Welcome to the latest installment of Brooklyn Historical Society STAFF PICKS, a fun way to explore our awesome gift shop! The BHS Gift Shop features many items crafted right here in Brooklyn, as well as an array of fascinating books on the history and culture of New York City and our favorite borough. Once a month we feature a staff member and their favorite book from our gift shop because, let’s face it, who better than our Brooklyn-lovin’ staff to give great gift ideas?
This month we chat with Lindsay Palmer Vint, BHS’s Visitor Services and Retail Manager, whose favorite book in the BHS Gift Shop is A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick by Meryl Meisler. Lindsay recommends this book to anyone who is interested in the history and culture of Brooklyn.
Even more so than today, New York City in the late 1970s and early 80s was a place of extremes. While partiers danced the night away at Studio 54 and other disco-era clubs, an entire neighborhood crumbled under the strains of poverty, arson, and civic neglect. A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick captures this drastic division in stunning detail. Photographer Meryl Meisler had inside access to both worlds: after rubbing elbows with (and snapping pictures of) some of the most high-profile revelers of the era, she shifted her focus to a teaching position in the devastated neighborhood of Bushwick, taking her camera and her passion for photography with her.
This captivating book juxtaposes Meisler’s photos of these two strikingly different worlds, images that captured a New York of the past in all its grit and bacchanalian glory. The images are accompanied by writings from authors who experienced the devastation of Bushwick first hand, along with Bushwick historians and educators, disco divas, and more. Their writings provide a glimpse into life beyond the moments captured in Meisler’s photos and remind us that although times have changed in NYC, some of the same issues remain today.
Lindsay Palmer Vint/ Visitor Services and Retail Manager/ Lefferts Gardens/ Train Reader
“If you live in or are from Bushwick, this is a must have coffee table book! It is a great record of another era and an important piece of Brooklyn’s history. The photos tell a thousand tales.” – Lindsay
What is the last book you read? Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. I think this book is more about what it feels like to be trapped in the modern mind as it wrestles with obsession, addiction and recovery, pleasure, pain, family relationships and cultural inheritance. It also makes fun of the commercialization of every aspect of modern life, and in tone it is both wildly funny and terribly depressing.
Any favorite hobbies? Making art, design, photography, walking my dog in Prospect Park, yoga, thinking, and reading.
Why A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick? I used to live in Bushwick and I walked these same streets thousands of times with my dog. Although I encountered Bushwick over thirty years later, I still experienced the incredible culture of the neighborhood: families and friends gathered on stoops at night, great food, street life, graffiti, “railroad” style housing, and many of the same store fronts and empty lots still exist today. The neighborhood hit hard times in the 1970’s, but Bushwick is in the throes of gentrification now and things are changing quickly. Rents skyrocketed and so my husband and I, like many residents, had to move. It is hard to imagine that the same neighborhood could become so attractive to outsiders, and it is interesting to remember that in the 1970’s people and industry were rapidly retreating from Bushwick. But beyond shedding light on the history of this great Brooklyn neighborhood, this book documents the people and landscape of Bushwick in the 1970’s, a time of great change. I enjoyed comparing the photos to my own experience in the neighborhood.
Pick up your copy of A Tale of Two Cities: Disco Era Bushwick ($40+tax) at the Brooklyn Historical Society Gift Shop. We’re open Monday through Sunday from 12pm to 5pm!