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Manhattan, When I Was Young
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Manhattan, When I Was Young

3.75 of 5 stars 3.75  ·  rating details  ·  355 ratings  ·  39 reviews
Mary Cantwell, who has been a writer and editor at Mademoiselle and Vogue and a writer at the New York Times, gives us an elegant and lyrical autobiographical account of a time and place that for some exists only in imagination. But this is a life as it was actually lived, with romance, passion, and no little share of pain. Like her earlier, warmly received American Girl: ...more
ebook, 214 pages
Published September 18th 1995 by Houghton Mifflin (first published 1995)
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A funny thing happened when I was reading Mary Cantwell’s “Manhattan, When I Was Young,” a memoir built around the places the writer lived in New York City during the 1950s and 60s. I first decided I wanted to write about all of the places where I have lived in Duluth -- and then quickly realized that No I Do Not Want That At All. Which made me wonder: How did she do it without going all Demi Moore-pink bedroom-window open shivering in the corner-Aquanet party with Rob Lowe? Writing about your l ...more
Sian Lile-Pastore
This was delightful and yet has a darkness to it reminiscent of The Bell Jar. It's a memoir of life in New York in the late 50s and early 60s when if you were a college educated woman you could practically walk into a job at Vogue. It's about working on magazines, and also about a (pretty dysfunctional) marriage and having children and being a working mother. It's also about books and authors - about being excited when you notice that your grocery delivery is sat next to djuna barnes', about goi ...more
Rhonda Cutler
For women of my generation, Mary Cantwell was a role model. Career woman (and one with a glamorous women's magazine career at that), mother, sophisticated Manhattanite, world traveler, gourmet cook. She seemed to do it all so effortlessly. The reality, we learn from this memoir (one of three she penned and the one that covers her early adulthood) was plagued by recurrent bouts of clinical depression, guilt regarding her mothering abilities, sexual frigidity, and unresolved grief over her adored ...more
A beautiful, lyrical ode to being young in New York. Cantwell is an amazing writer and I often found myself rereading certain sentences and paragraphs because they were so wonderfully and movingly worded. You get a very honest look into the constraints of being an intelligent, ambitious woman in the 1960s here. The author also covers her mental illnesses, but does so in a rather removed, glossed-over way. That said, she sort of grated on me at times...the woe-is-me-upper-middle-class-woman's tal ...more
Rachel Smalter Hall
I think some people like this book because of its romantic, dreamy portrayal of New York professional life in the 1960s, and on that point it certainly delivers. But in the beginning, I found Mary Cantwell to be both delusional and horribly self-involved, and I decided not to like Manhattan, when I Was Young. But I kept reading, and eventually began to see this memoir as something else.

Cantwell's greatest strength here is her honesty; her willingness to put herself forth as a struggling human ra
Mary Cantwell continues to enchant me with her stately manner of writing. I am unable to stop thinking of her, her dignified presence in the magazine world of NYC, her rare life in the budding elegance of the West Village,her stylish friends and parties, her great cooking,and her sad internal life always questioning every decision she ever made. The tales of her navigating a comely marriage,childbirth,psychiatry, working outside of the home,are so honestly portrayed as to almost make the reader ...more
Harriett Milnes
This book, about the author's life in NYC in the fifties and sixties, was interesting to me. The author went to Connecticut College and married a young man from Wesleyan, which was a men's college at that time. She and her husband lived in Greenwich Village. They had two daughters. He was a literary agent and she worked at Mademoiselle magazine. A pre-women's lib time, although some of the managing editors were female. Occasionally she would mention something I remembered about that time period, ...more
As someone who moved to NY, I saw bits and pieces of my own experiences in this book. But what kept me going was also how vastly different NY was in that time versus now. I knew many of the references Cantwell made, but it still seemed like a different world. Also, her experiences as a young person are very different to my generation's, so it was fascinating to read.

The main problem was that I felt like Cantwell wasn't personal enough. While I wouldn't consider it a "superficial" account of her
I enjoyed the book, but more for the vividly New Yorkness that it portrayed, less about Ms. Cantwell. It was akin to taking a little bit from "The Devil Wears Prada", a lot of the t.v. show "Mad Men" and then splicing in a little of herself into the mix.

However, Ms. Cantwell annoyed me to no end and her extreme neurosis(s) made me want to reach through the page and slap her into reality. But, alas, this was her reality. Her dependency on her husband was truly at odds with her desire to be a pro
An unexpected find, and a beautiful, lyrical read--- the intertwined tales of a lost New York and of a doomed marriage. Mary Cantwell graduated Connecticut College in 1954, moved to Manhattan and into a series of jobs at fashion magazines. She married young--- too young, though in those days 23 or 24 was the age at which a girl from a good family was expected to become a wife and mother. She married out of social expectation and to have someone in her life to give her stability and replace the f ...more
I might be biased, because Cantwell starts out her 1st chapter quoting Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, some of the finest first lines in a modern novel, imho: “It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs…” and well, I’m partial to Plath. But Cantwell is both different and similar–-not as histrionic, but just as confused, depressed and lost. Raised in 1950′s America to grow up to be a good wife and mother, while at the same time adored by a father that died too soon an ...more
What she decides to reveal is carefully chosen. There is so much, one feels, that she has chosen to omit. Still, you get an essence of life lived and walked and walked on the streets of 1950s and 60s and 70s Manhattan. There is so much name dropping going on here, streets, restaurants, famous and slightly famous people. Do you want to get into the head of a young woman working at fashion magazines in this golden time? I did. You won't be disappointed by her descriptions of people, places, food, ...more
This was a "high 3 stars" for me (I.e. 3.5). It was a quick, short read, but slow to start for me. I though it was more of a story about a marriage than anything. I liked how she organized the sections of the book by the address of the apartments she inhabited. I did find myself wanting to know more about aspects of her life that she only hinted at in the story - her strained relationship with one daughter, for example. I also had trouble with her referring to her husband as "B." rather than his ...more
Victoria H.
I've really enjoyed this book and gulped it up in under a week (record for me, I'd say.) It was engrossing to be reading about New York in the 50s, the mind of a woman who essentially choose her career rather than family, and all the self realizations were refreshing in today's glossy ain't-life-peachy world.

