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A New York Reading List
Travel and Impressions

Brendan Behan Brendan Behan's New York (Hutchinson/Geis). Behan's journey through the underbelly of New York City in the early 1960s, readably recounted in anecdotal style - and with some characterful sketches by Paul Hogarth.


Stephen Brook New York Days, New York Nights (Picador/Atheneum). A witty and fairly penetrating account of the city in the 1980s.


Jerome Charyn Metropolis (Abacus/Avon). A native of the Bronx, Charyn dived into the New York of the 1980s from every angle and comes up with a book that's still sharp, sensitive and refreshingly real: one of the best things you can read on the city, from one of its better contemporary writers. See also "New York in Fiction", below.


B. Cohen, S. Chwast and S. Heller (eds) New York Observed (Abrams, o/p). An anthology of writings on and illustrations of the city from 1650 to the 1980s: a good alternative to the more literary Marqusee/Harris book.


Henry James Lake George to Burlington (Tragara Press UK). Travels through the peaceful and often wild backwaters of New York State in the late 1800s. As ever, elegantly written.


Frederico Garcia Lorca Poet in New York (Penguin/Grove Weidenfeld, o/p). The Andalusian poet and dramatist spent nine months in the city around the time of the Wall Street Crash. This collection of over thirty poems reveals his feelings on the brutality, loneliness, greed, corruption racism and mistreatment of the poor.


Jan Morris Manhattan `45 (Penguin/OUP) Morris' most recent, and best, writings on Manhattan, reconstructing New York as it greeted returning GIs in 1945. Effortlessly written, fascinatingly anecdotal, marvellously warm about the city. See also The Great Port (OUP).


Edmund White States of Desire: Travels in Gay America (Picador/NAL-Dutton). A revealing account of life in gay communities across America, containing an informed if dispassionate chapter on New York. Good on Fire Island and the more lurid aspects of NYC gay bars.


History, Politics and Society

Oliver E. Allen New York New York (Macmillan). Entertaining anecdotal illustrated history with good accounts of the robber barons and other eminent New Yorkers, along with a deft appraisal of the Koch era.


George Chauncey Gay New York: The Making of the Gay Male World 1890-1940 (HarperCollins/Flamingo). Definitive, revealing account of the city's gay subculture, superbly researched. Though academic in approach, it's a highly readable chronicle of a much-neglected facet of New York's character.


Anne Douglas Terrible Honesty: Mongrel Manhattan in the 1920s (Picador/Farrar, Straus, Giroux). The media and artistic culture of the Roaring Twenties, a never-repeated fluke that was a casualty of the Depression.


Edward Robb Ellis The Epic of New York City (Coward-McCann/Marboro-Dorset Reprints, both o/p). Popularized history of the city in which its major historical figures - Peter Stuyvesant, William Tweed and the rest - become a cast of characters as colourful as any historical novel. Interesting, but you sometimes wonder where Ellis gets his facts from.


Kenneth T. Jackson (ed) The Enyclopaedia of New York (Yale UP). Massive, engrossing and utterly comprehensive guide to just about everything in the city. Much dry detail, but packed with incidental wonders: did you know that there are more (dead) people in Calvary Cemetery, Queens, than there are (living) people in the whole borough? Or that Truman Capote's real name was Streckford Persons?


Michael Pye Maximum City: The Biography of New York (Picador, UK). Newish overview by a transplanted Brit; more synoptic, less impressionistic than Charyn's Metropolis.


Ron Rosenbaum Manhattan Passions (Penguin/Viking Penguin, o/p). Rosenbaum lunches with the rich and powerful in New York - and writes about it with wit, style and sometimes hard-bitten contempt. Pieces on Donald Trump, Ed Koch and the late Malcolm Forbes to name just a few.


Art, Architecture and Photography

W. Brown American Art (Abrams). Encyclopedic account of movements in the visual and applied arts in America from colonial times to the present day.


Philip S. Foner and Reinhard Schultz The Other America (Journeyman/Unwin Hyman). Art and images of poverty and the labour movement in the USA. Includes photographs of early twentieth-century New York by Jacob Riis (see above) and Lewis W. Hine.


