Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York Hardcover – Oct 10 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
Back from living in Paris with his wife and two kids, as chronicled charmingly in Paris to the Moon, Gopnik, a writer for the New Yorker, records in his tidy, writerly and obsessive fashion his family's relocation to the city of his earliest professional aspiration: New York. No longer the grim, decrepit hell of the 1970s, New York of the new century has become a children's city, infused by a "new paternal feeling," and doting father Gopnik is delighted to walk through the Children's Gate of Central Park to relive the romance of childhood. His 20 various essays meander over topics dear to the hearts of New York parents, such as learning to be appropriately Jewish ("A Purim Story"); working with the ad hoc committee called Artists and Anglers at his son's hypercaring private school, on methods of flight for the production of Peter Pan; and his four-year-old daughter's imaginary playmate, Charlie Ravioli, who is simply too booked to play with her. The less structured series of essays on Thanksgiving are most pleasing and read like diaries, ranging from the rage over noise to the safety of riding buses. Gopnik conveys in his mannered, occasionally gilded prose that New York still represents a kind of childlike hope—"for something big to happen." 150,000 copy first printing. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
*Starred Review* Gopnik's previous book, the best-selling Paris to the Moon (2000), drew its material in large part from his "Paris Journal" column appearing in the New Yorker. That book shared his and his family's experiences living in the City of Light for five years. In 2000 he and they moved back to New York, and in his new collection of essays, he demonstrates anew how, despite tackling two of the world's greatest and oft-written-about cities, he has staked out his own mastery of the literature of place. As Gopnik ranges over contemporary life in the Big Apple, bringing into his purview and commentary such specific topics as raising children in that vastly busy environment and indulging in one of the city's favorite preoccupations (namely, consulting a psychotherapist), he lets there be no mistake that these pieces are literate, serious in his analysis of social issues (even though he can be funny at the same time), deeply thought out and well reasoned, and arise from not only an immaculate writerly talent but also a sharp ability to understand why people, in particular places, do peculiar things. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an alternate Hardcover edition.
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And read, I did. From the first moment I picked up this book I was engulfed and enthralled. This book is a collection of essays written from the author's perspective. He had lived in Paris for 5 years on assignment for The New Yorker Magazine, and returned to New York City in 2000 primarily out of homesickness and out of a desire to raise his family there. Gopnik knows New York, but a lot had changed since the last time he lived here, and this collection of essays is really about his rediscovery of the city, through his own eyes as well as those of others: his children, most notably, but also his wife and some of his close friends. His essays, which feel at times more like stories, are of course tempered by and work through the enormity of 9/11. And the New York he describes is as much the New York of and around 9/11 as it is the New York that it always has been and yet also a new city formed by nothing other than the march of progress.
His subject matter is of two parts, both close to my own heart--New York city and children. He does them both such amazing justice in this book.
Gopnik's prose is a joy to behold, both familiar and formal, intricately planned yet at times stream-of-consciousness in style. His skill as a writer is as much in this, his technical mastery of the genre, as it is in his easy ability to depict emotions ranging from humor to pathos succintly yet poignantly. His skills suit his subjects perfectly. The city crackles to life underneath his pen, as he captures in amazing clarity what it is like to sit awake and look out at the windows around the city at 3 AM, or what it felt like to watch the city burn 5 1/2 years ago, or what central park means to the city and those in it. He is the quintessential New Yorker, and yet, perhaps because he left the city, he is able now to see it so much more clearly without taking it for granted as the rest of us do.
But the real heart of this book lies in his portrayal of his children. Through his writing we see his love for Olivia and Luke leap off of the page and, without being overly trite, right into our hearts. The way he describes himself already preparing for when they leave home...the way he opines on what the earth must feel like when zen masters leave it--his children are his life, and it shows brilliantly. As someone without children of my own, but who works with them on a daily basis, I can attest to the accuracy with which Gopnik captures their idiosyncracies while still making painfully clear how alike they truly are. By the end of this book, the reader feels he or she knows Gopnik, his family, his children, and the reader feels for him. Or at least I did.
This is, once again, a wonderful read. Light, funny, and yet undeniably heavy and full of rich sadness and depth, and at times all at once. Gopnik has outdone himself. As we step through the Children's Gate, we enter his world, and when the book ends we just don't want to leave.
