Looking for novels taking place in New York
September 1, 2006 12:43 PM   Subscribe

Looking for novels taking place in New York.

I've been to New York twice in the past six months and I totally loved it. I'm looking for good fiction books which take place in New York and books in which the City has a role so important that it is depicted as a real character, such as Dos Passos' Manhattan Transfer, which is, for me, one of the best books that have ever been written.

I'm looking for authors who love/hate/have a very strong opinon about New York, or authors who just make their characters wander around the City, like Paul Auster, because I love the feeling of being there with them.

I'm opened to any suggestion, any kind of books. Thank you!
posted by celine to Writing & Language (33 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Pretty much anything by Paul Auster is a safe bet, especially the New York Trilogy.
posted by leesh at 12:49 PM on September 1, 2006

Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem vividly brings his memories of Brooklyn to life, specifically Gowanus area. It's about as real NYC as you can get.
posted by TonyRobots at 12:50 PM on September 1, 2006

Motherless Brooklyn.
Catcher in the Rye.
posted by sugarfish at 12:50 PM on September 1, 2006

You may need to specify whether you're concerned about modern vs. historical, or not.

Spider Robinson's Night of Power is set in New York, but I'm not sure if it would fill your bill or not.
posted by baylink at 12:53 PM on September 1, 2006

Funny. Currently reading the New York Trilogy.

I loved Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 12:55 PM on September 1, 2006

Time and Again by Jack Finney

Although, at this point in time, it'd be considered wholly historical as it depicts the New York of teh 1970s and of the 1880s.
posted by ursus_comiter at 12:56 PM on September 1, 2006

You might like Donald Westlake's "Dortmunder" novels; they're comic crime, and wonderful to read just for that, but they take place in New York and the character and location and quirkiness of the city play a large part in the stories.
posted by Rubber Soul at 1:01 PM on September 1, 2006

Bonfire of the Vanities, by Tom Wolfe
posted by clh at 1:04 PM on September 1, 2006

The Alienist
posted by Captaintripps at 1:05 PM on September 1, 2006

Kissing in Manhattan is a collection of interrelated short stories. It's a darker sort of Manhattan.
posted by witchstone at 1:06 PM on September 1, 2006

Home to Harlem by Claude McKay
posted by dead_ at 1:12 PM on September 1, 2006

Slapboxing with Jesus captures a certain Queens energy
Slaves of New York was kinda big in the 80s I think. It's a pretty quick read.
Rat Bohemia is mixed - I liked the first novella/section best, but it's very much about a certain culture of New York. Also very 80s.
Old school, but covering Chinatown is Eat a Bowl of Tea. It's kinda slow but compelling.

I'm thinking about the many children's and young adult books that took place in New York. So many of them featured the kids exploring different parts of Manhattan. The only name I can remember right now is
From the Mixed up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
posted by serazin at 1:14 PM on September 1, 2006

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.
posted by essexjan at 1:18 PM on September 1, 2006

The novels of Colin Harrison, in particular Manhattan Nocturne (yuppies, but sympathetic nonetheless).

The novels of Louis Auchincloss (WASP), Henry Roth (Jewish).

The Story of Junk by Linda Yablonsky; Slaves of New York by Tama Janowitz (downtown 80s arts/heroin scene).

Brown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall; Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde. (West Indian immigrants, 1950s).

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (pre-WWI).

Mary Cantwell's Manhattan When I Was Young (publishing, intellectuals, 1950s-60s).

Claude Brown's Manchild in the Promised Land (impoverished Harlem, 1940s. Actually a memoir).

Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell (fiction masquerading as fact, or vice versa, 1920s, 30s, 40s).

Some children's novels that I (an adult) still reread because they're so great: Freaky Friday and A Billion for Boris by Mary Rodgers (Upper West Side teens in the early 70s); Slake's Limbo by Felice Holman (1970s boy leaves abusive home, lives in subway tunnel).

posted by scratch at 1:21 PM on September 1, 2006

Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin is highly regarded. I didn't care for it that much, but a lot of people love it
posted by jefftang at 1:26 PM on September 1, 2006

Much of E.L. Doctorow's works, particularly Billy Bathgate and The Book of Daniel.
The authors of the Harlem Renaissance will keep you busy for a while. Not of the same generation, but a high school French student of Countee Cullen, James Baldwin.
David Rakoff is a fun contemporary esssayist.
posted by Sara Anne at 1:33 PM on September 1, 2006

I'd recommend A Hazard of New Fortunes, by William Dean Howells.

