In honor of being back in New York, I’m bringing you some books that feature the city in some significant way. Not all of these are books I’ve loved, but they are ones that revealed at least one slice of life in this amazing city. I apologize ahead of time for the over-emphasis on Brooklyn and Manhattan. If you have suggestions for more dealing with the other boroughs, suggest them in the comments!
|Here is New York
Here is New York, E.B. White. What, you thought he only wrote children’s stories? First published in 1949, this is a love letter to the city that seems just as current today as when it was first written.
The Bonfire of the Vanities, Tom Wolfe. This is gritty, 80’s New York, showing the class divisions between the monied elite of Manhattan and those struggling to live in the Bronx. It’s not my favorite book, as it tends to sum everything up with a pat “See, everyone is just as bad, so why bother changing” attitude, which I find aggravating. Still, it manages to capture segments of the city, which is what this list is about.
Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann. Multiple narrators reveal their portions of New York, including how they’re connected in unexpected ways. One key event is Philippe Petit’s 1974 unauthorized tightrope walk between the Twin Towers. I’d never heard of this, and had to watch the documentary Man on Wire afterwards to learn more. I’m not as much of a fan of this book as a lot of other people were, but it’s still pretty good. It won some big prizes, including the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the National Book Award.
The Devil Wears Prada, Lauren Weisberger. What’s New York without fashion? This thinly veiled critique of Vogue’s Anna Wintour is not exactly a flattering portrait, but it does show what kind of power she yields in certain circles. For those who’ve seen the movie, Meryl Street and Anne Hathaway do wonderful jobs, but really, there’s no comparison to the book.
Assata, Assata Shakur. I read and reviewed this last year. In addition to being an all around awesome book, there some some great New York scenes, like when Assata is in her wig disguise, riding on the subway with similarly dressed women.
Cutting for Stone, Abraham Verghese. This is another book I liked, but didn’t love. Still, one of my favorite scenes was when Marion, the narrator, arrives from Addis Ababa. He’s struck by the particular cultural force that is New York from his very first steps in the airport.
Motherless Brooklyn, Jonathan Letham. A detective story featuring a main character with Tourette syndrome. The action takes place in both Brooklyn and Manhattan, and it’s fun to see the differences between the neighborhoods.
Wait ‘Till Next Year, Doris Kearns Goodwin. I think this may be the only book my grandfather ever read – at least as an adult. He insisted that I read this, and I’m so glad he did. This memoir of a young girl growing up with an all consuming love of the Brooklyn Dodgers, bonding with her father over their home team, brings New York in the 1950s to life.
And a few I’m looking forward to reading in the future:
|Moses with model of proposed project. Credit
The Power Broker, Robert A. Caro. Ever since I watched the HBO documentary The Ghosts of Flatbush, about the Brooklyn Dodgers, I’ve wanted to learn more about Robert Moses. This thousand-plus page 1974 biography won the Pulitzer, so I figure it can’t be a bad place to turn.
The Island at the Center of the World, Russell Shorto. Manhattan back when it was New Amsterdam. Yay history!
Sleepers, Lorenzo Carcaterra. I’ve seen the movie, but haven’t read the book. This one isn’t for the faint of heart. Four boys grow up in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan, where they begin to get into some trouble. They are sent to a home for boys, where they suffer awful abuse. Years later, they take revenge on the guards that tortured them.