When I started visiting all 78 locations on the literary map last October for READING THE CITY, I was taunted by the northernmost spot. At the time I only visited locations I could reach on foot during masked walks. I had no idea how long it would be until I would be in a car or train again to reach the tip of the city. …

First I will tell you what the map says about this location, and then I will tell you about the way it made me feel, all rose gold and silver armor. Welcome to Reading the City.

51. S.J. Perelman was a popular humorist like Dalí was a landscape painter. His style is steeped in irony, awash in vividly surreal language, and railing with fury at the indignities of life. You can thank him for the Marx Brothers, too. …

John Cheever moved his young family into an apartment at 400 East 59th Street. His daughter Susan reports that each morning he would put on his one good blue suit and ride the elevator to the basement where there was a small storage cubicle he used as a work space. He would then strip to his shorts and begin the day’s writing.

Welcome to Reading the City, written and illustrated by Rita J. King.

On the way to John Cheever’s old building, I thought about how much this pandemic has taken from us. My sorrow was small compared to what…

The Tower, Rivers and the Soul

Langston Hughes was a leading exponent of the Harlem Renaissance. His first published poem was The Negro Speaks of Rivers in the June 1921 edition of The Crisis Magazine edited by W.E.B. DuBois at offices in 70 Fifth Avenue. Hughes lived at 20 East 127th Street from 1948 until his death in 1967.

Welcome to Reading the City.

Langston Hughes by Rita J. King

Langston Hughes was 17 years old — 17! — when he wrote:

4. John Franklin Bardin was a nearly forgotten master of intense and imaginative psychological crime fiction. His masterpiece, The Deadly Percheron, published in 1946, features very large horses, ersatz leprechauns, and a harrowing visit to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital at First Avenue and 30th St.

Welcome to Reading the City .

Even reading the words “harrowing visit to Bellevue Psychiatric Hospital,” conjures the memory of childhood fears; my mind no longer my own, trapped in a straitjacket, leather straps holding me down in a padded room, forgotten or pitied by my friends and family, being wheeled out for electric shock therapy…

Kay Thompson lived in The Plaza Hotel, Fifth Avenue at 59th St. also the home of Eloise, whose exploits Thompson chronicled in a series of books that filled generations of precocious six-year-olds with the desire to grow up quickly and become New Yorkers. A painting of Eloise by her illustrator Hilary Knight (his second; the original was pinched) hangs opposite the hotel’s Palm Court.

Welcome to Reading the City.

An interpretation of Hilary Knight’s original drawing by Rita J. King

What I remember about ELOISE, the character, is that she lived in The Plaza. Either the adults around her had to drink and smoke a lot to deal with all her…

Patricia Highsmith worked temporarily at Bloomingdale’s, 770 Lexington Avenue, during the Christmas rush in 1948. Her crush on an attractive patrician woman customer inspired Highsmith to write The Price of Salt, her one and only pulp romance novel. Its suggestion of a happy ending for a lesbian love affair was an unprecedented scandal for the time.

Welcome to Reading the City.

Highsmith’s provocative book was adapted into the film Carol starring Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara. This single frame from Carol is a microcosm of the entire story. In fur and leather, Carol is animalistic. The bag in her manicured…

6. Brendan Behan wrote this dedication to his Brendan Behan’s New York while living at the Chelsea Hotel, 222 West 23rd St. “To America, my new-found land: the man that hates you hates the human race.”

Welcome to Reading the City.

The Chelsea Hotel 2020 by Rita J. King

Water poured from the scaffolding around The Chelsea Hotel like the tears of Parthenope forming the Bay of Naples.

Leonard Cohen’s famous song, written about his affair with Janis Joplin, floated in my mind. A thousand years ago I lived at this hotel in New York City and…just let his voice transport you. I spent hours at the Chelsea…

Rex Stout installed his “seventh of a ton” behemoth of a detective, Nero Wolfe, in a luxurious brownstone on West 35th St. Although the precise location fluctuates from book to book, there is a plaque at 454 honoring Wolfe and his faithful operative Archie Goodwin.

Welcome to Reading the City.

The walk through Hell’s Kitchen to this location wasn’t particularly beautiful aside from the wig shops. My grandfather owned a beauty parlor in Long Island City when I was growing up, and I loved the wigs he kept on mannequin heads so his clients could try a cut and color…

69. Kurt Vonnegut lived at 226 East 48th St. near Second Avenue for 40 years. He frequented nearby Dag Hammarskjöld Park where he liked to walk his dog, Flour.

Welcome to Reading the City.

Wandering to each location is making me realize I have no real idea what’s in my own city. This adventure reminds me of Jorge Luis Borges’ one paragraph long short story, “On Exactitude in Science.” The 1946 story imagines an empire in which the science of cartography becomes so precise that the maps match the territory exactly. It’s not possible, of course. I feel this when…

Rita J. King

Co-director, Science House. Futurist, @SciEntEx. Writer. Founder Treasure of the Sirens.

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