The Best Book About New York Isn’t Even Really About New York
Editor’s Note: Today’s contributor, Brianne Sperber, was a member of Off the Shelf’s editorial board. She is now Marketing Manager at New York’s Strand Book Store.
Even working with books, not every author’s death hits you as hard as another’s. After hearing the news of E. L. Konigsburg’s passing, I felt I needed to revisit her classic From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. It’s a book that has stayed with me for years, a book I’ve given to every young reader in my life, and a book every New Yorker should read.
Claudia Kincaid is a knockout—and completely one of a kind. Her desire to teach her parents a lesson in “Claudia appreciation” is one most children—and honestly, even most adults—can understand. When she decides to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, all the reader can think about are the practical realities of her situation: Where will she bathe? What will she eat? Where will she sleep? Claudia has all those details under control, and her meticulous plan allows her and her brother, Jamie, to spend a few happy weeks inside the museum. They wash in the fountains, sleep in medieval beds, and cleverly hide from the museum guards. Everything changes for them when they first discover Angel, the mysterious sculpture that may or may not have been created by Michelangelo. Suddenly, Claudia and Jamie find themselves in the middle of a mystery as they work to discover Angel’s origins.
Clever, sharp, and utterly charming, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a classic worth revisiting every year. With characters that are as complex as they are likable, it’s the novel’s wry (and perhaps unreliable) narrator, Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, who captures our attention. We become so wrapped up in Claudia and Jamie’s adventure that we forget that the novel is a letter explaining an addendum to Mrs. Frankweiler’s last will and testament.
Every time I visit the Met, I refuse to leave before I’ve searched for the bed I believe Claudia and Jamie slept in, plotting my own way to sneak past the guards and snuggle in for the night.