Tuesday Book Club: Goodbye to All That


I’m kicking myself for not remembering where I heard about this book but I do remember that as soon as I read about it I bought it on Amazon because I was so intrigued. Is not everyone a little curious about the great love affair so many people have with New York City? And in line with our perverse senses of curiosity, are we not also interested to hear about how said love affair fell explosively apart?

Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York is scratching that itch, so to speak. Twenty-eight writers share how they were wooed by New York and its undeliverable promises and then finally left, usually embittered (though many returned years later–“I wish I knew how to quit you”). Many were or became drug addicts, some felt creatively fulfilled, others felt stymied by the poseurs and phonies. All struggled with money at some point. It’s a bit repetitive.

And at first I found this repetition to be annoying and cliché, but now I find it amusing and very insightful not only to human nature, but to creatives in particular. The idea that the City would eventually shed its sparkling facade in favor of its more authentic grit and callousness is ages old. The book’s title pulls directly from Joan Didion’s 1967 landmark essay, “Goodbye to All That,” in which she recounts that she “stayed too long at the Fair” and had to get out of New York after toiling there for most of her twenties.

Yet, these writers come to New York knowing it’s going to be tough and uphill and depressing but do it anyway. Why? Because it’s a rite of passage. It makes you stronger. It puts hair on your chest. It’s a line to add to your hard knock resumé. But they eventually all got exhausted. And couldn’t overcome the smell. And couldn’t afford the rent. Like they knew would happen.

I’m not saying anything new here but I still find it entertaining to read so many stories riffing on the same idea that New York is an elusive oracle and that to conquer it makes you unique and someone special. (Although if you’re all thinking the same thing and telling the same story are you still special?)

Interestingly, so many of them come to agree that the City is quickly losing its pizazz. All the people that used to make it so exceptional are being run out by mogul types and bankers. The gentrification is taking away all the aspects that made it remarkable and like no place else on earth.

Having never lived there, and only briefly entertained the thought of moving there, I can’t really chime in but I’m interested to hear from people who have or who want to. Do you think it’s real? The power of New York? Or, is it just a myth we continue to perpetuate as a calling card to greatness?

For fun, here’s the New York Times’s take on it, and how not to look like a tourist in NYC.

3 thoughts on “Tuesday Book Club: Goodbye to All That

  1. Ok, so I’ve been thinking about this for 2 days now, and not surprisingly my opinions swing wildly on the subject. At times I think it’s admirable to do something bold and brave to move to a city which is so overwhelmingly diverse and expensive and notoriously hard on people. I think that if the artist goes to NYC with the mindset of it being a challenge to overcome and conquer, and most importantly learn from, then it can be a great thing and can have a hugely positive impact on said artist. Without reading the book, or being able to know the minds of everyone who decides to try to break into the art scene in NY, then I try to access the non-cynic side of my personality and say that it’s a worthwhile endeavor and should be admired.

    And now the cynical side kicks in. Like every idiot who shows up on reality TV shows these days, I fear that most people think that if they go to NYC then they surely will make it. Not because they work hard, or have great talent, or are trying to learn from the experience, but simply because they show up. Time and time again I observe in the human condition individuals feel they are entitled to success/fortunes/hapiness. I think that we all have the right to pursue happiness, but it is not a guaranteed achievement, as so many these days seem to feel. A ridiculous example is the young woman, who’s now 18, who’s suing her parents for child support because she claims they thru her out of the house for breaking the house rules. Hey, she’s their daughter, she showed up, why should she have to obey any rules. Total entitlement. I worry that kids are going to NY with the blind expectation that if they go then they HAVE to make it, that’s where it happens, so it’ll happen to them, these are the ones who wash out. Not saying that all who don’t make it are of this mindset, but I think the majority of those with this mindset don’t make it.

    Long rambling and probably incoherent, but that’s what you get from a Finance & Accounting manager, who graduated in 4 years with 2 majors don’t forget.

  2. Pingback: Update: Reading List 2014 | A Broad At Home

  3. Pingback: Tuesday Book Club: Final Count | A Broad At Home

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