Let me start by saying I’m not a zinester. I have never really read a zine beyond casually paging through one in a bookstore. Nonetheless, the idea of a “wholly analog” guide book with alternative picks appealed to me. So I checked out the Zinester’s Guide to NYC from the public library.
The guide is not a zine but an actual book, printed, bound, and distributed by an indie company. The primary author, Ayun Halliday, got some of her zine-making friends to contribute reviews and suggestions that appear in the book. The result is a collection of funny, weird, cheap, random, participatory, vegan, artsy, etc., things to do in all five boroughs.
I love the inclusion of tons of hands-on activities like pie bake-offs, story telling events, juggling classes, mix tape exchanges, guest bartending, turning a parking spot into a public park, and displaying your own art on street poles. I love the section on vegetarian restaurants. I love the handwritten list of songs, books, and movies about New York City that runs along the bottom of each page. I love the lists of places to find the best bathroom graffiti and old-school black-and-white photo booths. I love that the book not only mentions rats and other disgusting sights and smells, but expounds on these subjects—way to keep it real.
The book definitely has flaws. Beyond the typos and formatting inconsistencies that I spotted—who knows, maybe they were left in on purpose to make it more zinelike and immediate?—I wasn’t too impressed with the book’s coverage of Queens, my home borough. For instance, the list of bars in Queens only includes businesses in Astoria, the yuppiest neighborhood of all. The section on volunteer opportunities also seemed limited to me: there are plenty more nonprofits in the city that would appeal to readers, so why are these the only ones highlighted? I guess it’s more of a list of the places the author’s friends have volunteered. And I suppose that characterizes the spirit of the entire book, in a way.
All in all, I’d say the book is worth the low price ($9) for those with quirky tastes who are new to the city or planning a trip here for more than a few days. If you don’t have a group of artsy, adventurous friends to show you the ropes, this guide book is a good stand-in.