Taking its title from the name of the Central Park entrance at Seventy-sixth Street and Fifth Avenue, the collection is unified by Gopnik's captivating insights into the lives of his precocious children, Luke and Olivia, as they adapt to life in their new home. That focus is apt, for, he observes, about the Upper West Side world into which they settle, comfortably but not entirely without unease, "a constant obsessive-compulsive anxiety about children --- their health, their future, the holes in their socks, and the fraying of their psyches --- is taken entirely for granted here."
In September 2000 Gopnik and his family returned to New York, after five years in Paris that provided the material for his acclaimed book PARIS TO THE MOON. In that time, he notes, "The map of the city we carried just five years ago hardly corresponds to the city we know today, while the New Yorks we knew before that are buried completely." That first autumn is portrayed as an idyllic time, its innocence made more poignant when viewed backwards through the lens of 9/11.
Two of the pieces, "The City and the Pillars" and "Urban Renewal," deal explicitly with the events of that day and its aftermath, but the fear and anxiety it engendered shadow much of Gopnik's narrative. In a characteristically arresting metaphor that captures the profound and yet curious effect the terrorist attacks had on the city, he notes, "It's as though the sinking of the Titanic had taken place right beside a subway station and been watched by a frightened or curious crowd who saw something unbelievable, the great ship listing and rising up and breaking in two and the people falling from the funnel, and then walked home from the disaster and showed their families that their hands were still cold from touching the iceberg." Yet despite the disaster, Gopnik writes, New Yorkers "learned to live on one foot, hopping along spiritually in more or less normal times." Again, he returns to his theme of children and families: "The real question that pressed itself upon us as parents was how to let our children live in joy in a time of fear, how to give light enough to live in when what we saw were so many shadows."
The New York life Gopnik sketches in these essays is anything but unremittingly anxious or bleak. There are numerous moments of sly humor that leaven the more serious essays. Readers will chuckle as Gopnik, at best a casually observant Jew, grapples with the task of crafting a presentation about the Jewish holiday of Purim. His description of the unintended consequences of a "no-screen" weekend, as he and another father try to wean their sons from computers and video games, is hilarious. And few readers will be able to stifle the urge to "LOL" as fortysomething Gopnik is initiated by his son into the world of instant messaging.
Gopnik also proves himself an erudite companion as he discourses on such subjects as the decline of the New York department store, the revival of Times Square and the story behind the Bill Evans Trio jazz classic, "Sunday at the Village Vanguard." While the collection is decidedly Manhattan-centric, he does leave the island briefly to introduce readers to the bizarre phenomenon of the wild parrots of Flatbush.
Not every essay in the book hits the mark. "The Cooking Game," a description of a contest in which several prominent chefs prepare a meal with ingredients selected by Gopnik, suffers from an uncharacteristically narrow focus. "Death of a Fish" treads perilously close to the line of undue sentimentality. Yet these minor stumbles are more than offset by "Last of the Metrozoids," the understated and moving account of the death of Kirk Varnedoe, Gopnik's close friend and a noted art historian, as he delivers his final lectures and coaches, painstakingly and lovingly, Luke and his eight-year-old teammates on the Giant Metrozoids football team.
Like all accomplished essayists, Adam Gopnik excels in moving seamlessly from the particular to the universal and back again. New York is too multifaceted a place to be captured in any single work, but THROUGH THE CHILDREN'S GATE is a generous and warmhearted place to start.
--- Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg
I expected a book of stories about life in New York. While I got this in some ways I got it in such a way as to be at times rendered speechless. This book contains laugh out loud elements (stories of his children) and parts which brought me to tears (the ending of the Giant Metrozoids). It has also inspired me to do a whole lot more reading, all the books which Gopnik refers to are now on my reading list.
I am not a New Yorker, but, after a week there in 2006 now miss this city so desperately from my home in Australia, that I am amazed. Gopnik captured my feelings in this book. The moments of clarity that I had to share with the people I was travelling with, and will become pearls of wisdom for staff meetings when I am required to talk.
Would I recommend this book? Of this I am unsure. It is a highly observationalist book, looking at the society in which the author lives and grasping for the truth that is found within. It is also in the nature of critical literacy, so some deep thinking is required on the part of the reader. I usually read a book every day or two when travelling (particularly when in a country where English is not found readily) my addiction is to the pages, not the 'screens or cards'. But this book took me nearly two weeks, and I feel a need now to re-read it. To high light and mark the pearls I have discovered in the manner of a university text so that I can give these the true depth of consideration they deserve.
All in all though, this was a book I can see myself reading again and again one which spoke to my soul so truly that I can hear the sirens of NYC echoing down the streets, smell the hotdog venders and feel the wind in my face. This book will tide me over until I get to go back again.
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