Forever in New York City

Forever: A NovelWhile on vacation I read
Forever: A Novel
by Pete Hamill. It was
The Count of Monte Cristo
meets
Interview with the Vampire
, which sounds cheesier than it was. It was perfect beach reading, and I enjoyed a great deal of it. It got me so much more curious about the City's history and made me more determined than ever to dig into
Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898
.

Perhaps the most interesting bit for me was actually after the book. My edition contained an interview with the author in which he talked about completing the book on September 10, 2001. And then of course, needing to go back and re-write a good chunk of the end. After all, his protagonist had supposedly experienced all of Manhattan's major events from about 1740 on. I imagine the process must have been difficult for Mr. Hamil. The "present day" world where his novel ended no longer existed, and ceased to exist the morning after he put down his pen.

So many many megs

"Six Hundred and Fourty Nine Megs" of Jay-Z is available for your remixing and sampling pleasure in the Jay-Z Construction Set, so now you too can raise the ire of the major labels.

The Jay-Z Construction Set is a toolkit with all of the necessary software and raw materials to create a new remix of Jay-Z's Black Album. It includes nine different variations on the Black Album, over 1200 clip art images, and a couple hundred meg of classic samples and breaks.

Take an old famous blues singer, say Bessie Smith, and make a "Black & Blue album" or mix AC/DC's "Back in Black" to make a "Double-Black" album. Or you know, come up with something else. The content is all there!

The last Sex scenes

This morning I saw signs advising that HBO's Sex and the City will be filmed tomorrow around West 4th and West 11th streets in the West Village. According to this NY Post article, "The very last scenes for 'Sex' will be shot tomorrow." So there you have it: the last scenes ever for Sex and the City will be filmed tomorrow in the West Village. If you're interested in those kind of things.

Virtual Book Tour continues

The Virtual Book Tour stopped at Christine Selleck's Big Pink Cookie yesterday and Christine interviewed author Ethan Watters. Today the Tour returns to New York City with a stop in Brooklyn at Josh Greenberg's Epistemographer. Josh has a review of the book and then a personal reflection on what he got out of the book and his current tribeless state. I encourage you to check out the other sites participating in the VBT so that you can experience some other points of view; both of these folks enjoyed the book more than I did and have some good insights. Then, get your passports ready, tomorrow the VBT heads north to Canada for a stop at James McNally's Consolation Champs.

Virtual Book Tour: Urban Tribes

Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and CommitmentWhen Kevin Smokler asked me to participate in the Virtual Book Tour for Ethan Watters' new book, Urban Tribes: A Generation Redefines Friendship, Family, and Commitment, I said yes. Always one to judge a book by its cover (or title), Urban Tribes sounded intriguing, especially when I read the blurb on the back:

The current generation of young Americans is waiting longer than ever to get married. Urban Tribes tells you why. And by the way, it's good news.

As a thirty-something unmarried American, I was looking forward to hearing the good news! But as I read, I found myself questioning the author's assertions rather than agreeing. Watters' thesis is that young Americans are spending the increasingly longer time between college and marriage in tight knit groups of friends he calls urban tribes. These tribes act as surrogate families and give one the space and encouragement to find oneself, encouraging all sorts of things, from the home brewing of beer to the undertaking of massive art projects. In theory, it sounded great, and seemed to "prove" that many folks aren't the slackers they're assumed to be.

Alas, the people I read about didn't sound like many people I knew. Frankly, many of them sounded annoying, and I found myself wanting to say things like, "Oh grow up!" and "Don't listen to everything your friends tell you!" It all sounded, well, so high-schoolish. And the word that kept coming to mind for me was not tribe but clique. For example, in Chapter 8, "Love Versus The Tribe," Watters quotes messages he received from people who wrote to describe their tribes:

"This tribe has made me realize that I can be happy living my life my way," wrote Kari, twenty-six, from Pittsburgh. "My tribe will not let me waste time on a loser." In very similar language, Rebecca, also twenty-six, from Dallas wrote, "The group has helped my romantic life because it has strengthened my self-esteem. I will not settle for anything less than true love and passion with complete respect. If it hadn't been for the tribe I may have married the wrong person for the wrong reasons." (p 184)

Certainly there's something to be said for having friends who help you grow up and figure out who you are. And I agree with Watters' premise that for our generation this happens during our twenties, and with lots of help from our friends. But reading the above passage made me wonder if tribe members are forsaking their individual identities for that of the tribe's, and if that weren't perhaps detrimental to the process of finding one's self. In Watters' tribe world, one's tribe is one's family until romance strikes, at which point (like Watters himself) you move from your tribe into marriage. Writing about his own transition, Watters says,

I was in the process of changing my definition of "us" from meaning "the group" to meaning "Rebecca and Me." (p 202)

This transition is understandable and necessary, but there seemed to be little examination of the "I" without the context of the group, which I found disappointing. At many points in Urban Tribes, Watters appears tantalizingly close to examining some really interesting concepts, e.g. how do young Americans balance their needs as individuals within the dynamic of their larger group, or groups? What about people who don't follow his nice clean pattern of tribe to marriage?

Nearly everyone I know is coupled up, many live with partners, but very few are married. This doesn't fit with Watters thesis that we're creating tribes (in fact I couldn't find a single person who considered him or herself part of a tribe), but certainly is evidence that our generation is playing by different rules. What effect is that having on us? I know many women, myself included, who are finding the nebulous world of living-together-but-not-married difficult and confusing. The fuzzy roles and expectations are stressful, but there was no examination of this, by my reckoning, rampant phenomenon.

Watters also talks of our waiting to marry as part of our search for our "soul mates" but doesn't examine the inherent risks associated with, or even feasibility of, such perfectionism. After all, the tribe demonstrates that one's social needs can be met by a variety of different people. Why must those needs all be met by one person once one marries?

It's not fair to blame Watters for not writing the book I wanted — and expected — to read, but I can't help but be disappointed with the book he's written. Certainly there are interesting things going on with our generation, but I'm not convinced Urban Tribes has fully uncovered what they are.

For some futher thoughts, Peter Merholz wrote a review back in September. I totally relate to his frustration with that lack of actual data Watters uses to support his assertions, but since Peter already covered it, I won't write about it here again.

Guggenheim collection online

If you can't make it to the Guggenheim Museum in New York City but you're still yearning to check out some nice art, the Guggenheim collection online is just the thing for you.

Currently representing 169 artists, the collection online encompasses both the classic and the new — from the Guggenheim's earliest work, an 1867 landscape by Camille Pissarro, through more recent acquisitions, a 1998-99 sculpture by Robert Gober — striking a balance that reflects the dynamic tenor of the institution as a whole.

It's just the thing to explore on a rainy day like today.