A New York Memoir

Richard Goodman, known to you all as a long-time FB&C contributor, has published his third book, A New York Memoir, which hits stores this week. The story begins in 1975, when Goodman arrived in New York City, where he lives today. It follows the author as he meets remarkable people and grapples with the city's ups and downs. Susan Vreeland, author of Girl in Hyacinth Blue, said of the book, "So much more than an engaging memoir of New York, this is a heart laid bare. One can learn much from this man who feels tender toward cobblestones and old women, nostalgic about a daughter's childhood, frightened at the prospect of dying alone—a rare individual who, with honesty, sensuousness, and keen observation, turns yearning and remembrance into art."

Taking this opportunity to chat with Richard about something aside from rare books and deadlines, I asked him about creating this memoir and about his life in New York City.
RRB: What made you decide to write a memoir about life in New York City? Had the idea been brewing for a long time, or was there a moment of 'epiphany' about writing this particular book?

RG: Well, what you need to know is that the book consists of fourteen essays--or as I prefer to call them, true stories. They were written over a period of twenty years, though most of them have been written in the last five or six, I would say. The epiphany came when I was going through the essays and saw that so many of them had a New York theme, either directly or indirectly. That would make sense, since I've lived here for so long and since the city has meant so much to me. The truth is, while I know New York is the backdrop for many novels and always will be, I'm not sure many books have captured the pure motivational energy it supplies, what E.B. White referred to as "the city's tremendous variety and sources of excitement for spiritual sustenance" that make New York a place where "the chances are endless." I wanted to try to describe that from one young writer's point of view--and then how it is to grow older here.

RRB: How is it like (or different from) your previous book, French Dirt, which is itself a memoir about a particular place?

RG: French Dirt is a story with, hopefully, a continuous narrative arc that takes place over a single year in a small, remote village in the South of France. It is, though, influenced by New York in the sense that I wanted to get away from the metropolis; the city will frustrate you from time to time so that you want to throw up your hands and just leave. And after France, I went back to New York. But French Dirt is about sun, air, dirt, work, sky, water, sweat and a place outside of time. A New York Memoir is about a place of stone and steel and immense buildings that never stops changing and that sees itself as mightier than nature, stronger than just about anything--although events ten years ago proved that the city is indeed vulnerable.

RRB: You're not a 'native New Yorker'--why did you adopt NYC as your home?

RG: Born in Ohio, raised in Virginia. I came here because it was time to come here. I had been circling the city for some years, but had been too timorous to actually come here to live. I had been here before 1975. I had spent a summer as an art student in New York in 1964, but then I'd gone back to Ann Arbor where I was a student. Finally, though, I mustered the courage to get on a bus and come here with a few suitcases, knocking knees, and a lot of hope.

RRB: What's your favorite 'bookish' place(s) in New York City?

RG: So many wonderful bookstores have closed since I came here thirty years ago! I used to keep a "closed bookstore" journal and got up to about fifteen before I stopped, because it was so sad. I guess it would be a few--The Strand Bookstore on lower Broadway, the main reading room of the New York Public Library, and the lovely independent bookstore, McNally Jackson, in Soho.