The last few chapters, however, had really left a sour taste in my mouth.
Stephanie Hicks
I would give this 3.5 stars. I didn't like all the name dropping, and honestly I recognized less than half of them, and at times I felt she rambled and her thoughts unclear. I sometimes felt that there wasn't much of a story to tell-- that aside from her successful career, which she admittedly said allowed her to escape her family life, there wasn't anything incredibly remarkable about it. That feels harsh, but also kind of inspiring, too-- the fact that someone can write a memoir about a fairly ...more
Sep 09, 2013 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jessica by: Erica Dagley
Shelves: 2013, non-fiction
When I first started reading this book, I thought it was going to be a real 'nice' and quaint look at the way people once lived in Manhattan. I'd relish in the romanticism for New York the way it was and the way it still is that way...

But like most people everywhere, reality isn't all shiny and happy and Mary Cantwell candidly describes the downs of her personal life in those years. I thought a lot of being a woman then and being a woman now -- and I'm still thinking about it days after finishin
I wanted to like this book but found it tedious and full of neurotic musings of a privileged white woman in New York in the 50's
Roxanne Richardson
Mary Cantwell writes quite candidly about a life and career that would seem the epitome of sophistication on the outside, but was a train wreck on the inside. I found her story quite depressing, in a Bell Jar kind of way, but I did love the descriptions of her various apartments and the city.
Renee Kujawski
Great book, and one that I will read again.
Apr 03, 2008 Julia rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: girlfriends
Recommended to Julia by: rebecca
What a fascinating first-hand account of Manhattan from the 50's, 60's, 70's. Mary Lee is so candid -- you just love her for remembering the fabulous details of the fashion world from the editor's perspective at Mademoiselle and Vogue. But as much as she is open and direct about her own suffering and search for self, she paints such an inspired picture of a woman's love affair with New York City -- and the Village. So many intriguing characters throughout her life. I was definitely left wanting ...more
this is my second read of this book and I enjoyed it for a second time. I have to admit that I didn't fully remember it when I started the reread but it came back and I happily kept reading.

This is a really good memoir - there is a thread of realism and critical self reflection that is refreshing and that serves - for me at least - as a reminders about how to understand how you moved through your past and defined who you were without lapsing into regrets and self criticism.
Paula Balzer (Writing & Selling Your Memoir) recommended Mary Cantwell's Manhattan, When I Was Young as an exemplary memoir for potential writers. Having read many memoirs, I found Manhattan better organized and more literary than most. The book reads almost like a novel, with lots of images and personal feelings during the author's early career and marriage during the 1950s. As an exemplary text for potential writers, Cantwell's book sets a high standard.
Laura Courson
I found this book incredibly depressing and such a disappointment. Mary Cantwell was negative and brought you down throughout the entire book. I thought it would be a nice story about growing in Manhattan, but she focuses on all the negative parts of her life making it incredibly hard to get through. This is a nice diary for herself, but as an outsider reading her story its boring and just plain sad. I will not be reading any more of her books.
Sue Pelman
A love letter to New York, but not necessarily today's Manhattan. I can't say it any better than the book jacket description: " elegant and lyrical autobiographical account of a time and place that for some exists only in imagination. But this is a life as it was actually lived..." an honest, intimate testimony to the on-going struggle to both accept and overcome who we are and why we make the decisions we make.
I read this book about a twenty-something woman carving a niche for herself in the NY publishing world in college for a course called New York Stories. I re-read it not long after I graduated and was myself a fledgling editor, but you don't have to be at all involved in the publishing industry to appreciate Mary Cantwell's experiences as a single woman determined to establish a career for herself.
Oct 06, 2008 Autumn rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Mad Men fans
Lyrical memoir from a woman who worked in women's magazines in the 50s and 60s. Great story about her struggle to balance work with domesticity and her feelings about marriage and children. Also, lovely detail about all the places she lived, her friends and all the things they thought were cool. The writing is beautiful and the author casts an honest eye on herself. Quotable!

Am I the last person in the world to find these books? I loved the images she creates of Manhattan and the Village. Her honesty about her marriage, problems, kids was brutal and refreshing. I loved the images of the various people at Vogue and Mlle - were these people for real? Must be! A must read.
I read this when I lived in Olympia, WA and dreamed of moving to NYC. Living in bohemian Manhattan in the 1950s and 1960s through the eyes of the author was not enough for me. I had to experience it myself and shortly after reading this book I took the plunge.
This memoir is very touching---Mary Cantwell tells her story of being a young mother and figuring out what she wants to do while living in Manhattan in the fifties. Beautiful descriptions of her life---both the happy times and sad.
This is stuff that holds up. Reading it again I'm reminded how many of my insights rightly belong to her. If there are essential truths to the life of the city, she has them.
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“If I was not really at home with everyone, neither was I a stranger to anyone, and if all my acquaintances were slightly skewed, well then, so was I.” 0 likes
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