These days, timeless literature set in New York City makes people think of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, so we’re suggesting some other works with an NYC setting. We’ve picked our favorite classics, and thrown in some more recent or lesser-known fictional works that use the city as more than just a backdrop for a story– New York becomes an integral element of these writers’ works.
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Let the Great World Spin offers a very real representation of a gritty New York in the ’70s, using the great tightrope walk by Phillipe Petit as a unifying event. Colum McCann weaves the stories of multiple protagonists into a web centrally focused on the city and the very real lives of the people in it.
The story of a girl growing up with her multi-ethnic family, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn depicts an early-1990s Williamsburg. Betty Smith offers a youth’s perspective on war, death, and city life in this NYC-set classic.
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Narrated by a nine-year old, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is the endearing story of a boy’s search for clues about his father who was killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Foer takes his readers on a small but important adventure around New York City recognizing the tragedy of 9/11 and exploring its impact on the individual and the struggle to address an entire country in mourning.
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Watchmen, a classic of DC Comics, is a 12-part graphic novel based in a fictional version of New York City with superheroes, war, and intrigue. Alan Moore creates an alternate 1980’s reality in a city impacted by alternate outcomes of the Vietnam War, the Nixon presidency, and U.S.-Soviet relations.
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Our House in the Last World deals with a family of Cuban immigrants in New York City, focusing on the experiences of the family’s young son, Hector and his search for identity. The Spanish Harlem portrayed by Oscar Hijuelos is a tumultuous setting balanced by the warm and passionate characters he writes.
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Truman Capote’s novella, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, paints a year in the life of an Upper East Side socialite of the 1940’s as protagonist Holly Golightly searches for happiness in a newly materialized New York City. The story of how she tries to find her place in New York City by being involved with wealthy men is told by her interlocutor and neighbor, “Fred.” The novella was famously made into a film starring Audrey Hepburn.
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From 1904 to 1911, Coney Island housed an amusement park called “Dreamland,” where most of Dreamland‘s action is set. Kevin Baker uses fictional characters based on real people to take his readers through the experience and history of this “freak show” amusement park that eventually burned down.
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The Fountainhead‘s protagonist is a young NYC-based architect, Howard Roark, trying to design modern buildings in an exaggeratedly classicist society. Ayn Rand analogizes architecture to her strong beliefs of individualism, creativity, and the value of a selfish ego.
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In this collection of poems, Frank O’Hara records his lunch hours spent reacting spontaneously to his experiences. Throughout Lunch Poems is a longing for personal connection and a plethora of references to pop culture and other writers.
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The Goldfinch is an epic novel about a young man’s tumultuous tale surrounding Carel Fabritius’s painting of The Goldfinch housed in the Metropolitan Museum. In the early portion of the novel set in New York City, Donna Tartt vividly portrays the Upper East Side and the West Village.
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The story of The Brooklyn Follies centers around an aging man settling to die alone in Brooklyn. However, he reconnects with his estranged nephew who helps him find a more positive outlook on the remainder of his life allowing him to find redemption for his past.
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The transgressive story of Manhattan businessman and serial killer, American Psycho‘s highly unreliable narrator relates his life which is full of mundane relationships and of violent exploits. The murders committed in Bret Easton Ellis’ novel are not mere gunshots, but crimes of a lunatic– we cautiously recommend this one.
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Female writer Adelle Waldman uses the point of view of a 21st century male to narrate his feelings on relationships, love, and sexuality as a normal to handsome man in New York. Her writing in The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. has likened Waldman to a 21st century Jane Austen.
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The original play Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes depicts a New York City of the 1980’s dealing with homosexuality and the outbreak of AIDS. Tony Kushner writes stereotypically New York characters and artfully portrays the city where his characters coexist, suffer, and recover together.
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The framework for The Bell Jar is set in New York City, where the young female narrator Esther lives the glamorous life of an intern at an acclaimed magazine but feels no excitement. After her experience in New York, Sylvia Plath recounts Esther’s descent into depression and dealing with suicidal thoughts.
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Open City is the story of a Nigerian doctor named Julius who wanders around Manhattan reflecting on his past. Along the way, Teju Cole’s narrator meets other people wresting with their pasts as well, as he ventures around the city in a wonderful depiction of the city’s mosaic of neighborhoods.
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And since we can’t deny that Fitzgerald knew how to represent New York in writing, we appreciate his portrait of New York during the Jazz Age. The Beautiful and Damned is an illustration of elite New York society in the 20’s but also contemplates themes of intimacy, decadence, and morality.
Read on about our 10 favorite non-fiction books on New York City as well as a reader-submitted collection of NYC non-fiction reads. Let us know what your favorites are!
Last month, Brooklyn real estate broker Dan Levy proposed a system of gondola lifts to ferry people between Manhattan and quickly growing waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens. Dubbed the East River Skyway, the proposal is modeled as a sort of juiced up Roosevelt Island Tram. Levy envisions the system connecting South Street Seaport in lower Manhattan to Dumbo and the Navy Yard in Brooklyn, up to Williamsburg and across again to the Lower East Side, and a final stretch extending the Roosevelt Island tram over to Long Island City in Queens. He estimates the entire project could cost $225 million to $375 million, and could transport 5,000 commuters per hour per direction, with cars arriving every 30 to 40 seconds.
This week, we are excited to explore the Met’s new plaza, a green design boat cruise, and sausage-making, while the weekend will be filled with cider appreciation, creative dog costumes, and an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the Brooklyn Army Terminal.
At 12 p.m., guides from the architecture firm OLIN will be giving a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s David Koch Plaza as part of Archtober, a month-long initiative of The American Institute of Architects New York Chapter and the Center for Architecture Foundation. The David Koch Plaza is finally open after a two year construction period, and according to the Museum’s website, boasts “completely new fountains, paving, and facade lighting, along with allées and bosques of trees leading to the Museum’s entrances from north and south, and seating areas for visitors.” Register on Archtober’s website, and read our other top picks of the festival’s events. (more…)
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Opening yesterday at 345 Broome Street, British street artist Nick Walker‘s first solo show in years All I Ever Wanted Was My Name On Fire is a showcase of new works by one of the originators of the British graffiti movement. Walker’s work has been seen around NYC for years; you may have noticed seeing a sinister looking man in a dark suit and bowler cap on the walls of Chinatown and the LES. Walker’s art constitutes a mixture of styles: stenciling, graffiti and dark humor, which has gained him a much deserved following around the world, especially in NYC.
His new works continue the style he has perfected since the early 90s. It also serves as a continuation of the Vandal (the dapper character of his artwork) storyline. The show is also promoting the newest book by the artist and his collaboration with London based tableware company Royal Dulton. The show is running for only one week so we suggest you find some time to catch one of the globe’s most popular street artists latest works and prints. (more…)
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Ms. Pac-Man. The name brings back childhood memories for some, teenage nostalgia for others, or evokes images of a now bygone time. Ms. Pac-Man is the grand dame of the Golden Age of the arcade video game which spanned the late 1970s to 1980s. As one of the most popular video games of all time, Ms. Pac-Man (a sequel to the original Pac Man) features a female protagonist who is even considered a feminist icon by some. Ms. Pac-Man took arcading mainstream. In New York City there are places where one can still scurry from ghosts, devour pellets in order to weaken and eat said ghosts, and enjoy the love story of how Mr. and Ms. Pac-Man meet. This timeless arcade classic has managed to find a place in some of the most unique places New York City has to offer.