Best book club (2008)

Lynne Harlow and Alex Herzan

Out in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn last month were nearly a dozen members of a Manhattan book club fixated on the city. All they read is books about New York and, when they meet to talk about a book, they like to find a way to directly connect with the story line. So when they finished The Strike That Changed New York—an account of the 1968 strike that pitted black Ocean Hill–Brownsville against a white teachers union—they hopped in a van and drove to Rockaway and Pitkin avenues, the crossroads of a community Mayor Lindsay branded "the death knell of our civilization." Since the book echoed the union's view of events, the book club arranged to be joined by community leaders, who offered a very different version of the combat, which fundamentally altered the city school system. Founded by Lynne Harlow and Alex Herzan, the book group includes an artist, a social worker, a banker, an interior designer, a playwright, a development officer, a lawyer, and the chief of staff for Columbia's president. Harlow came up with the idea of only reading about New York when she finally tired of French novels. When the group read Fred Siegel's Prince of the City, a salute to Rudy Giuliani, they met at Giuliani's favorite Italian restaurant. When they read James Traub's history of Times Square, the author joined them at Sardi's. A book about the building of Rockefeller Center, Great Fortune, brought them together at the Rainbow Room. Butterfield 8 put them at Chumley's, the Village speakeasy. They were surprised to learn that the Brownsville branch of the public library produced the only librarian ever elected to either the New York State Legislature or the U.S. Congress, Major Owens, suggesting the power of books in Brownsville.


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