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Manhattan, When I Was Young

3.76  ·  Rating details ·  603 ratings  ·  74 reviews
An autobiographical account of a female writer in the 1950s. Fresh out of college, Cantwell arrived in Greenwich Village and shared an apartment with a friend. Despite all the flair of metropolitan life, experiences with high-style department stores, exclusive little shops, theaters, parties, restaurant outings, and even a romance and marriage, she became increasingly depr ...more
Paperback, 224 pages
Published October 1st 1996 by Penguin Books (first published 1995)
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Average rating 3.76  · 
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Mar 24, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
Rhonda Cutler
Dec 26, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
James Murphy
Aug 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A reread. Well, simply a lovely memoir of a time and place. Especially if you love Greenwich Village. It's structured around the 5 different apartments where Cantwell lived in the Village and chronicles her passage through stages of growth from single working girl through magazine editorship through marriage and motherhood. There are brambles, of course, as you might expect in a family where the daughters are called Snow White and Rose Red, but Cantwell's a survivor.
Lorri Steinbacher
Sep 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
This is exactly the kind of book I love to read: NYC back when you could afford to live there, when you could have a perfectly acceptable party with a cheap bottle of wine and a dish of olives, when women were just starting to come into their own, sometimes painfully so. Cantwell's description of her New York is vivid and brings the era to life.
Sian Lile-Pastore
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Jennifer S. Brown
Mary Cantwell's memoir covers the years of her married life in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. She worked at Mademoiselle and Vogue, and her husband (who is only referred to as B.) was a well known literary agent. The book is raw--her oddly anti-Semitic attitudes (especially toward her own lapsed Jewish husband), her struggles with depression, her ambivalence about motherhood, the incredibly sexist environment. But it captures the time period as few other memoirs do. Her writing is gorgeous and ...more
Mauro  Verri
May 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Rewiev- Reseña

"Manhattan when I was young" carries a pleasant and attractive reading ideal for hanging out, as well as a good command of the description of the time and place, which fills your eyes and gives you the feeling of being a time traveler. Personally, I am not attracted to the Manhattan of that time.

"Érase una vez Manhattan" porta de una lectura agradable y atractiva ideal para pasar el rato, además de un buen manejo en la descripción de la época y el lugar, que inunda la vista y la en
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
Sep 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 03, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Theo Chen
Nov 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book is one of the most heartfelt, touching books I've read in a long time. Mary Cartwell has a magical way with words in which you not only see the places she is writing about, the emotion of her language makes the feeling of places so clear. She writes about her struggles, of her anxiety, and self doubt, and manages to round it out with sparkling wit. The book ends on a hopeful note - one that expresses warmth and gratitude for life.
Cheryl Crotty
Feb 12, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I loved this book from page one. I didn't just read it, I was there with her. Her language was beautiful. Anyone who loves Manhatten will love this book. Those that have not been to Manhatten will want to go. A beautiful, real life,captured between these pages.
Autumn Kovach
May 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: new-york, memoir
4.5 Stars actually.

