A city on an island, teeming with cash and ego, has nowhere to go but up. And up. And up. Imagine the Manhattan skyline in a time-lapse filmstrip, starting around 1890 — when the New York World Building crested above the 284-foot spire of Trinity Church — and culminating in the present day: it is a series of continual skyward propulsions, each new proud round overshadowing the last.
Perhaps much of this history has been driven by crude competition — the fierce battle between the Chrysler Building and the Bank of Manhattan Trust Building (40 Wall Street), for instance, to be the World’s Tallest Building, a fight the Chrysler won by a stunning coup de grâce: the last-minute addition of its secretly constructed spire, which nudged New York’s altitude record up to 1,046 feet for 11 precious months until the Empire State Building topped out. But the city’s architectural history cannot be reduced to gamesmanship. Something else is going on. Manhattan builds up because it cannot build out and because it cannot sit still. Those of its inhabitants who can afford to do so will seek to climb to higher ground.
When I was ten and in fifth grade, I read all of “Robinson Crusoe” in one weekend. Not one of the many abridged versions, mind you—there have been at least eight hundred editions since Daniel Defoe’s novel first appeared, in 1719—but the whole shebang, from the bloody shipwreck of that slaver to Crusoe’s fateful encounter with Friday, written “all alone on an un-inhabited Island.”
I wasn’t trying to show off. I had picked “Crusoe” for a book report much the way I had picked “Gulliver’s Travels” earlier in the year: they were both books I’d seen images or even cartoons of, and sought out in the library. The report was due on Monday, and I wish I could remember if I even had the book until the Friday before. Knowing my ten-year-old dedication to procrastination, or at least underestimation, I likely got my copies at the last minute, never imagining that they would be four-hundred-plus pages. Who knew Gulliver met more than just Lilliputians?
Ricky Jay’s learned prose sparkles with humor and passion. And it’s easy to see why Jay fell so hard for Matthias Buchinger. That little man was a dynamo, a mystery, a real-world superhero — though we’re not likely to see him in a Hollywood blockbuster. Comic book superheroes have sex appeal, but very little sex. In comparison, the portly, legless Buchinger was demonstrably a stud.
Sex is troubled terrain for young women in America. Despite decades of feminist progress, for many girls today, sex is still more about servicing others than claiming their own desire. In such a context, the lucid, sensual stories of Anna Noyes’s debut collection — which explore young women’s sexual awakening around coastal Maine — are likely to be received as tonic.
When I first arrived in Mumbai, I would order a masala dosa (I didn’t know any other kind) at a street stall on the main road by my apartment and watch as the cook used a flat-bottomed cup to scoop a dollop of fermented-rice-and-lentil batter onto a sizzling metal board, then use the same cup to spread the batter into a thin, broad oval before dropping a pad of butter into the center and sprinkling it with a mysterious red spice mix. Using a spatula, he would smear a thick layer of potato—precooked with mustard seed, turmeric, and curry leaf—across the middle of the dosa, then fold over the sides and cut it into four pieces, which he’d hand to me on a sectioned plate along with a ladleful of coconut chutney and another of sambar, a soupy lentil dish common in south India, where dosa comes from.