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Monday, May 16, 2016

#RPLDiscover: "Humans of New York: Stories" by Brandon Stanton

Review by Brett Peto
Public Services Assistant
Reference & Adult Services Department

Sometimes I read 400-page books, but not often, and they tend to take a month.

Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton, though, took two days.

Filled with candid color photos and even more candid and colorful stories, it's a compilation of Stanton's five years of walking the streets of New York and engaging strangers in conversations ranging from easy topics like fashion and humor to rich, personal subjects: ambitions, aspirations, mistakes, regrets, problems and solutions.

You may have seen the Facebook page Humans of New York (or HONY, as it's usually abbreviated) on the news or in the news. In the past two weeks, Stanton and his followers have raised over $1 million for cancer research at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

If that doesn't demonstrate the power of well-done social media to move people to action with a few photos and words, I'm not sure what does.

But it's because those photos and words provide such clear glimpses and insights and behind-the-scenes access into other human lives that Stanton and this book are so successful.

Take this hardworking woman's story:

After I finish my shift at the bakery, I start my shift at Starbucks. I work ninety-five hours per week at three different jobs. One of my sons graduated from Yale, and I have two more children in college. And when they finish, I want to go to college, too. I want to be a Big Boss. I'm a boss at the bakery right now, but just a little boss. I want to be a Big Boss.

It's the diversity of human perspective that makes this book and the continuing social media feeds remarkable. Stanton seems fearless, approaching people who may not look casually approachable but open their hearts and minds after a few minutes.

For example:

There are two books in America: one for the poor and one for the rich. The poor person does a crime and gets forty years. A rich person gets a slap on the wrist for the same crime. They say that the poor person doesn't want to work and the poor person just wants a handout. Well, I picked cotton until I was thirteen, left Alabama, and got my education on the streets of New York. I drove a long-distance truck all my life and never once drew welfare, never once took food stamps, either. I sent four kids to college. But they say all poor people do is sit around with a quart of beer. Look in this bag next to me. I've got three things in this bag next to me: a Red Bull, a Pepsi, and Drano, because my drain is clogged. But you see, even if I do everything right, I still have to play by the poor book.

I admire how Stanton presents these experiences without a whiff of judgment. There's no editorializing, no moralizing, no chastising his subjects for what they tell him. Which helps explain why they say what they do. It's refreshing in an age of instant opinions, first impressions, and too much outrage to find a book that lets people be who they are in full view.

I have very dreams. Much dreams. First, learn English.

This book encourages you to consider perspectives you might not have otherwise considered. It introduces you to people who may be like yourself, but probably aren't. It invites you to embrace the variety of life, encompassing all colors, ethnicities, faiths, cultures, genders, socioeconomic statuses, ages, sexual orientations, and more.

I'm glad I discovered this book, this page, this phenomenon. So many things are called eye-opening or life-changing, but Humans of New York: Stories is life-opening.

You can find our copy on the New Nonfiction shelf, 974.71 STA.

I'm going to be an inventor. I already have some good ideas. I had an idea for an electronic cigarette with a whatchamacallit in it that makes mist so you feel like you're smoking but you really aren't. And also a toothbrush where you put the toothpaste in the bottom and it comes out the top when you're brushing.

STANTON: Those are some good ideas. Anything else?

A fart gun.

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