Margot Gayle and Michele Cohen Guide to Manhattan's Sculpture (Prentice Hall). The Art Commission and Municipal Art Society's very thorough illustrated guide to more or less every piece of standing sculpture on the island. Accessibly laid-out and written.


Paul Goldberger The City Observed: A Guide to the Architecture of Manhattan (Penguin/Random House). If you need a reasonably up-to-date, well-written and erudite rundown on New York's premier buildings, look no further. Goldberger's book is hard to fault.


H. Klotz (ed.) New York Architecture 1970-1990 (Prestel/Rizzoli). Extremely welll-llustrated account of the shift from Modernism to postmodernism and beyond.


Les Krantz American Artists (Phaidon/Facts on File). An attractive and indispensable alphabetical guide to American art after World War I.


Jacob Riis How the Other Half Lives (Dover/Hill & Wang). Republished photo-journalism reporting life in the Lower East Side at the end of the nineteenth century. The original awakened many to the plight of New York's poor.


Barbara Rose American Twentieth-century Painting (Skira/Rizzoli). Full and readable, with prints that more than justify the price.


N. White and E. Willensky (eds.) AIA Guide to New York (Macmillan/Harcourt Brace Jovanovich). Standard guide to the city's architecture, more interesting than it sounds.


Gerard R. Wolfe New York: A Guide to the Metropolis (McGraw-Hill US). Only available in the States, this is more academic - and less opinionated - than Goldberger's book, but it does include some good stuff on the Outer Boroughs. Also informed historical background.


Specific Guides

Richard Alleman The Movie Lover's Guide to New York (Harper & Row, US). Over two hundred listings of corners of the city with cinematic associations. Interestingly written, painstakingly researched and indispensable to anyone with even a remote interest in either New York or film history.


Joann Biondi & James Kaskins Hippocrene USA Guide to Black New York (Hippocrene US). Borough-by-borough gazetteer of historic sites and contemporary shops of special Afro-American interest.


Judi Culbertson and Tom Randall Permanent New Yorkers (Chelsea Green US). This unique guide to the cemeteries of New York includes the final resting-places of such notables as Herman Melville, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Horace Greeley, Mae West, Judy Garland and 350 others.


Bubbles Fisher The Candy Apple: New York for Kids (Prentice Hall). Written by a quintessentially New York grandmother, this guide is fun for adults to read, and offers lots of good ideas about what to do with kids in the city.


Toby and Gene Glickman The New York Red Pages (Praeger US, o/p). Radical guide to the city taking in politically significant sites and points of interest. Covering Lower Manhattan only, and again solely available in America; if you can get hold of it it's an informing read.


Mark Leeds Ethnic New York (Passport Books US, o/p). A guide to the city that details its major ethnic neighbourhoods, with descriptions of restaurants, shops and festivals. Though its maps are terrible, it's an excellent introduction to the city's ethnic locales, especially outside Manhattan.


Andrew Roth Infamous Manhattan (Citadel Press US) A vivid and engrossing history of New York crime, revealing the sites of Mafia hits, celebrity murders, nineteenth-century brothels, and other wicked spots, including a particularly fascinating guide to restaurants with dubious, infamous or gory pasts. As a walking tour guide it can't be beaten, but the stories and anecdotes of 350 years of Manhattan misdeeds are just as absorbing from an armchair. The most accurate, readable and entertaining book on the subject yet published.


New York in Fiction

Martin Amis Money (Penguin/Viking Penguin). Following the wayward moments of degenerate film director John Self between London and New York, a weirdly scatological novel that's a striking evocation of 1980s excess.


Paul Auster The New York Trilogy: City of Glass, Ghosts and The Locked Room (Faber/Viking Penguin). Three Borgesian investigations into the mystery, madness and murders of contemporary NYC. Using the conventions of the crime thriller, Auster unfolds a disturbed and disturbing picture of the city.


James Baldwin Another Country (Penguin/Vintage). Baldwin's best-known novel, tracking the feverish search for meaningful relationships among a group of 1960s New York bohemians. The so-called liberated era in the city has never been more vividly documented - nor its knee-jerk racism.


