In his second collection of personal essays, Soter (Overheard on a Bus, 2014, etc.) explores topics ranging from Alzheimer’s to improvisational comedy.
Soter is a native New Yorker—raised in a Greek-American family in an apartment on the Upper West Side’s Riverside Drive in the 1960s—and has spent a lifetime observing the city’s inhabitants and their lives. In this collection, he continues to provide readers with short essays based on these experiences. Soter’s background is in newspaper and magazine writing (for publications such as the New York Observer and Entertainment Weekly) and teaching improv comedy classes, and his witty, breezy essay style reflects this. Some of his pieces fit into the feuilleton tradition of clever cultural pieces; others would not be out of place in the New York Times’ “Lives” or “Metropolitan Diary” sections. Reading Soter’s essays is like spending an afternoon with an uncle at a Manhattan diner, drinking coffee and savoring stories the listener has probably heard before but still finds enjoyable. While Soter’s essays might not be rigorous, they are generally engaging and satisfying. If they favor the quick and cute over the analytical or penetrating, it is by design. “Sentimental?” Soter writes, defiantly. “Mawkish? Self-involved? I plead guilty to all charges. That’s who I am. Live with it.” While there is certainly shared subject matter between the author’s previous and current essay volumes, the latter is at times a bit more somber and nostalgic. There are fewer discussions of pop-culture obsessions and celebrity encounters and more meditations on loss and the passage of time. He writes of his parents’ illnesses and the death of a favorite great uncle, of first jobs and childhood friends. Throughout, though, Soter remains committed to the guiding philosophy he states at the book’s beginning: “When I think of the vagaries of life—and its cruelties—I often think of the comment my first improv teacher once made: ‘Life is a big joke—it only hurts if you don’t laugh.’ ” The illustrated book provides over 100 photographs and reproductions of print ephemera.
A volume offers entertaining essays about New Yorkers, perfect for passing time on an uptown subway ride.