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What the Hell Is the Brooklyn Rail?

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Of the many questions I've been asked over the last decade, my favorite remains the one posed by the basketball legend (and Brooklyn native) Red Auerbach, who wanted to know "What the hell is the Brooklyn Rail"? That was Red's opening salvo in the friendly conversation we had in the spring of 2001, when the Rail was still in its infancy. Now, a rather tumultuous decade later, I think it's still a relevant question -- and depending on who you ask, the answer likely will vary.

Folks in the art world go first to our dynamic art criticism; literary types gravitate to our fiction and poetry, as well as to our many book reviews; culture vultures digest our eclectic arts coverage; and political types -- at least of the activist variety -- rally behind our politics. Rather than unify the disparate parts, we prefer to let the mix speak for itself. But if I had to answer Auerbach's question today, my response would be either "It's a monthly publication covering arts and politics" or -- to borrow from the evil empire -- "We write, you decide."

In our niche-driven media world, that answer probably will frustrate some observers. But personally, I find the idea of not knowing what you're going to get in every issue exciting. In the current issue, for example, you'll find a long-form meditation on eating at White Castle alongside an even-longer form interview with an art-world figure whose work most people have not yet consumed. Put differently, our various palettes can please many distinct palates.

My own taste is for political reporting with literary flair. And so in honor of our tenth anniversary, fellow Rail mainstay Williams Cole and I put together a "Greatest Hits" anthology -- Pieces of a Decade -- that showcases the stylistic range of the Rail's nonfiction writing over the past decade. Like the Rail, the collection is rooted in Brooklyn. We cover neighborhoods from Coney Island to Williamsburg/Greenpoint, where the Rail launched, back down through Fort Greene and Carroll Gardens all the way to Sunset Park, where I now reside. Along the way, some of our writers even say nice things about the once-reviled G train.

Yet, like any good denizens of the American empire, we also know that our wars abroad begin at home, and so we let Brooklyn's own Howard Zinn explain the Iraq conflict six months before it began. We pay tribute to our late pal Garrett Scott, who left behind a great documentary about Iraq (Occupation: Dreamland). Meanwhile, warriors including Reverend Billy, Christian Parenti, Jason Flores-Williams, and Ryan Grim take us on personal voyages into crimes past and present. And the no less feisty Greenwich Village legends Jane Jacobs and Dore Ashton bring it all back home.

Our hope is that Pieces of a Decade will provide at least a partial answer to Red Auerbach's question. Staying true to our local spirit and independent roots, the book is available only at some of our favorite NYC bookstores -- McNally Jackson, Spoonbill and Sugartown, Greenlight, and Unnameable Books. Starting this week, it will be sold via our website, where you can also find details of our many upcoming anniversary events. Hope you can come along for the ride!

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