10 Quintessential Books About New York
How many of these classics have you read?
L.A. owns the movies, and San Fran touts every gadget under the sun. But when it comes to one of the oldest forms of entertainment--you might remember a little something called books?--New York will always reign supreme.
And with so many authors coming out of the Big Apple, it’s only natural that plenty of their stories take place here, too. How many of these ten classics have you read?
“A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” (1943)
Long before the invasion of bearded 24-year-olds and artisanal-hot-sauce emporiums, Williamsburg was, as the narrator of this turn-of-the-century story says, “serene.” Now that you’re firmly a New Yorker, do yourself a favor and reread about what life was like 100 years ago through the eyes of Francie Nolan, a 12-year-old impoverished bookworm who sees the beauty in everything.
“The Great Gatsby” (1925)
In New York, according to F. Scott Fitzgerald, you can be anyone you want to be. That is, as long as no one finds you out. We know, you all read this in ninth grade (and have ogled over both Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert Redford in the movie versions). But pull it out again. It’s so much better when you don’t have to turn it into an essay on the American dream or societal gender expectations.
“The Catcher in the Rye” (1951)
We still can’t go to the Natural History Museum without thinking of angsty Holden Caulfield comparing his life to the Eskimo display that was there before he was born and will be there after he dies. But Holden got it all wrong: His tale has become timeless. (And frankly, the then controversial profanity couldn’t be more spot-on.)
“The Bell Jar” (1963)
This semi-autobiographical story of poet Sylvia Plath’s descent into madness isn’t exactly the cheeriest summer read. But we can imagine a decent chunk of our population can relate to the anxiety that Esther Greenwood feels as she struggles to make it in the New York publishing world.
“Breakfast at Tiffany's” (1958)
Who can possibly resist the charms of Holly Golightly? Certainly none of the men in Truman Capote’s infamous novella. There’s so much to love here, but one of our favorite things is how Capote perfectly captures the peculiarities of brownstone living, when everyone is a little more in your business than you might like.
“Bonfire of the Vanities” (1987)
No one does a spectacle quite like Tom Wolfe. This tour de force about a Wall Street “Master of the Universe” who runs over a young black boy in the Bronx came out 28 years ago--but plenty of the themes about race, social class, politics and greed are still recognizable today.
“Let the Great World Spin” (2009)
On a summer day in 1974, the world watched as Philippe Petit walked across a high wire between the Twin Towers (and if they didn’t, they got a second chance in Man on Wire, a 2008 documentary about the feat). In this National Book Award winner, Colum McCann focuses on that one particular day--telling stories not just from the World Trade Center but also from ordinary people’s lives around town.
“The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.” (2013)
If you’ve spent any time in Brooklyn over the last five years, you’ve probably met a Nanthaniel P.--a Harvard-educated, commitment-phobic man-child. Adelle Waldman does her best to get inside his head, and what emerges is (perhaps sadly) the most realistic portrait of the New York social scene that we’ve read in years. Sigh.