In “Lady Oracle”, by Margaret Atwood, there is a point where the protagonist says, “I began to feel that England was a message written in code, and I would have to read a lot of books to understand it.” After a few trips here, I realized, that quote applies to New York City. I believe that, to understand this city, a resident not only has to know what drives the city forward, but has to know what shaped it in the past.
Fortunately, for me, I’ve already read most of those books necessary to understand New York City. Not on the city itself, of course, because it wasn’t a history that interested me until I started coming here, on my own, last year. The books that help me decode New York are the ones I read while trying to understand Los Angeles, or the history I absorbed on visits to Philadelphia. By learning about L.A.’s history, I learned about why LA seemed so illogical at times, a mishmash of cities, layers and perspectives on top of each other.
And of course, all those episodes of <i>Sex and the City</i> that I watched as a twenty-five year old in Vancouver have contributed immensely to my understanding of the city. It may not be an accurate contribution, but it has made New York see more familiar than not when I got here.