What book best enhances the experience of being in New York City?
January 27, 2010 3:24 AM   Subscribe

What book best enhances the experience of being in New York City?

What would be the ideal book (or books) to present to a friend who is about to visit New York City for the first time?

We are in Australia. The book can be in any genre, fiction or non-fiction. "Delirious New York" is out of bounds, but only because I've already talked about it too much.
posted by carnival of animals to Society & Culture (22 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I've always been fond of E.B. White's Here is New York. It's short, written in the 40s(I think) and still is relevant today. Perfectly captures the essence of the city, IMHO.
posted by archimago at 4:04 AM on January 27, 2010 [3 favorites]

Excerpt here:
posted by archimago at 4:09 AM on January 27, 2010

Accurate or not, I learned all I need to know about New York from Bret Easton Ellis' American Psycho (book) and Clive James' Postcard From New York (TV show). Oh and the movie Smoke.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:15 AM on January 27, 2010

I'm pretty fond of Luc Sante's Low Life, which is mostly about Bowery life around the turn of the century. It's a meandering sort of history book with lots of seedy characters and questionable goings on. It's also funny to read about the bohemians complaining about the gentrification of the lower east side... Some things never change.

Jane Jacob's The Death and Life of Great American Cities is pretty neat, too. Parts of it anyway... It bogs down (for me) when she starts talking about policy, but her descriptions of her neighborhood and the way it functions are just gorgeous.
posted by clockwork at 4:39 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

This isn't exactly what you're looking for (it's a website, not a book), but it's interesting. My friend walked every street in Manhattan and he has a website w/ pics and a list of his favorite "off the beaten path" locales. Something fun to peruse if you want to go to cool NYC places that aren't the Empire State Building.
posted by melissasaurus at 5:51 AM on January 27, 2010 [2 favorites]

I loved having read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn before visiting New York. It gave me a sense of history and I saw a lot of small, old things I might not have noticed (the older tenements squashed up beside newer buildings--I wouldn't have given that much thought before).

Similar to melissasauras's website, there are City Walks cards you can get that have walks through various neighborhoods with points of interest highlighted. In terms of a guidebook, my favorite is the green Michelin guide.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:11 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Besides all the great fiction recommendations you are getting, I recommend Not for Tourists Guide and Robert Caro's The Power Broker
posted by Pineapplicious at 6:16 AM on January 27, 2010

The Essays of E.B. White (in which "Here is New York" is published) is one of my favorites.

A collection of "Talk of the Town" pieces from The New Yorker would be great, I think.
posted by ocherdraco at 6:29 AM on January 27, 2010

It depends, in part, on the specific interests of your friend? But Forgotten New York seems to be interesting to most, and would be an excellent method/excuse for your friend to explore a little once he gets here, as well as learning a little about the history of the city.

(There's also a website, which contains much of the same information but is less pleasurable to browse due to so-so design.)
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:29 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Netherland, Ragtime, The Great Gatsby
posted by Xalf at 7:02 AM on January 27, 2010

Hit post by mistake, sorry. The Great Gatsby. I wanted to add that aside from being about New York, these three are among my favorite books ever.
posted by Xalf at 7:04 AM on January 27, 2010

Two more recently-written books about Brooklyn, both set in the 1970s-1980s:

Motherless Brooklyn and Fortress of Solitude, both by Jonathan Lethem. Excellent reads!
posted by swngnmonk at 7:30 AM on January 27, 2010

Ooo, another NYC book on the 1970s: The Bronx is Burning - tells the history of the decline of NYC throughout the 1970s, culminating in 1977 with the blackout, the looting, the Mayoral election, the Son of Sam serial killer, and the Yankees making it back to the World Series.

It's a great book for describing a New York City that doesn't really exist anymore.
posted by swngnmonk at 7:36 AM on January 27, 2010

City Secrets.
posted by Jaltcoh at 7:46 AM on January 27, 2010

The new Patti Smith memoir, Just Kids, about her early relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and their struggle to become artists, is a fantastic *New York* book. It captures a time, place and ethos that is long gone.
posted by micawber at 9:22 AM on January 27, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding Not For Tourists.
posted by bastionofsanity at 10:53 AM on January 27, 2010

Egregious that no one has yet mentioned Leaves of Grass.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:55 AM on January 27, 2010

I just finished reading Forever by Pete Hamill, about an Irish immigrant who manages to live in New York ... forever. It drudged along at times but I thought it gave me a nice appreciation for the history of the island and yes, I got weird tingles when he was hanging out in the bushes in what would be Morningside Heights.
posted by elisabethjw at 6:17 PM on January 27, 2010

One of the better histories is Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898.
posted by gudrun at 9:19 PM on January 27, 2010

New York: A Serendipiter's Journey by Gay Talese.

Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger
posted by SisterHavana at 10:55 PM on January 28, 2010

The Works: Anatomy of a City. It's not a work of fiction, but a collection of maps and infographics that explain the function of NYC. A great read.
posted by stachemaster at 10:32 AM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Good varied collection of of city life snippets:


And another favorite:

Both are rather big books though.

(links weren't showing up on preview so pasted regular address)
posted by debu at 3:10 PM on February 5, 2010

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