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

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  550 ratings  ·  60 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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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
Sian Lile-Pastore
Apr 26, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
Jun 02, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
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
John Norman
Jan 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I picked this up because it was on a list of works that would contribute background to Mad Men.

But it's much more than that. Beautifully written, witty -- it is a lens into a young woman's life who in some ways is not really suited to being married with children. Her true life is as a writer in magazines and publishing, but it takes her some time to really lock in. Great scenes in New York: neighborhoods, street life, restaurants . . . also some very telling scenes of Paris in the 1960s.

Aug 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Dec 22, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 28, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: bookclub-book
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
Stephanie Hicks
Nov 09, 2012 rated it liked it
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
Nov 20, 2016 rated it really liked it
I have always enjoyed reading about Manhattan and its residents, especially in bygone days. This memoir however annoyed me since Cantwell always seemed to be unhappy. She had a satisfying career and life but too much of this novel was spent pondering why she was so unhappy. We all had our good and bad days starting out in whatever careers we chose but to spend so much time dwelling over sad and frustrating times is frankly depressing. I was expecting stories about Cantwell's glorious career, esp ...more
Sep 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jessica by: Erica Dagley
Shelves: 2013, non-fiction, memoir
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
Apr 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Laura Courson
Sep 14, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Jul 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Jul 11, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: memoir
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.
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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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