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The Freaks Came Out to Write

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The Village Voice’s role as a record not only of New York City but the culture at large is chronicled in Tricia Romano’s book. She opens with a lengthy list of people to whom she spoke, many of them Voice contributors who went on to greater heights like Colson Whitehead. (Alas, she didn’t talk to Chris Rock, who occasional filed record reviews. Who knew?) Romano progresses chronologically through the Voice’s history cannily using short chapters that shift focus. If you’re not interested in, say, music reviews or film coverage, she’ll soon turn to another subject, keeping the reader engaged. Given the book’s decades-long scope, it occasionally bogs down in internecine struggles that can devolve into the petty airing of grievances; at these times, that opening cast of characters is doubly helpful. And the later chapters as the paper struggles for relevance in the digital era and changes hands repeatedly can be depressing. But overall, the book is a galvanizing reminder of the outsize impact that the Village Voice had—and continues to have, thanks to its extensive coverage of Donald Trump and Rudy Giuliani that has provided a foundation for much of what has been written about national politics over the past ten years.

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I came to New York City from the Jersey suburbs in 1973 as a college freshman in the Village (stayed for the next fifty years). One of my guiding lights during those years was the Village Voice, which I read every week. The big thing for me was the listings -- my pop culture education outside the classroom, the movies I saw, the music I heard, the books I read, I discovered in the back pages of the Voice, in their exhaustive listings.

I also read the paper, especially the reviews, and while I often disagreed with the reviewers, who sometimes came off as hipper and holier than thou, it still furthered my education and my taste. Similarly with the political coverage. In The Freaks Came Out to Write, Tricia Romano's excellent oral history of the groundbreaking alternative paper, I learned much about those reviewers, about the Voice's approach to review, their politics, and so much more.

The oral history approach to subjects like these is my favorite, and Romano has executed it to perfection. Taking excerpts from interviews with people who were directly (or, OK, maybe in some cases indirectly) involved with the subject, and shaping them into a cohesive narrative, oral history allows the actual participants to tell the story in their own words. That is resoundingly the case with this excellent example, Romano spinning all the stories of the Voice into an all-encompassing narrative that rivals the best story telling, whether fictional or non-fiction.

My relationship with the Voice peaked one Wednesday in January 1981 (Wednesday being the day it hit the news stands). I went immediately to the classifieds, scoured the rental listings, and had myself a killer East Village apartment by the end of the day that I lived in for the next ten years. When I got around to reading that issue, I first found that a letter to the editor I had written (in defense of those of us who lived below 14th Street) was published.

Best of all, I found that my entry in the Scenes 250-word SF Contest was that week's winner -- one of ten, one week after then-unknown Robert J. Sawyer won and one week before the already prolific science fiction and mystery writer Edward Wellen won. I'll never forget that day, even if I never made it as a writer -- that apartment was the center of my life through my late 20s and 30s, and the Village Voice was my guide in those pre-internet days to all that was happening downtown and elsewhere around the city.

And so I loved Tricia Romano's oral history of a weekly newspaper that had so much impact on me personally, even if as often as not I would slam it down in frustration. I'd bet that this well-done book would appeal even to readers who may not have had such a personal connection to the subject. Thanks to NetGalley, the publisher, and the author for providing an advance reading copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Overall, The Freaks Came Out to Write is an interesting history of the Village Voice. My main problems with this book stem from the layout and how often the POVs switch (every paragraph).

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It’s hard enough to read a mystery with bad formatting but at least there’s a natural inclination to want to know what happens. It’s unlikely anyone will fight to make sense of nonfiction.

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My thanks to both NetGalley and the publisher PublicAffairs for an advance copy of this history on the creation, growth, death, and numerous rebirths of the newspaper that was not only a record of the city, but its conscience, its sins, and its disorders.

