When I was a girl, I walked the streets of New York City with Harriet the Spy. And I revisited it regularly via Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.

From a young age, this was a city I recognized on the page, a place that felt real, a home for misfit girls who wrote stories. So, discovering it was the final page in my calendar wasn’t an opportunity to explore someplace new.

Here, on BIP, I’ve written about it many times: among others, about Jeffrey Deaver’s NYC mysteries, Dawn Powell’s writing career, Kate Walbert’s widows, the wonders of Mark Helprin’s Winter’s Tale, Jane Jacob’s activism, Gloria Naylor’s Brewster Place, and, most recently, the compelling dystopian vision in Adam Wilson’s Sensation Machines.

Earlier this year, I read Lee Conell’s The Party Upstairs (2020), about a young woman whose father works as a building superintendent, which means their family inhabits the basement (an uncommon perspective in NYC fiction). And I recently finished Walter Mosley’s new collection of stories, The Awkward Black Man (which I’ll be talking about in the upcoming Winter Quarterly Short Stories).

As soon as I saw this December image, I was reminded of a back-burner reading project: Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace’s gargantuan Gotham, which the NYT Book Review’s writing about the sequel inspired me to buy. This might not be the book with the highest page count on my shelves but, if you consider that each page contains twice as many words as any other book’s single page, it should be. It’s the book that I immediately wanted to read for December’s Here and Elsewhere, but let’s be real, I still have an unpacked bag in my hotel room in Shanghai (with two doorstoppers still underway from that month’s “destination”).

What I did start to read straight away in December was one of John Freeman’s collections, Tales of Two Cities: The Best and Worst of Times in Today’s New York. Partly because I’ve been eyeing his collections for years. Partly because of the political polarization on my mind recently, in the wake of the American election and related divides in Canada. Freeman’s collection is part fiction and part non-fiction; it begins with a compelling story about his living in a comfortable and remarkable building that his mentally ill brother walked past daily while living homeless: I was hooked.

In “Due North”, Garnette Cadogan takes readers to the Hunts Point Market (a distribution centre which employs thousands): a “fork-shaped collection of frigid warehouses and loading bays alongside the Bronx River”. “In Hunts Point, I witnessed deprivation due to an absence of resources; in the Upper East Side, I witnessed deprivation of a different, but related sort: the absence of enriching interactions.”

In “Options”, Dinaw Mengestu writes about his son’s non-verbal Autism diagnosis and their family’s quest for treatment in NYC, the “impossible-to-find-except-in-New-York list of autism services”, including P.S. 222, one of three schools in a building in Flushing, Queens.

There’s a story by Zadie Smith “Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets” in which Miss Adele has a sunny rent-controlled apartment on Tenth Avenue and Twenty-Third, where she’s lived since 1993.

And, in a delightful snake-and-tail flourish, a character in Maria Venegas’ piece “The Children Suicides” reads a Zadie Smith short story—but Layla rewrites it, featuring her father, a Mexican immigrant, who sells coffee and bagels outside the World Trade Centre, where his cart is situated on the day the planes hit the towers.

Dave Eggers introduces fifteen-year-old writer, Chaasadahyah Jackson, “an ordinary Brooklyn girl who lives in Park Slope and goes to school in the city”, who contributes “Park Slope Livin’”.

In Bill Cheng’s “Engine”, a guy just a few years older—in his twenties—“gets hired on as a researcher at a charitable organization in Midtown Manhattan” where he earns $12/hour for fifteen hours work each week, in a “small cubicle by the fire exit, an out-of-the-way place that’s easy to forget”, writing profiles of people who might donate (e.g. doctors, lawyers, industrialists)—a curious job for a writer.

Valeria Luiselli writes in “Zapata Boulevard” about how “this area was once farmland and that Broadway was an Indian trail that connected these hills and valleys to Manhattan’s southern top”, how difficult it was to intuit “the soundscapes and landscapes of the island’s former days”. She writes about a massacre on the eastern bank of the Hudson, a raid on the Weckquaesgeeks Indians, and about how the area now occupied by Columbia University’s Morningside campus was a lunatic asylum until the late 1880s. She observes the way that trees grow out of P.S. 186 “an H-shaped Second Renaissance building from the early 1900s that has been abandoned for almost half a century” which her daughter calls a “school for trees”.

I also watched a couple of films: a 2009-indie set in Brooklyn “Love Simple” and last year’s “A Rainy Day in New York”. And, along the way, while listening to Amy Schumer’s 2016 memoir The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo discovered her bit on New York apartments.

There are loads of great NYC reads and in another reading year, I’d’ve probably made different choices (relying more heavily on the library, for instance). I know others here have favourites (Susan, I know you’ve already added to my NYC reading list, in particular!): what’s your favourite, today, in this moment?

Previous travel destinations this year, inspired by my desk calendar, have included  CopenhagenLondonHavanaKyotoParisSan FranciscoMarrakechMexico City, Rome, Shanghai and Amsterdam. Next year’s iteration of Here and Elsewhere will look a little different: I’m excited!