By Brian Feinblum, Chief Marketing Officer
In a visit this past week to a Barnes & Noble store on 82nd Street and Broadway, near the heart of the Upper West Side, I found myself doing what I love best to do in a bookstore. I strolled across the shelves and let the books speak to me. I’d see a random cover and pull the book off the shelf, contemplating its adoption. I repeated this act dozens of times. To do just that, without reading or buying a book, is an act of fulfillment. I’ve been doing this my whole life and few other experiences equal the satisfaction this delivers.
Don’t get me wrong, eating chocolate, reading The New York Post, or watching Zach Wheeler pitch for the Mets could rival or exceed the act of browsing books, but the open discovery of ideas and knowledge one comes across by walking just a few feet is really amazing.
I ended up pulling a half-dozen books off the shelf for further skimming. I looked through them as I sat in the upstairs café and imbibed on green tea that was accompanied by a triple chocolate brownie. The first book I examined was The Little Red Book of New York Wisdom.
Catchy title, glossy colored pages, and a paperless cover drew me in. Then I saw the author was Mayor Ed Koch, now deceased by a couple of years. The book came out in 2011.
The back cover quote from Koch says: “I’m not the type to get ulcers. I give them.” Koch represented the real New Yorker in an era of financial troubles, rampant crime, and racial division. But he was a true leader and a real character that even people who disliked his politics could still appreciate.
I met Koch on a number of occasions. Once at Book Expo, the annual trade show for the book industry, he was sitting slumped in a chair, seemingly exhausted from promoting one of his books. We chatted about his earlier books and whether he missed being mayor. On another occasion, I ran into him coming out of a movie theater. He used to review movies. I asked him what he had just seen and what he thought about it. I then asked him about some movies that I enjoyed to get his take. He was a friendly guy who could talk about anything – as long as he was talking.
Oddly, Koch acted more as a curator for this book, sharing hundreds of quotes from other famous people about the greatest city on Earth, including real New Yorkers such as Spike Lee, David Letterman, Woody Allen, Donald Trump, and Joan Rivers. Of the three Koch quotes included in his book, this one shares a true insight as to the city’s significance:
“New York is where the future comes to audition.”
A quote that now seems dated, given how safe America’s largest city is, can still make you laugh. Jay Leno said: “The crime problem in New York is getting really serious. The other day the Statue of Liberty had both hands up.”
Something that still holds water was said by writer and journalist Jack Anderson: “The networks don’t recognize a story until it’s in The New York Times.”
Kurt Vonnegut called New York “Skyscraper national park.” and Woody Allen noted: “This is the town that never sleeps. That’s why we don’t live in Duluth. That, plus I don’t know where Duluth is.”
Quotation books make for a quick read. You can just pick one up, find something you agree with, put it down, let it marinate, and then move on to the next quote. This book made me long for a New York City that used to be. There’s nothing wrong with the 2014 version, but the book pushed my thoughts back into the 1980s and 70s, when there was a grit to the city that is now softened by its Disneyfication.
But who cares what I have to say, for as Russell Baker quips in the book: “The most irritating thing of all is that New Yorkers really don’t care what you say about their city.”