My parents moved to Connecticut in the late 70's into a small town that was a suburb of the Bronx in New England. The families on both sides of us had grown up in my father's old neighborhood, the butcher and the baker were also from the Bronx. The candlestick maker was also a bookie, and he was from Queens. We never watched Connecticut news channels, it was also CBS 2, NBC 4, and ABC 7. Even the PBS I watched was WNET 13, not the Connecticut channel. The Post, The Daily News, the Times on weekends, were our papers. Along with The Village Voice, which my father brought home every Thursday after working nights. That paper scared me. It smelled funny, was to big, the cartoons were odd, and unfunny, and there were a lot of words I did not know. Alot. As I got older, I began to enjoy it more. The music seemed real, the movies were things they didn't even show on out bootleg cable box. And the ads, Ooh la la. What a paper. And what a story. The Freaks Came Out to Write: The Definitive History of the Village Voice, the Radical Paper That Changed American Culture by Tricia Romano is an oral history of not only the paper, but the people involved, and the City that was changing all the time, and chronicled by the only paper that seemed to care.

The book begins with a long dramatis personae highlighting not only the many people whose views will be shared, and history told, but those who went on to success in so many other forms of media. Or became infamous. The book begins at the beginning with a suddenly famous author with money working with two others, without money to create a newspaper for their area of New York that was underserved. And so The Village Voice was born. The book lets everyone tell their story, or what the heard, or what has become accepted story, for the start, the first buyout, the later Murdoch years, the next buyout, till the end, and maybe resurgence. The days when a writer could submit something under the front door, and wind-up on the front page. When a city-wide strike, made the Voice the only paper available, adding more readers and keeping it afloat. Koch, Trump, AIDS, Gay rights, Women's rights, all these are covered, as what happened in the microcosm of the Voice, was a reflection of the city, complete with angry letters, fist fights, and more.

A deeply researched book with loads of interviews from survivors, and if not possible, interviews from the past. As such there are well different recollections on various events. Which is great as this is how eyewitness accounts even of pivotal events are, clouded by the person telling it. Romano has done amazing work, getting these interview and putting them into a narrative, that shows a city changing, growing, regressing, sometimes burning, but becoming something that can never ever happen again. The photos show the era and the people, which helps, but it is the articles that show the passion that people forget once filled media. Something that has become lost, the tilting at windmills, and calling out the wrong, the stupid, and the plain evil. A really wonderful book about journalism, creating art, and the art that is all around us, that even in our 24 hour news cycle, all-seeing social media networks gets missed.

A book that people of all sorts of interests will enjoy. A cultural study of New York, the music and arts scene. The rise of movie criticism. The politics of New York. Journalistic history. And more. A book that once started is hard to put down, with lots of fantastic stories, and information. A really great read.

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This is an oral history of journalism in New York City for the iconic weekly newspaper, The Village Voice.

The book is not a narrative, but rather a series of interview statements. While these primary sources are important, I would have preferred a narrative with occasional interviews to understand the history and a more coherent read.

This book contains a lot of New York City history that The Village Voice newspaper covered from its inception. The interviews are interesting and the reader acquires biased information from these interviews. The cast of characters is a necessity and lists who is who with dates is helpful to keep everybody straight.The timeline of the The Village Voice is also a good visual for understanding the production of the newspaper.

If you enjoy reading interviews, this book may be a good fit and I would suggest purchasing the hardcover book over the digitized version.

The digitized book is awful for viewing. There are many errors in capitalization and spelling, alignment of the text, spacing of words, and it is hard to go back and find something. Make sure you highlight and note! I’m sure these formatting glitches will be rectified prior to publishing. However, this book is a piece of NYC writing history and worth having a hardcopy.

Thank you to NetGalley and Public Affairs for the e-Advanced Reader’s Copy of The Freaks Came Out to Write: The Definitive History of the Village Voice, the Radical Paper That Changed American Culture by Tricia Romano.

Available February 27, 2024

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The Freaks Came Out to Write by Tricia Romano reads like a fascinating oral history of a very particular time in Manhattan, as seen through the eyes and interest of a very particular group of people. I really enjoyed it!
(FYI, the ARC's formatting was a little wonky. I'm sure this will be fixed for publication and didn't distract from my enjoyment of the book.)

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I was really curious to get the a glimpse behind the curtain here, but the format was a real problem for me. The book is basically a series of interview statements, rather than a narrative, and I did not find it conducive to a coherent read. Additionally, on kindle the spacing and alignment were not always right, further complicating things. This one didn't work for me..

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This was an okay, interesting read. Found the format a little hard to follow along with. Diffrerent from my normal choice in books, but it was still interesting.

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I really enjoy reading about journalism in this era, and about those who made it what it was. This book is sure to become a classic.

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