Choire Sicha is finally writing a book. He has never wanted to before, but now he does. It’s going to be about being young in recession-era New York, and it will be published through the HarperStudio imprint of HarperCollins when he finishes his reporting about a year from now.
In an interview yesterday, Mr. Sicha said the as-yet-untitled book will follow a group of 20-somethings as they try to make their lives in a city that doesn’t work the way it once did.
“It used to be, you came to New York and you got a job as an assistant, and sooner or later you got to have part of your boss’s job and you moved up,” Mr. Sicha said. “There was sort of a continuum. There was a thing called a career in New York.”
“For me, what the recession for young working people reminds me of is H.I.V. in the early ’90s, when my generation of gay men decided there wasn’t much of a future,” Mr. Sicha said. “I feel like I hear from people now, and they’re like, ‘Fuck tomorrow!’ Which seems completely reasonable to me. And whether that’s based on a real understanding of the economy or on what we’re getting through the filter of the media, it doesn’t matter–it’s a completely appropriate response to the moment we’re in.”
Mr. Sicha said he is in the process of choosing his young subjects. He said he has so far been focusing on gay men (“I feel like New York City is … powered by gays in many ways”) but planning to cut a “broader swath.” According to his editor at HarperStudio, Julia Cheiffetz, he will eventually settle on four main characters and follow them for a year as they go to work, go out, go to parties, look for love and generally think things through.
Ms. Cheiffetz said the idea for the book came out of a series of informal conversations the two of them had about “the death of New York.” The first of these, she said, took place in January, shortly after Mr. Sicha’s boyfriend was laid off and a few months after Mr. Sicha himself lost his job as editor-at-large of Radar when that magazine closed.
Mr. Sicha is 37, and he has spent the better part of the past decade working as a journalist: first as a freelancer, then as editor of Gawker, then as an editor at this newspaper, then as editor of Gawker again. During that time (his last stint at Gawker ended in November 2007), he distinguished himself as the blogosphere’s first native poet, and in so doing helped pioneer many of the stylistic and attitudinal conventions that have come to define the form.
It was in part Mr. Sicha’s origins in blogging that have kept him from writing a book up till now, despite the encouragement of his longtime literary agent, PJ Mark of the firm McCormick & Williams.
“I was always insanely resistant to writing a book,” Mr. Sicha said. “I wanted to write things that were good for about eight seconds and disposable—things that were true and then just disappeared. And I think there’s something really wonderful about that. It’s sort of the opposite of writing a book.” What changed, he said, is he started noticing things happening in the city that he felt compelled to describe for posterity. “I’ve become obsessed with this topic and what’s going on now,” he said. “There should be some sort of document about this that’s not ephemeral.”
Mr. Sicha has lived in New York since 1994, having grown up outside of Chicago and spent his late adolescence doing this and that in San Francisco. When he arrived here, he rented a room in the East Village for a couple hundred dollars a month and worked part-time helping to conduct psychiatric research at Kings County Hospital.
He remembers feeling like the city offered him unlimited possibilities—that if he wanted to have access to something, he could. This much, he believes, has not changed.
“If you’re fascinated by something you can get close to it—that’s always been true about New York,” he said. “But I also feel like the $1.99 breakfast sort of went away, and the room for rent in the East Village went away, too. The cost of entry became prohibitive with the last little boomlet we had, in a kind of extreme way.” He went on: “I had a million jobs when I moved here, and what I see happening among my younger friends, and among people I’m interviewing who are kind enough to give me their time, is there’s nowhere to go.”
Asked how he plans to avoid the pitfalls he described in a 2008 Observer column about how contemporary male writers had grown too enchanted with their own inner lives, Mr. Sicha said he probably wouldn’t, and that in the end his book would “just be a series of unreported personal essays about my feelings.”
But, no, seriously, he said: “I am going to try to avoid looking at people’s lives through ‘the lens of the self,’ as they say. I am going to try to do this crazy thing that people used to and sometimes still do, which is to write about actual other people!”