Paperback: Kill All Your Darlings, by Luc Sante

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The Independent Culture

This collection of articles and essays, many of them first published in the New York Review of Books and The Village Voice, will probably be the first opportunity most British readers have had to read Sante's work. It's curious that he isn't better known on this side of the Atlantic: his writing doesn't sit squarely with all those fusty bores of American letters, from Mailer to Wolf. There's a distinctly soft, playful quality to his prose that doesn't lend itself to boxing or politicking. Even when he's writing about smoking, as in "Our Friend the Cigarette", Sante tends towards colour rather than macho greys: "In a calmer or more tender moment you are better off letting the smoke out through your mouth in little puffs like clouds for cherubim to ride upon."

Sante is best known in the States for his work on urban history and it's plain to see he has an uncanny feeling for New York. In "My Lost City" he begins with how, when he was first thinking of writing a book about New York, he came upon Rem Koolhaas's Delirious New York. In those pages, "New York City was manifestly the location of the utopian and dystopian fantasies of the silent film era... The New York I lived in, on the other hand, was rapidly regressing. It was a ruin in the making."

This was at the end of the 1970s, when some neighbourhoods were so desolate that landlords would offer a month's free rent to anyone who would sign a lease, and they'd put dead tenants' possessions out on the sidewalk because it was cheaper than hiring a removal truck. Sante would look through these items, but in their arrogance, he and his friends were barely conscious of the deeper past all around them: "why the name carved above the door of the public library on Capital Second Avenue was in German, or why busts of 19th-century composers could be seen on the second story lintel on Fourth Street". It was the desire to explore these things that later provoked him to write.

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