John Franklin Bardin The Deadly Percheron; The Last of Philip Banter; Devil Take the Blue-Tail Fly (Penguin/Viking Penguin, all o/p). These three unique tales are the only work by Bardin, who disappeared from literary life in 1948; paranoid, almost surreal mysteries that use 1940s New York as a vivid backdrop for intricate storylines.


Wilton Barnhardt Emma Who Saved My Life (Futura/St Martin, o/p). Warm and witty novel about making it in New York in the 1970s. Full of sharply observed, satirical detail on city characters, locations, dilemmas and situations, and funny enough to make you laugh out loud, it's perhaps the most perfect thing to take with you on a visit.


Madison S. Bell The Year of Silence (Abacus/Viking Penguin). The story of an Upper West Side suicide, and the effects it has on everyone connected, from the woman's lover to the Broadway panhandler who discovers the body. Controlled, delicately paced writing, structured (almost) as a set of separate stories, and unsentimentally revealing the city and its people. See also Bell's collection of short stories, Zero db (Abacus), and his Waiting for the End of the World (Abacus), an earlier novel about a terrorist plot to plant a nuclear device in the subway tunnels under Times Square.


William Boyd Stars and Bars (Penguin/Viking Penguin). Set partly in New York, part in the deep South, a well-observed novel that tells despairingly and hilariously of the unbridgeable gap between the British and Americans. Full of ringing home truths for the first-time visitor to the States.


Jerome Charyn War Cries over Avenue C (Abacus/Viking Penguin, o/p). Alphabet City is the derelict backdrop for this novel of gang warfare among the Vietnam-crazed coke barons of New York City. An offbeat tale of conspiracy and suspense. A later work, Paradise Man (Abacus), is the violent story of a New York hit man.


John Cheever The Stories of John Cheever (Vintage/Ballantine). These marvellous stories have a warmth, depth of understanding and a narrative tension that makes utterly compelling reading. And they are also a superb evocation of New York (city and state) in the 1950s and 1960s.


E.L. Doctorow Ragtime (Picador/Bantam). America, and particularly New York, before World War I: Doctorow cleverly weaves together fact and fiction, historical figures and invented characters, to create what ranks as biting indictment of the country and its racism. See also the earlier and equally skilful Book of Daniel; World's Fair, a beautiful evocation of a Bronx boyhood in the 1930s; Loon Lake, much of which is set in the Adirondacks; and the subsequent Billy Bathgate. All are available in Picador.


J.P. Donleavy A Fairy Tale of New York (Penguin/Atlantic Monthly). Comic antics through the streets of New York in the well-worn Donleavy tradition.


Andrea Dworkin Ice and Fire (Secker & Warburg/Grove Weidenfeld, o/p). An unpleasant and disturbing romp through the East Village by one of America's leading feminist writers.


Brett Easton Ellis American Psycho (Picador/Vintage). Having arrived in a blaze of hype, Easton Ellis's profoundly unpleasant book studies the life of Patrick Bateman, who works on Wall Street by day and tortures women to death for sexual pleasure by night. As in his previous book, Less than Zero (set in LA), the protagonist's world is a vapid one where designer labels are more important signifiers than people's names. Reviled by critics, Psycho is, in the final analysis, not a profound enough literary vessel for the disturbing ideas it contains.


Ralph Ellison Invisible Man (Penguin/Random House). The definitive if sometimes long-winded novel of what it's like to be black and American, using Harlem and the 1950s race riots as a background.


F. Scott Fitzgerald The Great Gatsby (Penguin/Collier Macmillan). Fitzgerald's best and best-known novel, set among the estates, the parties and hedonism of Long Island's Gold Coast in the Twenties. Stylishly written detail on the city too.


Helene Hanff Apple of My Eye (Futura o/p/Moyer Bell, both o/p). Deliberately ironic look at the city by a native New Yorker who found fame as the author of 84 Charing Cross Road. At times irritatingly naive, but often insightful and gently penetrating. If this appeals, follow it up with Letter from New York (Warner), based on her BBC broadcasts from the city.


