In the City by Colette Brooks


89844What kind of person is a city person?

This is a question of increasing importance, Colette Brooks suggests, as the city begins to spread, inexorably, into the furthest reaches of the modern mind. One possibility: a city person is someone “who doesn’t feel the need to finish a jigsaw puzzle, who relishes jagged edges and orphaned curves, stray bits of data, stories parsed from sentences half overheard on the streets.”

Someone who is willing, sometimes eager, to immerse herself in mystery.

Winner of the PEN/Jerard Fund Award, In the City is an idiosyncratic, lyrical, edgy exploration of the urban experience. This daring, unpredictable work breathes new life into the nonfiction form. Chronicling the often haphazard lives of city dwellers and cities themselves, In the City is a window into the urban psyche.


How does someone become a city person? Here’s one way Brooks thinks it may start:

A young girl dreams about a place she’s only heard of in books, in movies, on TV. It’s much bigger than the town in which she’s grown up. People in that distant place are busy, happy, never bored… maybe, the girl thinks, there’s room for one more.

She takes the heavy encyclopedia off the shelf and looks the city up, traces its streets, its neighborhoods, its odd unpronounceable names. She wonders, ever so hesitantly, what it might be like to live there. And so the mysterious process has begun: the city is reeling her in.

I put such a long quote at the start because this is me. It might be because I grew up in the middle of nowhere but I fell in love with the city. The city closest to me, the cities I saw on tv. I took notes and learned the names of buildings and reveled every time I got to walk on city streets. I fell so hard in college I majored in urban planning.

So put me down as a hardcore city person. But if you’ve ever delighted in a metropolis, in any small way, you’ll enjoy this book. Described as creative nonfiction it dips into the wells of memoir, delightful facts, and poetic musings. History creeps in but names are left out, making the whole thing feel timeless. It also makes you think – did that really happen? I recognized the guy in the last story, but is this true, too?

Some claim now that our ancient apprehensions are outmoded, that cities today extend horizontally rather than upward, that height itself is nothing to be feared any longer.

But I’ve been to those horizontal cities, and I wonder: isn’t zooming along a freeway simply falling sideways?

It’s sad this book isn’t better known because I enjoyed it immensely. An enthusiastic recommend to city people everywhere.