Tale of Two....or Three Cities
November 23, 2007 11:24 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for books ( fiction or non-fiction ) about the adventures of city living. Give me tales of colorful characters in New York, dandys in London, and criminals in Tokyo. I want to read about restaurants, jazz clubs, gambling dens, eccentric shops, and seedy alleyways.
posted by jasondigitized to Grab Bag (36 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
armistead maupin's tales of the city and its sequels.
posted by bruce at 11:34 AM on November 23, 2007

The Havana Room might meet your purposes. I forget the author and am lazy. The Tender Bar would also suit you.
posted by dobbs at 11:35 AM on November 23, 2007

Glamorama, American Psycho - Bret Easton Ellis
posted by griphus at 11:37 AM on November 23, 2007

Pattern Recognition features a colorful character from New York hanging out with dandies in London and encountering criminals in Tokyo.
posted by tapeguy at 11:40 AM on November 23, 2007

By William Gibson, natch.
posted by tapeguy at 11:41 AM on November 23, 2007

Henry Miller -- Tropic of Cancer
Christopher Isherwood -- The Berlin Stories
posted by limon at 11:42 AM on November 23, 2007

The Mole People- about homeless living in the NY subways. Although there is some controversy that part of the book is fiction. YMMV
posted by Gungho at 11:44 AM on November 23, 2007

Alfred Döblin -- Berlin Alexanderplatz
posted by limon at 11:48 AM on November 23, 2007

Anything by Dawn Powell that's set in New York -- The Wicked Pavilion; Turn, Magic Wheel; The Locusts Have No King.
posted by SoftRain at 11:54 AM on November 23, 2007

Less city living and more city-crashing-through-like-a-two-ton-wrecking-ball, and you've probably already read it, but Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has all the seediness and eccentricity anyone could possibly ask for.
posted by Hello, Revelers! I am Captain Lavender! at 12:00 PM on November 23, 2007

The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa by Yasunari Kawabata.
posted by The Straightener at 12:02 PM on November 23, 2007

Absolute Beginners by Colin MacInnes is a fun, evocative little novel -- it's set in 1958 London and charts the beginning of what would become the mod subculture.
posted by scody at 12:25 PM on November 23, 2007

Japanese Inn by Oliver Statler is the story of a Minaguchi-ya in Okitsu, from its founding until the American Occupation following WW2.

It covers a lot of Japanese culture and history, including its own small part in the story of the 47 Samurai.
posted by Kioki-Silver at 12:29 PM on November 23, 2007

someone mentioned "Shantaram" here before and it's awesome.
posted by drjimmy11 at 12:40 PM on November 23, 2007

"A Confederacy of Dunces" will show you a side of New Orleans that will never live again. Amazingly funny, and in retrospect, after Katrina, heartbreaking.
posted by willmize at 12:56 PM on November 23, 2007

Seconding tapeguy, my first thought was William Gibson cyberpunk novels. Pretty much total fiction, but they all have the "you gotta go to this city, and this alley and knock on this door." type of thing... Totally a lot of random specific mob related go here in this city type of stuff spread around the world.
posted by zengargoyle at 1:03 PM on November 23, 2007

Seconding Maupin's Tales From the City series for San Francisco.
posted by Quietgal at 1:07 PM on November 23, 2007

The Extra Man by Jonathan Ames.
posted by Evangeline at 1:13 PM on November 23, 2007

Memoir From an Ant Proof Case by Helperin (New York, and maybe A Winters Tale, though I haven't read it)?