Oscar Hijuelos Our House in the Last World (Serpent's Tail/Pocket Books). A warmly evocative novel of immigrant Cuban life in New York from before the war to the present day.


Chester Himes The Crazy Kill (Alison & Busby/Random House). Himes writes violent, fast-moving and funny thrillers set in Harlem, of which this is just one.


Andrew Holleran Dancer from the Dance (Penguin/NAL-Dutton). Enjoyable account of the embryonic gay disco scene of the early 1970s. Interesting locational detail of Manhattan haunts and Fire Island, but suffers from over-exaltation of the central character.


Henry James Washington Square (Penguin/Viking Penguin). Skilful examination of the codes and dilemmas of New York genteel society in the nineteenth century.


Tama Janowitz Slaves of New York (Picador/Pocket Books). Written by one of the so-called "brat-pack" of young American writers, this collection of short stories pokes gentle fun at New York in the 1980s. Janowitz's recurring cast of characters is colourful, shocking, sad and endearing. Her most recent novel, Male Cross-Dresser Support Group (Random House), marks a return to form after her forgettable A Cannibal in Manhattan (Picador, o/p).


Joyce Johnson Minor Characters (Picador/Pocket Books). Women were never a prominent feature of the Beat generation; its literature examined a male world through strictly male eyes. This book, written by the woman who lived for a short time with Jack Kerouac, redresses the balance superbly well. And there's no better novel available on the Beats in New York. See also her In the Night Café (Flamingo), a novel which charts - again in part autobiographically - the relationship between a young woman and a struggling New York artist in the 1960s.


Stephen Koch The Bachelor's Bride (Marion Boyars). Readable if slightly affected novel of art society in 1960s New York.


Joseph Koenig Little Odessa (Penguin/Ballantine). An ingenious, twisting thriller set in Manhattan and Brooklyn's Russian community in Brighton Beach. A seriously readable, exciting novel, and a good contemporary view of New York City.


Larry Kramer Faggots (Mandarin/NAL-Dutton). Parody of the NYC gay scene, lewdly honest and raucously funny, by the author of the AIDS play The Normal Heart.


Mary McCarthy The Group (Penguin/Avon). Eight Vassar graduates making their way in the New York of the Thirties. Sad, funny and satirical.


Jay McInerney Bright Lights, Big City (Flamingo/Vintage). A cult book, and one which made first-time novelist McInerney a mint, following a struggling New York yuppie from one cocaine-sozzled nightclub to another. See also McInerney's subsequent novel, Story of My Life (Penguin/Vintage): easily his best work, a superbly observed social satire in which the heroine weaves her way through a Manhattan that's disturbingly (and sometimes hilariously) superficial, self-indulgent and exhausted. McInerney's latest, Brightness Falls (Random House), is less specifically focused on New York but still worthwhile.


Henry Miller Crazy Cock (HarperCollins/Grove Weidenfeld, o/p). Semi-autobiographical work of love, sex and angst in Greenwich Village in the 1920s. The more easily available trilogy of Sexus, Plexus and Nexus (HC/Grove) and the famous Tropics duo (...of Cancer, ...of Capricorn) contain generous slices of 1920s Manhattan as sandwich meat to bohemian life in 1930s Paris.


Ann Petry The Street (Virago/Houghton Mifflin). The story of a black woman's struggle to rise from the slums of Harlem in the 1940s. Convincingly bleak. .


Thomas Pynchon V (Picador/HarperCollins). First novel by one of America's greatest living writers. The settings shift from Valletta to Namibia, but New York's Lower East Side is a key reference point. And there's a fantastic crocodile hunt through the city sewers. Recommended.


Judith Rossner Looking for Mr Goodbar (Cape/Pocket Books). A disquieting book, tracing the progress - and eventual demise - of a woman teacher through volatile and permissive New York in the 1960s. Good on evoking the feel of the city in the 1960s era, but on the whole a depressing read.


Henry Roth Call It Sleep (Penguin/Avon). Roth's only work of any real note traces - presumably autobiographically - the awakening of a small immigrant child to the realities of life among the slums of the Jewish Lower East Side. Read more for the evocations of childhood than the social comment.


