In really exciting news, on May 15th 2016 I will be boarding a plane to spend four nights in New York. This will be my third trip to New York and although it’s not my favourite city I’ve ever been to, probably not even top ten, it does have a certain magic about it.
But no matter how many times I visit New York, even if I lived there, I could never understand it from as many different perspectives as it’s possible to through reading. Not just throughout history but rich and poor, local and outsider, all the different locations and cultures and backgrounds. Which is, I suppose, the magic of reading.
Until I started thinking about all the different books I’ve read set in New York it never occurred to me how many of them were going on at the same time. Valley of the Dolls, 84 Charing Cross Road, The Catcher in the Rye and Brooklyn are all 1950s New York. Eillis Lacey and Holden Caulfield could have passed in the street. Helene Hanff could have been to see Neely O’Hara perform. But the completely different tones of the books mean that I have a really hard time reconciling this. How could there be all the hedonism that’s going on in the New York of Valley of the Dolls, and to some extent The Catcher in the Rye, and at the same time the sweet simple stories of 84 Charing Cross Road and Brooklyn? How can one city contain that much diversity?
But outside of that one specific decade and the books I’ve read that feature New York are really quite limited. Excluding The New York Trilogy because I only read part one and then threw it aside, condemned as the worst book I’d ever read, the only other examples are Gossip Girl, The Luxe and The Great Gatsby. So I’ve set myself a little side project – reading as many New York themed books as possible before I make my third visit.
The list below will, I’m sure, grow a lot before I actually reach the deadline. And I’d love your suggestions of other great, New York based novels that I absolutely have to read.
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s – Truman Capote
- Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
- Let the Great World Spin – Colum McCann
- The Best of Dorothy Parker
- The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
- The Age of Innocence – Edith Wharton
- Bread Givers – Anzia Yezierska