Jonathan Lethem’s Undiscovered New York

The author writes about neighborhoods in New York with such richness that they become characters unto themselves. Here, he discusses his favorite undiscovered hoods that haven’t yet made it into his novels.
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TRANSCRIPT


Question: What are your favorite neighborhoods in New York?

Jonathan Lethem:  Well of course I’ve written about my leading favorites and it’s something to…  It may be obvious.  It may not be obvious, but even if I seem prickly or satirical or suspicious most of what I select to write about I may seem to be dissecting or examining or exposing it, but to be writing about it at all must mean that I care for it.  I don’t really write about anything I don’t love even if that love sometimes gets all screwed up and tormented.

So obviously I mean you can go to the books to know which neighborhoods matter the most to me.  It’s terribly obvious, but there are others that I respond to that I’m really interested in that sneak up on me sometimes; places I take for granted or didn’t discover until lately.  I mean right now I’m having a romance with my grandmother’s neighborhood of Sunnyside, Queens, which growing up it was associated... it was circumscribed by her very difficult personality, her very difficult sensibility and her own love/hate relationship to it, which verged too much on hate sometimes. But there it is, this place I knew in this very particular way that I never let myself possess before, but I’m suddenly going there.  I’ve decided to write about it, and I’m realizing how much it means to me and it’s just there where it was taken for granted.

I also, kind of, you know... it’s incredible how long you can live in a place and not go somewhere and I only very lately figured out how amazing Inwood, the upper, the last mile of Manhattan, the park, the neighborhoods, the terrain, just the geography, the topography I should say of that part of the city is mind-blowing.  It’s another place entirely and one of those that is a little bit frozen in time.  It holds an essence of the city as I knew it when I was growing up in the '70s, that perfect time that’s gone forever. 

Recorded on September 25, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller