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31 Must-Read New York City Books

New York City: The Big Apple, The Center of the Universe, the City of Dreams, the City That Never Sleeps, the City So Nice, They Named it Twice (and more). Everyone has a different take on this bustling, diverse city. From the intimate jazz bars of Greenwich Village to the vibrant streets of Harlem, the dazzling lights of the Theater District to the quiet brownstones of Brooklyn; this city has something for everybody! Get to know it a little better by taking one of these books out on the town.
  1. 1

    Invisible Man

    After being expelled from a Southern Negro college in the 1930s, the nameless narrator of Invisible Man moves to Harlem, hoping there he will find acceptance. What he finds, however, is just a different version of the prejudice and anger that he left behind. His search for identity and acceptance, delivered in a witty, passionate and at times, heartbreaking prose, will stay with you long after you read this.

    Invisible Man Book Cover Picture
  2. 2

    Open City

    Wandering along the streets of New York City after a breakup with his girlfriend, Nigerian psychiatry resident Julius reflects on this vast city he calls home. His thoughts are interrupted occasionally by the odd encounter with someone else on the street, sparking conversations on topics from Alexander Hamilton to his own past. His own personal journey resonates with feelings of both dislocation and hope, and his meandering thoughts pull us along this moving narrative.

    Open City Book Cover Picture
  3. 3

    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (with bonus content)

    Brooklyn, 1930s and 40s. The Second World War is in full swing, but so is the comic book craze, and Joe Kavalier—escape artist, magician and artist—and his cousin Sammy Clay are determined to make their mark on the genre. Their tales of the Escapist and Luna Moth, fighting against the Axis Powers and Hitler himself, will do more than just entertain the masses. This is a great American novel like no other.

    The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (with bonus content) Book Cover Picture
  4. 4

    A Little Life

    After graduating from college, these four friends moved to New York with the intention of pursuing their dreams. As the years go by, and their lives change, for better and worse, what keeps them together is their fierce attachment to Jude. Jude’s traumatic past, while over, is far from letting him go. A powerfully emotional novel that will bring you to tears, it is also a celebration of the bonds of friendship in this anonymous city.

    A Little Life Book Cover Picture
  5. 5

    Jazz

    Toni Morrison composes a riveting, immersive work in this story of 1920s Harlem. When door-to-door salesman Joe and his wife Violet moved from the rural South to New York, everything seemed grand—until the day he shoots his teenage mistress, and Violet attacks her corpse at the funeral in a moment of passion. Weaving in and out of the present, Morrison’s novel illustrates the complexities of life for black New Yorkers in the ‘20s.

    Jazz Book Cover Picture
  6. 6

    Breakfast at Tiffany’s

    One of the most iconic novels of midcentury New York (thanks in part to Audrey Hepburn’s fabulous portrayal of Holly Golightly in the film version), this novel will make you want to head over to 5th Ave and pop into Tiffany’s, where nothing bad can happen. Glamorous, whimsical, yet thoughtful and moving, too—you won’t want to miss out on the original telling of Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

    Breakfast at Tiffany's Book Cover Picture
  7. 7

    Three Novels of New York

    Why choose just one Edith Wharton novel when you can read three? Wharton’s tales let us peer into the 19th century New York City upper crust, at all of the passion and turmoil that lurks just beneath the rigid social customs. The collection includes The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country, and The Age of Innocence, each with their own tales of love and loss, vanity and sacrifice, and all set in the city of dreams.

    Three Novels of New York Book Cover Picture
  8. 8

    A Visit from the Goon Squad

    Spanning locations from New York City to Naples, Italy, and stretching across decades, Egan’s novel brings us the story of an aging record executive (and former punk rocker) and his troubled employee as they try to reconcile their pasts with who they’ve become. Lyrical, witty, and bitingly sharp, A Visit from the Goon Squad will knock you on your seat.

    A Visit from the Goon Squad Book Cover Picture
  9. 9

    Go Tell It on the Mountain

    James Baldwin’s first major novel chronicles a single day in a sweeping, thought-provoking self-reflection of fourteen-year-old John Grimes. Grimes lives in Harlem, the stepson of a Pentecostal storefront church minister. While his stepfather preaches, he thinks about the hypocrisies in their lives, the trials they’ve faced, and what it means for his identity.

    Go Tell It on the Mountain Book Cover Picture
  10. 10

    Netherland

    After 9/11, Dutch immigrant Hans van den Broek is left by his wife and child at the Chelsea Hotel when they return to London without him. Trying to come to terms with the darkness that has shrouded the city and his new, single life, he turns to a childhood sport for comfort: cricket. Within the New York cricket scene, he meets Trinidadian Chuck Ramkissoon, an immigrant like himself with a very different set of experiences. As their friendship waxes and wanes, we see the way that “otherness” is perceived in New York, and how it can affect each person’s life in a unique way.

    Netherland Book Cover Picture
  11. 11

    M Train

    Starting out in a cozy, Greenwich Village café, Patti Smith grounds her second memoir firmly in New York City, but expands it outwards as she reflects on her travels over the years, the losses she’s had, and the many wonderful experiences she’s been through. Interspersed with photographs and eloquently written, M Train is a beautiful memoir to behold.

    M Train Book Cover Picture
  12. 12

    Native Speaker

    Henry Park is no stranger to the feeling of having multiple identities. He is of Korean descent, but he grew up in New York. He started off in a working-class family in Flushing, Queens, but his father’s booming grocery store chain let them move to the more affluent suburbs. He is also a spy for the United States, with all of the identities that brings. When his next assignment is to spy on a Korean-American politician, he comes face to face with his various identities, and must reconcile them in order to move forward.

    Native Speaker Book Cover Picture
  13. 13

    Washington Square

    Catherine Sloper is fairly average. Mild, plain-faced, no great intelligence to speak of. One thing that sets her apart, though, is her family’s vast fortune, to which she is the heiress. When she receives a marriage proposal, her father is convinced that the man is after her money. While her father will stop at nothing to end the engagement, Catherine’s aunt wants to use the engagement to fuel her own selfish need for drama. Catherine must navigate her world carefully, as the New York societal fetters can be binding.

    Washington Square Book Cover Picture
  14. 14

    Money

    New York is given a British slant here with unreliable narrator John Self, a London commercial director with the opportunity to make his first movie in America. His twisted narration as he drinks, whores, and schmoozes his way through New York and London both sickens and entertains. Witnessing his self-destruction, the role of money in his downward descent becomes ever more apparent—spending it, lacking it, and wanting more helps push John Self toward his final note.

    Money Book Cover Picture
  15. 15

    Thoughts without Cigarettes

    Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Oscar Hijuelos, opens his life up to readers in this witty, entertaining memoir. Though a yearlong convalescence in a Connecticut hospital as a child damaged his connection to his Cuban community of Morningside Heights, he sought to regain his sense of identity through writing, eventually publishing the bestselling novel, The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love.

    Thoughts without Cigarettes Book Cover Picture
  16. 16

    The Beautiful and Damned

    While you may know Fitzgerald from reading The Great Gatsby in your high school English class (or watching the Baz Luhrmann film with Leonardo DiCaprio), this lesser known work of his is just as engrossing, if not more so. Anthony and Gloria are living the good life as a newly married couple in Manhattan, dining at expensive restaurants, going to private parties, and avoiding all responsibility. Unfortunately for them, Anthony’s wealthy uncle, who’s fortune he is meant to inherit, refuses to die anytime soon. As their money dwindles, so does their lavish lifestyle, and the cracks in their relationship and themselves begin to be revealed.

    The Beautiful and Damned Book Cover Picture
  17. 17

    Motherless Brooklyn

    Working in Brooklyn as hired help for gangster Frank Minna, Tourette’s-suffering orphan, Lionel Essrog has a challenging life. It gets harder, however, when Frank is stabbed to death, and a colleague (and fellow former member of St. Vincent’s Home for Boys), is jailed for the crime. It’s up to Lionel to solve the case, and to do so, he must contend with his own compulsions and tics, which may be of more help than he realizes.

    Motherless Brooklyn Book Cover Picture
  18. 18

    Down These Mean Streets

    In this raw, piercing memoir, Puerto Rican Piri Thomas writes of his youth growing up in Spanish Harlem. As he becomes more deeply embroiled in drugs and street crime, we see how his circumstances played a part in the difficult, and at times violent, choices he made, resulting in his arrest and imprisonment. Approaching this memoir with self-acceptance and understanding, Piri Thomas brings hope to a life of hardship.

    Down These Mean Streets Book Cover Picture
  19. 19

    The Godfather

    You may have seen the brilliant film adaptation from Francis Ford Coppola, but have you read the book that started it all? Mario Puzo’s classic tale of New York City’s Mafia underworld is thrilling, bloody, and engrossing. Read about the powerful Corleone family as they come up against their enemies in the name of honor, vengeance, and family. Blood is thicker than water, after all.

    The Godfather Book Cover Picture
  20. 20

    My Beloved World

    Sonia Sotomayer, the first Hispanic and third woman to serve on the Supreme Court, reveals the story of how she rose to such great heights in this inspiring memoir. Beginning life in the Bronx, she grew to depend on herself when she was diagnosed with childhood diabetes. She determined to become a lawyer despite the nay-sayers, and not only did she achieve this, she became one of the top law officials in the country.

    My Beloved World Book Cover Picture
  21. 21

    Food and the City

    Take a tour of New York City’s incredible food culture in this behind-the-scenes look at the industry, from the voices of those who know it best. Dominique Ansel tells us just how the famous cronut came to be, while Eddie Schoenfeld gives his account of growing from a young Jewish boy to one of New York’s top Chinese food experts. Professional chefs, line cooks, street vendors and more, from the classic restaurants to the up-and-coming, come together to create a rich and complex account of food in New York City.

    Food and the City Book Cover Picture
  22. 22

    I’ll Drink to That

    Renowned Bergdorf Goodman personal shopper, Betty Halbreich, has delivered spot-on style choices and life advice for decades. In this crackling, wry memoir, she reveals just how she came to be the most trusted adviser on 5th Ave.

    I'll Drink to That Book Cover Picture
  23. 23

    Passing

    Set in 1920s Harlem, Passing is about two light-skinned African American women, one who has stayed with the black community in Harlem, and the other who has married a white man with no knowledge of her lineage. When the two meet again in Chicago after years apart, the careful threads that hold their lives together begin to unravel.

    Passing Book Cover Picture
  24. 24

    Veronica

    Looking back on her life, Allison begins this story in 1980s New York: a time of glitz, glamour, and shoulder pads. Allison’s modeling career is falling apart when she meets the older, HIV+ office worker, Veronica. Spanning decades and, at times, continents, Allison tells us how their unlikely friendship came to be, and what happened to them over the years.

    Veronica Book Cover Picture
  25. 25

    Great Jones Street

    Though perhaps one of DeLillo’s lesser-known novels, Great Jones Street evokes New York at a singular time and place. Rock star idol Bucky abruptly leaves his band while on tour after determining they’ve peaked to hide away in a little apartment in the grungy East Village. Although he tries to escape the society his music has helped create, he just keeps coming up against the paradoxes and hypocrisies of living creatively within the system.

    Great Jones Street Book Cover Picture
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