'Never Can Say Goodbye' editor Sari Botton on surviving life in New York

By Sharon Krum  | January 8, 2015 - 8:59AM

It’s a new year,  which means there's some heavy duty resolution making happening right now.   Start a new diet? Quit your job? And maybe the toughest decision of all,  is this the year you commit to staying in New York ... or leave?

Writer Sari Botton understands the dilemma better than most. A 15-year New Yorker who moved upstate a decade ago, she is the editor of “Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York”, and the follow-up “Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakeable Love for New York," two essay collections that tackle the wonders and frustrations of life in the city. (As she writes in “Never Can Say Goodbye,” the book was partly compiled to clear up any confusion that she doesn’t love New York.)

Here, she explains why her first book hit a nerve, the best place to eat in Chinatown, and what writers need to know before coming here:

What is the draw of  New York,  for both writers and others?

I grew up in the suburbs outside New York City, and I kept meeting people who said they couldn’t wait to get there. It was  Everest for so many people. There is a romanticism to it thanks to images from Hollywood and television and books, and the city has  many centers of industry and culture. It’s where you go to work in music, publishing, even the film business.

You write that your first anthology, about loving and leaving the city, ruffled a few feathers because readers took it as anti-NYC.

Most of the essays are love letters to New York, yet it did hit a nerve. People were sensitive about it because they have a lot of inner conflict if they can stay. How can I leave, never mind I can’t pay rent, I work too hard?

In working on the books, did you see a pattern as to why people  leave? Is the biggest hurdle real estate?

I think a critical mass occurs.  In many cases, there is a real estate problem. It’s getting prohibitive rent-wise. [Since 2000, median rents have risen 75 percent, Botton writes, citing the New York City comptroller’s office.] In my case, we were losing this amazing East Village loft, and if  we wanted to stay in the city,  we would have to move far out.  There’s an aspect to life here that’s  amazing, you’re  encountering new things and culture, but sometimes if you are not ascendant at a certain point, you might not be able to afford New York. ... I think it’s real estate, making a living, the combination. 

Advice to creatives  arriving in the city in 2015 to start their next chapter?

My advice is go back a step before they get here. Get a skill, something marketable. If I could do it again, I would get a certificate or degree  in something outside of publishing,  and then write.

Editor Sari Botton's first collection of essays featured essays from writers who'd left New York City

You now live in Kingston, N.Y. Favorite things to do when you visit the city?

Walking around by myself with no destination. I have been doing this since I was 14 and like nothing better. I also love to go to restaurants  that I fear will disappear. The Vietnamese restaurant Nha Trang,  in Chinatown, is  so good, inexpensive, and  authentic. The Corner Bistro in the West Village is a great place for a burger and beer.

Thoughts on Brooklyn becoming the center of the universe?

I remember in  1992 a cousin  came to visit, and we were invited to a dinner party in Park Slope. My uncle called and said, "Please don’t go to Brooklyn!" Now Brooklyn very rapidly became the place to be, and it’s great, with more restaurants and places to check out. But I worry about creatives who could [once] afford to live in their apartments and are getting pushed out.

New York City seems to be morphing into the land of glass towers. Good or bad?

I have mixed  feelings about the new construction. Initially I was horrified, but I think like every trend, the more you see, the more  your eyes get attuned. I think some  of the buildings are  really beautiful, but  I don’t think it’s necessarily  good for a city when  only banks, Chipotle, Starbucks and Walgreens  can afford commercial rents.


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