I received Humans of New York: Stories by Brandon Stanton from my parents this holiday season. I had seen this book floating around on reading forums about a year ago, but never got around to buying it myself. However, I’m so glad that it made its way into my hands and onto my reading list. Being an avid people-watcher, whether in a café or while waiting for a ride to pick me up, this seemed like the perfect book for me. In addition, the quotes are accompanied with great photographs and being a fan of photography, I fell in love with this book.
Humans of New York: Stories is a sort of record book for the people living in New York. It’s based on the popular website where Brandon Stanton photographs someone in New York City and shares a quote from the person that tells something about his or her experience. It’s often very personal and can lead to thousands of comments of support and reflection. The site has raised money for some amazing causes just by sharing stories and creating human connection, but I was worried that without the social aspect, it just might not work as a book. It does.
The book consists of long stories, anecdotes, random thoughts, or answers to questions, which all come together to give an intimate portrait of a stranger in just a snapshot of words. The quotes are from people in all walks of life, ages, and backgrounds, which I found very interesting. I loved seeing glimpses into other peoples’ lives and their points of view, even if it was just with a sentence. Whether they were shocking, funny, emotional, these little vignettes connected with my emotions in ways I didn’t necessarily expect. The author really has a skill for exposing the human side of everyone he encounters and making you see what you might have in common with someone to whom you may have never otherwise given a second thought.
I also found it very intriguing to see that so many different stories work together so well. The quotes are so random and different from one another, yet they still flow in a way that’s engaging. I almost felt as if the book structure made you the reader try to find connections and stories between them, which ended up enhancing their impact. The book is organized into different topics, but they go from one to another in a completely organic manner. Although the emotions and seriousness of the quotes and stories varied, I did not find myself taken out of what was being said. All the stories worked together, somewhat connected, to create a record of ordinary people living in the same city.
My favorite part of this book, however, was the photography. Brandon Stanton began this project with taking candid street portraits before he started accompanying them with quotes. Working with the quotes, however, gives a new dimension and insight into these individuals’ lives. Whether it is with a photo of someone caught off guard, posing alone, hugging their dog, or holding an inanimate object, the pictures bring to life what is being said. In a world where it can be quite easy to stay in one’s bubble, I found that this book really reached me and made me think, as individuals that are so diverse from one another, yet all connected by a city, are being given a voice.
This book is completely different from anything I have ever read before. Incorporating two media, readers are giving an insight into a city they may have never visited and the lives of strangers. It’s of course an easy read, but it also connected to my own emotional experiences and made me think deeply and feel empathy for the “characters” I encountered. It focuses on varied aspects of life and humanity in a way that is eye-opening, hilarious, devastating, and exciting, and I would suggest it for anyone who loves to people-watch and imagine the lives of others or who enjoying learning about the stories of the people around them.