Book Review: Heart of the City

I finished reading Heart of the City: Nine Stories of Love and Serendipity on the Streets of New York the other night, and when I closed the book I enjoyed it so much that I was left longing for story number ten.

This may be by far the best book I’ve read in years. Even the Hunger Games, which I couldn’t put down, does not trump how much I enjoyed this book.

It’s not just the subject matter or the stories themselves that endear me to Heart of the City. It’s part how the stories are told. Author Ariel Sabar does an excellent job telling stories (more on that in a minute), and I love the themes about serendipity and the essentialness of being at the right place at the right time. Not only must we be at the right place at the right time but we must be in the right frame of mind or state in life for the things that happen to happen, if that makes sense. All of these points — right place, right time, right attitude, right status, right frame of mind, etc. — are extremely relevant in the nine stories in the book, but they are also extremely, crucially relevant in our lives everyday.

I’ve commented before in my own life that if I had experienced a certain event or met a certain person at any other time in my life, it wouldn’t have meant the same thing, or it wouldn’t have resulted in the same experience.

Have you ever met someone for a second time and the second time around the relationship “sticks”? Or maybe when you met them the first time it wasn’t even memorable. I think of my college roommate who met her now husband when we were in college. They were friends and hung out when groups of friends got together, but it wasn’t until a second, chance meeting years after college that everything lined up the way it should for them to date and later marry and have three kids.

I am fascinated by this book, which I discovered in a rather serendipitous way, it turns out. I was looking for a certain book on the library shelves and couldn’t find it. But this one was in the same section and sounded similar and even more intriguing than the one I was looking for.

One of the reasons I find it so fascinating is because it’s sound. Sabar’s introduction details all the research he conducted into the stories themselves — visiting the places where the couples met, looking up library and newspaper records to verify dates and times and sometimes train schedules — to create the most authentic stories possible. He interviewed couples individually, together, on the phone and in person and often on site at the place where the couples had met. I admire his dedication and to what great length he went to create a rooted volume.

The stories themselves are charming. There are people who met and didn’t initially like each other but then couldn’t get one another out of their minds. The people in these stories possess very “real” qualities, and Sabar does an excellent job and describing them. Their character traits come across better than any fiction novel I’ve ever read. The characters are sometimes fearless yet afraid, skeptic but compelled, intrigued but cautious — all very “real” to me. No one is ever 100 percent fearless or 100 percent skeptic. That may be the trait that is most expressed at any given moment, but even those who seem fearless reserve a little bit of trepidation for themselves. Those who are skeptical have even the tiniest amount of belief that they keep private, and so on.

I found this book to be amazing! I had an idea years ago for a similar book concept that I hope to continue to pursue. While I read Heart of the City purely for enjoyment, it ended up being great research for the book I’d like to write. I’d like my book to also include research like this and to go the extra effort of not just regurgitating details told in interviews, but really taking the opportunity to learn and feel the stories. I feel like Sabar really “got” the stories of the people. He was not a bystander but immersed himself into the story, which made a huge difference in how the story was told.


2 thoughts on “Book Review: Heart of the City

  1. I love serendipity. I started to write a piece around the idea of ‘Dare to live the life you dream’ in my notebook about a week ago and then went to my local english bookshop here in Aix en Provence (I live in France) as I was giving a conversation lesson with a student (the bookshop is like a cafe). While I was waiting I saw the title of a slim volume on a shelf for second hand books which read ‘Making Connections’. Intrigued, I pulled it out and the subtitle read ‘Live the life you really want’. It was a signed copy (the author Elke Babicki) and so I bought it.

    The next day I took it with me to the sea and as we walked to the big flat rock where my friend and I make an annual pilgrimage, a day without the kids, to bask like seals and plunge off the rocks into the sea, we paused to admire the sparkling, glittering lights dancing over the water, it was a magnificent sight.

    Later, I picked up the book at the page I was at and read about a scientist who had conducted experiments into how our thoughts can change the cellular composition of water and that positivve thoughts can create sparkles while negative thoughts turn water dark and unhealthy. It was too cold for my friend, but I had to just plunge into that sparkling sea, the product of so much goodwill!

    The book reminded me of the joy of being open to and making connections and since then I have been having serendipitious connections in abundance.

    Thanks for the review, looks like I’ll be searching this book out next.

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