Orwell's "Down and Out in Paris and London".
posted by Jahaza at 1:37 PM on November 23, 2007

Get yourself a Damon Runyan collection. Really evocative stuff.
posted by punilux at 1:39 PM on November 23, 2007

Maximum City by Suketu Mehta is a pretty great exploration of Bombay (mumbai)
posted by cal71 at 2:38 PM on November 23, 2007

Kiki Strike, especially the first one but also the second one. Yes, so it's aimed at teenage girls, but girls who kick butt.
posted by anaelith at 3:25 PM on November 23, 2007

In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
posted by sarahkeebs at 7:08 PM on November 23, 2007 [1 favorite]

The Subterraneans by Jack Kerouac is a tale of the San Francisco Beat scene in the early '50s.
posted by lu3 at 8:19 PM on November 23, 2007

Anything by Dawn Powell that's set in New York

Hell yeah, I'll strongly second that. You want restaurants, clubs, colorful eccentrics and a mix of seedy lowlife and high culture in the big city? You want Dawn Powell. Any of her New York books are right up this alley - funny, cynical and full of urban life, they lovingly satirize high and low urban art and media culture. 1954's The Wicked Pavilion is my fave of the ones I've read so far; it's got a hilarious mix of down-and-out artists, hustlers, sexual adventurers and wealthy...er...benefactors, all centering around a cafe in the Village. The Library of America has a good site about her; here's an excerpt from The Wicked Pavilion that gives a flavor of the mood in her NYC books, and here's a section from a critic's appreciation that focuses on the way she wrote about the city. Her NY books include:

Turn, Magic Wheel, 1936.
The Happy Island, 1938.
Angels on Toast, 1940.
A Time to Be Born, 1942.
The Locusts Have No King, 1948.
The Wicked Pavilion, 1954.
The Golden Spur, 1962.
posted by mediareport at 8:30 PM on November 23, 2007

bright lights, big city
posted by JimN2TAW at 8:40 PM on November 23, 2007

Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan

A true story with italian mafiosi, korean wrestlers, and pizzas in post-War Tokyo.
posted by SageLeVoid at 9:50 PM on November 23, 2007

A classic:

The Thief's Journal by Jean Genet
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:11 PM on November 23, 2007

Down and Out in Paris and London
Breakfast at Tiffany's
posted by thebrokenmuse at 12:28 AM on November 24, 2007

I'd also add Our Lady of the Flowers by the aforementioned Genet -- there's an unforgettable description of a group of pimps and whores/transvestites walking home through Paris in the early hours of the morning; the filmy dresses sweeping through the trash and leaves in the gutters: transcendent. Bulgakov's Master & Margarita is dense with street life. Damn near anything Dickens wrote. Pynchon's V, with its Whole Sick Crew.

On the poetry side, Charles Baudelaire's utterly urban and urbane Fleurs du Mal.
posted by Haruspex at 5:09 AM on November 24, 2007

Nobody's suggested any Murakami yet? His newest, After Dark sounds RIGHT up your alley.
posted by SansPoint at 10:24 AM on November 24, 2007

Andrei Codrescu has some autobiographical stuff that would fit.
posted by Mr. Gunn at 5:51 PM on November 24, 2007

Underground London: Travels Beneath the City Streets is fun if you want to go below the surface.
posted by lukemeister at 10:35 PM on November 24, 2007

Arthur Nersesian. More than a lot of authors above, Nersesian fits the bill. He writes about desperate, down-at-the-heels artist types in New York City, and he has a wonderful way of capturing the indignities, bizarreness, and humor of city life. His books are full of city fixtures like porno theaters, decrepit tenements, dudes living out of their vans, all-night diners.
posted by jayder at 10:53 PM on November 25, 2007

Oh, here's Nersesian's bio:

"Arthur Nersesian is a real New York writer. His novels are a celebration of marginal characters living in the East Village and trying to survive.

"Nersesian's books include The Fuck-Up, The East Village Tetralogy, and now just published by a small press based in New York, Manhattan Loverboy. Nersesian has been a fixture in the writing scene for many years. He was an editor for The Portable Lower East Side, which was an important magazine during the 1980s and early 90s.

"When The Fuck-Up came out in 1997, MTV Books picked it up and reprinted it in a new edition for hipsters everywhere. Soon Nersesian was no longer known only to a cabal of young bohemians on Avenue A. His work has been championed by The Village Voice and Time Out."
posted by jayder at 10:54 PM on November 25, 2007

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