York changed Gopnik’s thinking about everyday life? What might have been different had he decided to stay in Paris to raise his children?

17. Gopnik’s own aspiration, with regard to New York, is contained in his early desire and determination to write for The New Yorker, which represents the ideal of New York sophistication to reading audiences. If you have read some of these essays in The New Yorker, do they take on a different feeling here? Can you locate a storyline or structure in the order of the essays in the book, and if so, how does it affect your reading?  

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 3 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(2)

4 Star

(1)

3 Star

(0)

2 Star

(0)

1 Star

(0)

Your Rating:

Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

What to exclude from your review:

Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

Reviews should not contain any of the following:

  • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
  • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
  • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
  • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
  • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
  • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
  • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

Reminder:

  • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
  • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
  • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

Create a Pen Name

Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

 
Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

Continue Anonymously
Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 6, 2013

    Five Phoenixes's copy of The Children's Gate came promptly in pe

    Five Phoenixes's copy of The Children's Gate came promptly in perfect condition.

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

    Posted April 13, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    essays on raising children in New York City

    Adam Gopnik writes beautifully, and in this collection of essays he chronicles his experiences moving his family from Paris to New York. He is wonderfully perceptive and introspective. He has a great deal to say and he says it all so gracefully.

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

    Posted November 12, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews

If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
Why is this product inappropriate?
Comments (optional)