Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Two tales of a city

I recently read two very different takes on dear Brooklyn. The first, Sima's Undergarments for Women, is the story of Sima, a middle-aged woman who runs a bra shop. A young woman, Timna, comes to work for her and she grows to treat Timna like a daughter, while also coming to terms with her own childlessness and the complications of her marriage. Normally this is not the sort of book that I would read, but the fact that it's set in Orthodox Jewish Borough Park (not too far from my own neighborhood) sparked my interest. Sima is not Orthodox but many of her customers and much of her neighborhood are, and it was enlightening to read about an intimately involved outsider. Walking through Borough Park myself, I find it almost a foreign country, full of its own architecture, clothing stores, and candy shops. It fascinates me how it exists so close to my own much more New-York-integrated world, but is largely self-contained. Indeed, in the novel Sima hardly ever ventures outside the neighborhood; her few visits to (my other home) Union Square are disorienting to her; it was interesting to read that perspective as well.

In a completely different tone, style, and Brooklyn is Julia Wertz's Drinking at the Movies. I'd heard about Wertz's comics before; I initially wasn't sure whether they'd be too sex-drugs-and-rock-and-roll for me but I found myself loving her descriptions of life in the city (again from the perspective of an outsider--Wertz moved here from San Francisco several years ago). I highly recommend you check out her website, Fart Party, so you too can laugh out loud as she describes her crappy bike messenger jobs, awkward encounters with bums (will they ever stop calling her "kid"?), and explorations of the city (watch out for that Upper East Side).

I suppose my own Brooklyn existence falls somewhere between these two poles. I'm not quite a boozy Californian turned edgy Greenpointer (I won't say hipster, since Wertz avoids a lot of hipstery things on purpose), but I'm not a middle-aged lady who doesn't leave her own neighborhood much, either. Wertz's panels about exploring the city to find its strangest parts really resonate with me; on the other hand, I understand what it's like to have lived in the same city my whole life, the comfort and claustrophobia that entails. Not too much claustrophobia, though--these two books remind me just how many different stories exist all around me, only a G train ride away.

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