Paul Rudnick Social Disease (Penguin/Ballantine). Hilarious, often incredible, send-up of Manhattan night owls. Very New York, very funny.


Damon Runyon First to Last and On Broadway (Penguin); Guys and Dolls (River City) in the US. Collections of short stories drawn from the chatter of Lindy's Bar on Broadway and since made into the successful musical Guys 'n' Dolls.


J.D. Salinger The Catcher in the Rye (Penguin/Bantam). Salinger's brilliant novel of adolescence, following Holden Caulfield's sardonic journey of discovery through the streets of New York. Essential reading.


Sarah Schulman The Sophie Horowitz Story (Naiad Press US) and After Dolores (Plume US). Lesbian detective stories set in contemporary New York: dry, downbeat and very funny. See also Girls, Visions and Everything (Seal Press US), a stylish and, again, humorous study of the lives of Lower East Side lesbians.


Hubert Selby Jr. Last Exit to Brooklyn (Paladin/Grove Weidenfeld). When first published in Britain in 1966 this novel was tried on charges of obscenity and even now it's a disturbing read, evoking the sex, the immorality, the drugs, and the violence of downtown Brooklyn in the 1960s with fearsome clarity. An important book, but to use the words of David Shepherd at the obscenity trial, you will not be unscathed.


Dyan Sheldon Dreams of an Average Man (Penguin, Crown, both o/p). Dense, typically mordant novel of deceit, social manners and mid-life crises among NYC yuppies. An insightful and frequently scary read.


Isaac Bashevis Singer Enemies (Penguin/Farrar Straus & Giroux). A Polish Jew settles in New York following the war and marries the woman who helped him escape the Nazis, only to find the wife he thought was dead has managed to escape too. A bleak tale, suffused with guilt and regret, set in a Manhattan haunted by the horrific and seemingly everlasting shadow of the Holocaust.


Betty Smith A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Pan/HarperCollins). Something of a classic, and rightly so, in which a courageous Irish girl makes good against a vivid pre-war Brooklyn backdrop. Totally absorbing.


Rex Stout The Doorbell Rang (Fontana/Bantam). Stout's Nero Wolfe is perhaps the most intrinsically "New York" of all the literary detectives based in the city, a larger-than-life character who, with the help of his dashing assistant, Archie Goodwin, solves crimes - in this story and others published by Fontana - from the comfort of his sumptuous midtown Manhattan brownstone. Compulsive reading, and wonderfully evocative of the city in the 1940s and 1950s.


Edith Wharton Old New York (Virago/Scribners). A collection of short novels on the manners and mores of New York in the mid-nineteenth century, written with Jamesian clarity and precision. Virago/Scribner also publish her Hudson River Bracketed and The Mother's Recompense, both of which centre around the lives of women in nineteenth-century New York.


Tom Wolfe The Bonfire of the Vanities (Picador/Bantam). Wolfe's first novel, and one which uses his skills of social observation to the full. Sherman McCoy is a Wall Street bond dealer who finds he can't live on $1 million a year, and meets his match when, while swooning at the monied spires of Manhattan, he inadvertently drives his Mercedes into the South Bronx. The best top-to-toe revelation of New York in the late 1980s you could wish for - and a fine racy read to boot, despite its appearance as a much-criticized film.


Essays, Poetry and Impressions

Phillip Lopate (ed) Writing New York (Library of America, US). A massive literary anthology taking in both fiction and non-fiction writings on the city, and with selections from everyone from washington Irving to Tom Wolfe.


Frederico Garcia Lorca Poet in New York (Penguin/Grove Weidenfeld, o/p). The Andalucian poet and dramatist spent nine months in the city around the time of the Wall Street Crash. This collection of over thirty poems reveals his feelings on the brutality, loneliness, greed, corruption, racism and mistreatment of the poor.


Joseph Mitchell Up in the Old Hotel (Random House, US). Mitchell's collected essays (he calls them stories), all of which appeared in the New Yorker, are works of a sober if manipulative genius. Mitchell depicts characters and situations with a reporter's precision and near-perfect style – he is the definitive chronicler of NYC street life.