I loved this book and it's a story I haven't read in a while; voices from NY's past. Mary lived primarily in the village, raising her two daughters while working at a magazine company, as they do. No mention of Jane Jacobs but I wouldn't be surprised if their paths crossed while in Washington Square Park. I love the descriptions of the city back then and how timeless the sentiments are. I enjoyed looking up her addresses of her homes and still finding what was there. Once near
Jun 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
4.5. It was a bit hard to follow her writing style and scrambled thoughts. However, I found it to be deeply honest and relatable. I struggled with the rating because it was hard to stay interested in the story. I often could only manage reading a few pages before finding something else to do. But when I made a conscious effort to read more that 10 pages, it was very enjoyable. I also didn’t understand any of her references— both with the people she talked about and places in New York. Overall, t ...more
Mar 29, 2020 added it
I enjoyed the book and it was a nostalgic tour through the 70s when I had been reading Cantwell's column in Mademoiselle magazine. I bought the magazine for her column which was entitled:Eat and also because the magazine had excellent short stories. I learned so much about her life and how that played out in her prose. So much has changed in the publishing world and in New York so it had me lamenting about the current state of (or lack thereof) of good editors. I followed her to the NY Times but ...more
Hilary Hudgins
May 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
It was funny to find a book I hadn't read, sitting on my shelves, that takes place, almost entirely, within the bounds of my neighborhood during a global pandemic currently quarantining me to my home, its books, and its shelves — except when I'm allowed an occasional masked walks....within the bound of my neighborhood. Cantwell's New York, however, rings truer than ever. Her village is my village. Her headspace, my own. It's one of the great wonders of this place that everything is always changi ...more
Daniel Sevitt
May 13, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: auto-biography
I don't remember what led me to this, but it was a perfect fit for the reading window I had today. It's a little self-indulgent, but deliciously name-droppy. There's some fine, therapy-earned insights into her failing relationship with her husband, but I was less interested in the build-up to divorce than I was in the gorgeous descriptions of Greenwich Village in the 50s and 60s and the insider view of the magazine business back then.
Laura Alice Watt
Jan 02, 2020 rated it liked it
I enjoyed reading this memoir mostly for the descriptions of NY in the '50s, recognizing places that are still there, etc. Cantwell is a somewhat disturbing writer, as she alludes to all kinds of mental troubles she was having during this time but never really makes sense of it - I was left feeling like something had been overlooked. (10/97)
May 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Low key memoir that paints a vivid picture of 1950's Manhattan. With few words Cantwell conveys the state of her mind and marriage perfectly clearly. I'll bet anything Matt Weiner read this cover to cover, furiously taking notes.
Lea Gallardo
Jul 27, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: finished
I picked this up because I thought it would be about Manhattan (think Hamill and Downtown) but it wasn't. It was a personal memoir of agonizing one's way through life and a series of homes in the 1960 and 60s Greenwich village.
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Thoroughly likeable memoir of 2-ish decades in the life of a not quite likeable woman (who became more likeable towards the end), and a delicious remembrance of a particular time & place in 20th century New York in the literary set. It was absolutely everything a memoir should be. ...more
Robert Guttersohn
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5 for now. Really enjoyed the descriptions of Manhattan. Very quick vignettes into the life of a New Yorker struggling with depression and identity.

However, the time spent discussing the fashion magazine wold were filled with names I don’t know.
Becca Martin
Jul 29, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: pre-2018
If you like Sylvia Plath, you will like Mary Cantwell. They wrote in the same era so much of the environment they speak of is similar. She has the bluntness of the beat era but the femininity to truly show what her life was like as a woman trying to write in a man’s world.
Sep 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Oh, how I loved this book! It makes me homesick, not only for the Manhattan of my youth, but also, of a bygone era. I look forward to reading the book that follows this one.
Sep 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Obviously right up my alley.
Still thinking about and rereading
I loved it so
Holly Haze
Mar 15, 2017 rated it liked it
I've been reading more memoirs of late, but this one didn't grab me. It wasn't memorable. It didn't stand out. The only redeeming attribute in this book was her incredible vocabulary and verbiage. I actually enjoyed reading her words. Other than that, it was difficult to care about anything that went on in this story.
Abigail Rogers
May 05, 2020 rated it it was ok
Depressing; Sylvia Plath minus the intrigue. Not an excellent overview of life in New York, just an overview of a woman’s life before the advent of genuine complexity. Honest, I suppose, but a struggle to finish secondary to permeating lack of interest and overarching depression on the author’s behalf.
Mar 05, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Outstanding. I was completely engrossed. A captivating, a rare glimpse into mid-20th century Manhattan, a golden age when it was a magical, fairytale of a place to be.
Apr 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
I purposely chose to read a book with New York as a character during a time I was quarantined from the city. Mary’s description of the city brought me back at times but if anything I realized how much the city has changed. Knowing the west village streets and knowing they would be my future haunts was enjoyable. Her word choice was difficult at times and I was confused why she never named her husband (I guess because the book was published in a time before google).
Jun 12, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
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
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