It's got the quintessential apartment-hunting scene in it, and should be read for that reason alone.
posted by rocketman at 1:37 PM on September 1, 2006

The Lost Weekend, by Charles R. Jackson.

Wikipedia, List of books set in New York City
posted by kirkaracha at 1:50 PM on September 1, 2006

McInerney is hit and miss (mostly the latter), but still Bright Lights Big City seems to be what you're looking for
posted by matteo at 2:07 PM on September 1, 2006

Breakfast at Tiffany's!

(Though it's not as charmingly sentimental as the movie)
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:56 PM on September 1, 2006

Oh and another vote for Time and Again. That book rocks.
posted by CunningLinguist at 2:56 PM on September 1, 2006

Jews Without Money, by Michael Gold, is one of my favorite books of all time, and is a really intense depiction of Jewish ghetto life around the early part of the 20th century. While it's not as well written as Abraham Cahan's The Rise of David Levinksy, there's something about the way it describes New York City that I have always found riveting. And while it's not a book, the PBS documentary series New York is absolutely astounding.
posted by dbiedny at 3:13 PM on September 1, 2006

Hamill's Forever, Nissen's The Good People of New York in the last one, the city isn't so much a character, but it's still a wonderful read nonetheless.
posted by Lycaste at 3:19 PM on September 1, 2006

E. L. Doctorow's Ragtime
Much of the (later) output of Dawn Powell
Michael Cunningham's Specimen Days
posted by rob511 at 3:30 PM on September 1, 2006

I highly, highly recommend Paul Goodman's The Empire City. He was an anarchist and one of the founders of Gestalt therapy; this big novel is something of a synthesis of the two. He has this awesome flair for the implausible and presents a really inspiring vision. It was written in the mid-Fifties, I think.
posted by nasreddin at 3:55 PM on September 1, 2006

Kevin Baker's Dreamland and Paradise Alley are both very engaging historical novels, where the city is very much a character. He's written a third in the sequence, called Striver's Row, which I haven't read yet, but expect to be just as good.

Falling Angel by William Hjortsberg is a horror/detective novel set in the 1950s (and the inspiration for the film Angel Heart), which involves Auster-esque wandering. It's written in heavily stylized pulp cliches, but it's fun.

If you have any interest in conversationally written non-fiction, Luc Sante's Low Life and Tyler Anbinder's Five Points are worth a look.
posted by Phlogiston at 4:12 PM on September 1, 2006

Specimen Days by Michael Cunningham
posted by ersatzkat at 4:39 PM on September 1, 2006

The novels of Arthur Nersesian, such as Chinese Takeout, The Fuck-Up, Unlubricated, and Suicide Casanova. I like these books because they present an amusing and unpretentious look at New York bohemian life. The typical Nersesian character is a down-on-his-luck starving artist type, who tramps around the city (which is lovingly and amusingly described) getting into various interesting scrapes involving love, money, and art. My favorite is Chinese Takeout.
posted by jayder at 4:54 PM on September 1, 2006

Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh and All-of-A-Kind-Family (a series of books) by Sydney Taylor are great yound adult reads; fabulous for adults, as well.

Norman Mailer's An American Dream, Eileen Myles' Chelsea Girls, poems by Ted Berrigan, Andy Warhol's diaries, and Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger are also favorites of mine.
posted by Riverine at 6:15 PM on September 1, 2006

"On anyone who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy."

E.B.White's Here is New York 1948

posted by Kensational at 6:27 PM on September 1, 2006

The Invisible Man and The Great Gatsby, perhaps the only two truly great novels ever set in the greatest city in America.
posted by languagehat at 6:31 PM on September 1, 2006

Oh, yeah, also - well it's not the same as getting lost in a novel - but... for the "feeling of being there with them"" you can't beat overheardinnewyork.com.
posted by Kensational at 6:56 PM on September 1, 2006

I really enjoyed the young adult novels by Scott Westerfeld: Peeps (vampires and underground NYC) and So Yesterday (about fads) -- not actually related books, except for both being in present day NYC.

And if you like the historic children's books, All-of-a-kind family series (Sydney Taylor), as well as The Saturdays, by Elizabeth Enright.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:40 AM on September 2, 2006

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