Where's the book?

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

#1 and DONE!

It took longer than any other book I've ever read, I'm fairly sure of that. Longer than War and Peace. Longer than A Suitable Boy (still one of my favorites). Longer than anything by Proust. But I have finally finished Robert Caro's groundbreaking (and Pulitzer-winning) The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, all 1100+ pages of it.

One of the interesting things I learned from reading about the book is that it was originally one-third longer. Robert Gottlieb, Caro's editor, cut 300,000 words. I can't even imagine. As it was, reading the book was challenging, not so much because it demanded tremendous concentration (which it did), but because it was heavy--literally. Taking it with me to read on buses or subways was courting a hernia. Reading in bed was out. Try resting this book on your lap as you read and you'll end up in the ER with internal injuries. Reading in a chair was a challenge--you can't hold it up, and you have to put a pillow in your lap to rest the book on.

I read most of this book sitting at a table or counter, which is not the most comfortable reading spot. But I did it. And, thankfully, the book was fascinating. For anyone who loves New York City and its history, this book is an important read. Robert Moses held power in this city longer than pretty much anyone else in the 20th century, and he not only held it longer, he held more of it. He was the actual person running the city during the mayoral administrations of La Guardia, O'Dwyer, Impelliteri, and Wagner. He had the money, thanks to his control of the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority, which was rolling in surplus millions while the city and the state were bordering on bankruptcy, and he had, more importantly, the power. He controlled people, he controlled projects, and, most frighteningly, he controlled the future. He is far and away the person who has had the greatest impact on the city of today. The list of projects that he created and built is truly mind-boggling: pretty much every major parkway and expressway in the New York City area, from the LIE to the Southern and Northern States, the Saw Mill, the Major Deegan, the West Side Highway, the FDR, the Wantaugh, the Meadowbrook, the Cross-Bronx, the BQE...the list goes on and on. Massive public works like the United Nations, Lincoln Center, the Forham University campus, the World's Fair of 1964-65. Literally dozens of state parks from Jones Beach to Niagara. Most of the ways the city's boroughs link together, from the Triborough Bridge to the Verrazano, the Whitestone, the Throgs Neck, the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel, the Henry Hudson Bridge... You can see why the book needed to be so long.

Moses was a fascinating man. In his youth, he was an idealistic reformer, a crusader, and a failure. His mother had to support him and his wife and children until he was 39 years old, because he couldn't seem to hold onto a paying job. But once he found his first real position, as Secretary of State  under his mentor and substitute father figure Governor Al Smith, he never looked back. He accumulated power more successfully than perhaps anyone in our history. And once he realized how to go about "getting things done" (his mantra), he was unstoppable. He grew into a monster, a man who would not brook even the slightest, mildest of questions. A man who squeezed, and controlled, and doled out favors and patronage, who lived like a royal, and expected royal treatment at all times. His hold on power seemed absolute--even Franklin Roosevelt, who despised him, had to defer to him--until someone came along who had enough smarts and power of his own to dethrone him. Want to know who? Read the book!

By then he had turned the city into his toy, and twisted and turned it the way he wanted. He built the city but he also corrupted it. He destroyed neighborhoods and people in the process of "getting things done." The amount of good he did and the amount of bad are both enormous, and one of the things I appreciated about the book is that it doesn't try to present a final tally. It simply shows us the story of what is, in the final analysis, the man who made New York.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Mea culpa.

I didn't fulfill my 2016 vow, to finish those two doorstops, War and Peace and The Power Broker by year's end, but I didn't make it. 

I managed War and Peace (thank you very much), which made me proud, and made seeing the wonderful Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet so much more enjoyable (and comprehensible). 

But the 1200 densely-packed pages (really, that book has to break a record for words-per-page) of The Power Broker are taking longer than any book I've ever read. In my life. Ever. Since it is so complicated--the deal-making and all the many characters and the complexity of New York's politics and finances--I can't read at my usual rapid pace. It's necessary to go slowly and really concentrate--two things I'm not all that good at. 

Not that it isn't interesting. I enjoy New York history, and this book is packed full of it. It's also interesting reading about this complex man, so brilliant and so arrogant. His life, so far (I'm on page 724) was an arc from powerless, idealistic failure to incredibly powerful, arrogant, tyrant. And his influence on New York was assuredly greater than anyone else's, ever. 

So I will finish it, probably not today or tomorrow, but in the next few days. 

In the meantime, below is my list for 2016. There were a few I loved (Brooklyn, Americanah, The Night Watch) and plenty I liked but, it seems, more disappointments than usual. 

Doesn't matter...on to next year...and to finishing the story of the modern Moses and a year of great reading!

1.     A Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling
2.     To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie
3.     The Apartment by Greg Baxter  
4.     War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
5.     Brooklyn by Colm Toibin 
6.     Plays: The Crucible by Arthur Miller, The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
7.     The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins by Irvine Welsh
8.     The Vacationers by Emma Straub
9.     Between You and Me: Memoirs of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris
10.  Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
11.  The Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy
12.  The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig  
13.  Purity by Jonathan Franzen
14.  Finishing the Hat by Stephen Sondheim
15.  Speedboat by Renata Adler  
16.  Hamilton, the Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
17.  Mrs. Robinson’s Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady by Kate Summerscale
18.  Compromising Positions by Susan Isaacs
19.  Cocaine Blues (A Phryne Fisher Murder Mystery) by Kerry Greenwood
20.  Flying Too High (A Phryne Fisher Murder Mystery) by Kerry Greenwood
21.  Murder on the Ballarat Train (A Phryne Fisher Murder Mysery) by Kerry Greenwood
22.  Act One by Moss Hart
23.  The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine by Alexander McCall Smith
24.  Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
25.  The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware
26.  Siracusa by Delia Ephron
27.  Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
28.  The Girls by Emma Cline
29.  Drinking: A Love Story by Carolyn Knapp
30.  The Wicked Boy by Kate Summerscale
31.  In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
32.  The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
33.  Love the One You’re With by Emily Giffen
34.  Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie
35.  Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
36.  A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean 
37.  Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 
38.  On Writing by Stephen King
39.  Mr. Gilfil’s Love Story by George Eliot
40.  Shipwreck by Louis Begley  
41.  In the Woods by Tana French
42.  The first 700 pages of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert Caro