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Matador Welcomes Ayun Halliday's Zinester's Guide to New York

New York City
by Matador Creators Dec 13, 2010
The moment I ripped open the package and saw Stephen Colbert’s blurb at the top of Zinester’s, I knew it would be my kind of guide. The friendly, funny, snarktastic tone in the intro is prevalent in every single description, without exception.

Associate Editor Michelle Schusterman reviews ZG2NYC

From tips on the Metrocard vending machines to details on getting out of all the major airports, the transportation info is thorough. I especially enjoyed the “taxi” section, which quite simply says “don’t.” And I am personally of the opinion that every human being who will ever step foot on a bus or subway in New York City or elsewhere should read the section on etiquette.

The anecdotes and recommendations are witty and helpful, but most of all, they’re transparent – something Matador has taught me to really value.

As an example, the housing section is clearly prefaced with this: “Most locals are clueless about lodging and your authors are no exception. We did some looking around, but take the listings below with a grain of salt.”

Rather than by borough, the book is divided by categories and subcategories. (Again, I love the reasoning – that readers might “notice how Bushwick gets much more ink than the Upper East Side.”)

This is the guide if you’re looking for places to find musical instruments when the urge strikes to jam a djembe in the park, places to go in a snowstorm or in a heat wave , or perhaps just an all-vegan ice cream shop (of which the city has several).

With cute and frequently funny illustrations on every page, maps in the back complete with tips, and extensive lists of gift recommendations, prime graffiti locales, and the grossest things contributing writers have seen in New York (of which shit in various forms seems to appear most frequently), Zinester isn’t an ordinary guidebook.

Nor is it simply amusing – it’s well-organized, the tips and data are incredibly helpful, and it will be in my backpack the next time I head east.

Editor Lola Akinmade interviews author Ayun Halliday

Editor’s Note – One of the very first travel books I ever picked up was the classic narrative – No Touch Monkey!: And Other Travel Lessons Learned Too Late – which chronicles Ayun’s globetrotting misadventures.

Based in New York and editor-in-chief of The East Village Inky, Ayun now chronicles her adventures through motherhood including penning her view from its trenches in The Big Rumpus: A Mother’s Tale from the Trenches.

We’re honored to host Ayun Halliday’s virtual book tour on Matador Goods.

For those who aren’t familiar with your writing style and voice, how would you describe it one (1) word?


Please expand…

…and hopefully self-mocking. (That said, my website totally kicks Elizabeth Gilbert’s website’s ass.)

The way I write mirrors the way I travel – lots of unexpected detours. My head is easily turned, and I’m prone to making associations between things that appear entirely unrelated on the surface.

I’m pro-wabi-sabi. My lemons are rarely of the pristine, perfectly-catching-the-sun-in-a-blue-bowl-in-Tuscany variety. Mine are dug out of some godforsaken vegetable drawer, covered in mold … I describe their gnarlier aspects, then try to squeeze them, and am usually satisfied with the results.

Even if my lemonade is gross, it has a memorable flavor.

We followed your hilarious travels through No Touch Monkey!; now a travel narrative classic. Please fill in the gaps, including your work with East Village Inky

The East Village Inky grew out of the final chapter in No Touch Monkey, which, if you recall, I spent wandering around Glasgow in the chilly summer mist, trying to figure out if there was any way to make a go of it with a baby strapped to my back.

There’s one school of thought, most prevalent among those posting Amazon customer reviews titled “No Touch Book!“, that says, “So they wouldn’t let her into the pub with a kid? Boo Hoo. Should’ve thought of that before getting pregnant!”

I would argue that for many women, and men too, becoming a parent in contemporary Western society can be a really isolating experience, a new identity that threatens to subsume the old one in ways one can’t fully anticipate prior to the baby’s arrival.

Rather than bottoming out entirely, I started a zine, to give myself the structure of a creative assignment that would also serve as a yawp from my dust speck, a reminder that “I am here, I am here, I am here, I am here.”

I’m still publishing The East Village Inky on a more-or-less quarterly basis.

It’s entirely handwritten and illustrated; originally because I didn’t want to waste the precious free time of the baby’s naps figuring out a desktop publishing program, and also because I had to be ready to get ‘er done on a park or subway bench.

Those naps were unscheduled, and could happen at any time, and in those days I was laptop-free.

The zine is what led to my first book contract, for The Big Rumpus, which is a series of personal essays regarding those first few years of parenthood. I’d like to stress that it is not a “Momoir”. Not to play too fast and loose with the First Amendment, but I’d like to declare that stupid, derogatory term off-limits with regard to the discussion, review and marketing of autobiographical works concerning motherhood.

I have spoken to the ghost of Nathaniel Hawthorne, author of Twenty Days with Julian and Little Bunny by Papa, among other works, and he agrees. We prefer to think of these works as Armchair Travel for those who don’t have kids, possibly won’t ever have kids.

But then go figure, I wrote No Touch Monkey! because the publisher wanted me to write a sequel to the Big Rumpus, and I didn’t want to be labeled as someone who only wrote about parenting (another term I don’t love).

I pooped out two more autobiographies – Job Hopper (about all the crappy day jobs I had as a low budget actress) and Dirty Sugar Cookies (a non-foodie food memoir with recipes), before turning to a kids’ picture book (Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo), a graphic novel for young adults (Peanut, scheduled for publication this summer) and now a guidebook, which is, for me, a dream come true.

Back in the day, the East Village Inky functioned as a guidebook of sorts, with anecdotal listings for places that served $1.99 breakfasts, and cafes where I sat for hours on tattered, thrift store couches.

In between, of course, there was a lot of litter box scooping and diaper changing, some exciting developments in my husband’s playwriting career, and even some travel, all of which is dutifully documented in the zine.

Any weird moments encountered when researching and writing the book?

Yes, but since I live here, they’re all just part of the daily fabric, know what I mean?

For me, one of the more surreal moments involved having a star of the Real Housewives of New York City reality show volunteer to blurb the book right around the time I was flying off to Portland, Oregon to help Joe Biel of Microcosm Publishing edit the final manuscript in a broken down trailer infested with both ants and flying ants.

I don’t know Alex McCord personally, but what she wrote – “It makes me want to go climb on decommissioned ships in Staten Island right now, but I can’t because I’m in a cocktail dress at 10 AM” – is a good reminder that there’s always something more than what meets the eye.

Another surprising thing was when I was soliciting people’s favorite songs, books, and films about NYC for the handwritten crawler that runs along the bottom margins. So many that I didn’t know! I also discovered that one of our contributors, a celebrated punk artist, is a rabid Broadway musical fan.

Again, there’s also more than the surface would imply…

What makes the The Zinester’s Guide to NYC so refreshingly different?

Oh hell, now I’m going to sound like the only horn I’m tooting is my own, when the credit for the illustrations belongs to the indie comics publishers who contributed, and many fellow zine publishers offered their expert advice in areas where I’m a bit at sea- like the best places for vegans on the cheap (There’s a “Carnivorous Treats” section, too).

I am proudest of the emphasis that ZG2NYC places on participation, the idea that marching in the parade can provide a more fulsome experience than just watching it pass by, camera in hand. I like it that there is a category for Volunteeringand another for places where one can get broken things fixed.

In terms of vitamin content, the ZG2NYC boasts a much higher incidence of Joey Ramone references than Lonely Planet or Let’s Go.

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