Must-Read Books About New York City

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My relationship with New York City dates back to a weekend trip I took with my dad in high school. It was love at first sight. We spent a busy two days window-shopping on 5th Avenue, taking a carriage ride through Central Park, eating countless slices of cheap pizza, and attending a production of Mary Poppins on Broadway.

We had so much fun that we ended up returning for two more weekend trips in the following years. After Sam and I got married, we visited New York City together at Christmastime.

Though I’ve heard many people criticize New York for being too dirty, too crowded, too expensive, or too touristy, it will always hold a special place in my heart. (And I have to assume those same detractors also hate sunshine, chocolate, and baby otters. I mean, seriously.)

For me, the next best thing to actually being in New York City is reading about it. Here is a list of the best books about New York City:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn chronicles Francie Nolan’s bittersweet coming-of-age in a Brooklyn slum in the early 20th century.

Not only is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn an incredible portrait of turn-of-the-century New York City, but it is also one of my all-time favorite books!

Buy it here.

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Whatron’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Age of Innocence, offers a glimpse into the glamorous, yet highly structured world of New York City’s elites.

In the novel, Newland Archer must choose between his perfectly suitable fiancée and her more exciting, but highly unsuitable cousin.

Buy it here.

Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín 

Like many before her, Eilis Lacey must travel from her hometown in Ireland to Brooklyn in search of work. Tóibín’s novel deftly describes the difficulties immigrants faced in 1950s New York City.

Sam and I enjoyed the 2015 movie adaptation as well.

You can by the book here.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

In 1974, the people of Manhattan are shocked to see a tightrope walker balancing 110 stories in the air on a cable strung between the World Trade Towers. Colum McCann uses that central event to explore the lives of the various, loosely-connected witnesses.

Buy the book here.

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Set during the Jazz Age and considered one of the great masterworks of American literature, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby tells the story of a self-made millionaire’s obsession with a woman he can never truly have.

Buy the book here.

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

After being expelled from university, the unnamed protagonist leaves the south to try his luck in Harlem. In New York, he must navigate the complexities of being a black man in 1930s America.

Buy the book here.

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

Holden Caulfield, with his distaste for “phonies,” is one of the most famous characters in American literature. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, which was highly controversial at the time of publication, describes Caulfield’s clandestine adventures in Manhattan after he is expelled from school.

(This is not a personal favorite of mine, but still deserves a spot on the list!)

Buy the book here.

As with every book list ever made, this one is far from exhaustive. Which books would you add?


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Best Books About New York City

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