By Bijal Shah
Travelling to the Big Apple? Here are 6 must-read books that capture the heart and soul of New York from its ever-evolving people-pie to its prized suburbs and shrewd personality.
Read them whilst you are actually there — you’ll feel a part of this wonderful, bustling metropolis.
Set in 1940s New York, Breakfast at Tiffany’s is about party girl and socialite, Holly Golightly who ran away to escape a suffocating fate. Having been married and separated at the age of 14 she craves freedom yet needs something to quell her fear of loneliness and give her a sense of stability. Charming, fashionable and the ultimate ‘IT’ girl, men can’t help but fall for her. Things take a surprising turn when she meets a neighbourly gentlemen, a writer, who saves her from the trials and tribulations of high society and helps her find the love she has always been craving for but too scared to commit too.
What to visit: The iconic Tiffany & Co.’s flagship store that now shares a wall with the Trump Tower. Be sure to check out the cafe at the store which opened only last year (2017). With settings inspired by the movie adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn, the cafe is a treat for fans - be prepared to wait in line for several hours!
“And I like large parties. They’re so intimate. At small parties there isn’t any privacy.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
The ultimate novel of the Jazz Age, The Great Gatsby is about wealthy Jay Gatsby who arrives in West Egg, New York (now North Shore on the Northern Coast of Long Island) looking to make it his home. He strikes up a friendship with Nick Carraway, a young man living in a neighbouring cottage. Gatsby throws lavish parties embracing the decadence and excesses of the time, often inviting Nick to these.
Very little is known about the mysterious Gatsby who chooses to keep a low profile — however details start to gradually emerge. Gatsby fell for a married woman — the chances of a relationship however were impossible. The book narrates the extent of his love for her and at the same time cautions the reader against the dangers of the American dream. You can have it all yet it will still not buy you the love of your life.
The book, whilst a fictional love story, truly explores the hidden moral conflicts that people face all the time. Many of the passages within the book will leave you contemplating life in the middle of the night.
What to visit: Whilst you may want to check out Gatsby’s mansion in Long Island, there isn’t one aside from the fictional version in the book. However the mansion has been inspired by the many sprawling Long Island homes still in existence today, particularly in the tri-state area, which are certainly worth a visit.
Many of the novel’s events actually take place in Manhattan including 5th Avenue, the Waldorf, The Pulitzer Fountain, the Queensboro Bridge, Washington Heights and the Plaza Hotel. If you are craving some Gatsby-esque decadence be sure to visit these.
Often referred to as the book that every teenage boy wants to read, The Catcher in the Rye is the tale of a 16-year-old boy, Holden Caulfield, who has just been dismissed from a prestigious private school in Pennsylvania and is on his way to visit his disappointed parents in New York.
The novel, set in post World War II America, is largely an outpouring of Caulfield’s thoughts and feelings from everything that was wrong with society at the time to his attempts to successfully navigate adolescence into young adulthood.
Highly relatable and filled with angst and rebellion against societal values of the period — the book was a sign of things to come and the impending cultural revolution.
What to visit: The Edmont Hotel (actually thought to be the New Yorker Hotel), the apartment on 71st (situated on E 71st Avenue and 5th Avenue) next to Central Park, Wicker Bar (a bar in the Seton Hotel located on E. 40th) and the South Pond in Central Park.
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 2001, this novel tells the story of 2 young cousins— one who has just fled Nazi-invaded Prague and the other already settled in New York awaiting his cousin’s arrival to start their comic book fanfare, the newest rage on the block pioneered by European Jews who had immigrated to America.
Together they re-create larger-than-life characters and successfully launch the comic book “The Escapist”. Essentially a tale about the American dream pre- and post-World War II, the novel captures the classic immigrant story of hardship and success and brings to life wonderful characters that weave within the story the realities of life, human nature, heartbreak and tragedy and the chance to succeed again by being true to one’s self. A book that you will want to read over and over again.
What to visit: The observation decks of the Empire State Building plays a significant role in the book and is the location from which the Escapist initially makes the leap to rescue his people and become the iconic hero for all New Yorkers. Visit the decks and re-live the aspirational moments of the book when the Escapist first makes his first heroic appearance.
A Pulitzer Prize winning novel for fiction in 2014, The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt is an extraordinary work of literary fiction set in New York about a young man named Theo Decker. His mother passed away when he was only 13 years old in a car accident and abandoned by his father, Theo was taken in by wealthy Park Avenue family friends. Surrounded by rich strangers and a society which he struggled to relate to, he longed for his beloved mother and clings to a painting of her that draws him deeper and deeper into the underground art scene.
He grows up to work in an antiques shop, very closely entwined to the art scene that proves to become more and more dangerous as time goes on.
Tricky to put down and highly addictive with its power prose and meticulous descriptions, the novel cleverly captures the ability of art and artists to connect people, change lives and create the most unexpected of possibilities.
A book about love, loss, mourning, the heart, the head, morals and philosophy that is beautifully narrated, it will reaffirm your belief in the power of literature.
What to visit: The Metropolitan Art Museum where the whole story kicks-off, the New York Public Library where Donna Tartt wrote large parts of the book, and Park Avenue on the Upper East Side where Theo is said to reside for a while. The Elephant and Castle restaurant in Greenwich Village where Theo ate with his mum and Little Poland bar on Second Avenue where Theo enjoyed a reunion with his old friend Boris are also great spots to visit.
Highly engrossing and engaging, American Psycho is a stream-of-consciousness tale about Patrick Bateman, a 26 year-old who works on Wall Street and seems to have it all: looks, charm and intelligence. Yet underlying this wonderful outward appearance is a narcissistic psychopath who will stop at nothing to achieve the ultimate American Dream, ironically illustrating the dark side of the American dream, the excesses, consumerism and the ills of capitalism. Graphic portrayal of murder scenes with zero empathy for the victims, American Psycho will stun you.
A book written through the eyes of the psychopath itself, it will hauntingly live in your memory.
What to visit: Nightclubs Tunnel and Canal bar, swanky banker bars Harvard Club and 21, Indochine restaurant and Harry’s Cafe and Steak. Ofcourse there are all the designer brands to shop at on Fifth Avenue including Patrick’s favourites Bottega Veneta and Bergdorf Goodman.
These novels will transport you to New York at different points in its history and truly paint a unique picture of the inspiring city. Enjoy the books and get ready for a magical journey as you prepare for the real deal.
A big hello and thank you for reading! Passionate about literature, psychology, and life I launched Book Therapy as an alternative form of therapy using the power of literature. I create reading lists/personalised book prescriptions based on your individual needs, this is my signature personalised reading service. You can also check out Book Therapy’s other free reading lists and A- Z of book prescriptions (covering both fiction and non-fiction). These suggest books based on your existing life situation (e.g. anxiety, job change, relationship heartache) as well as interests (e.g memoir, historical fiction, non-fiction, crime etc). There’s also one for children, Children’s A — Z of Book Prescriptions. Feel free to check out the blog for more literary gems. There’s also a post on my personal story of how I entered the world of bibliotherapy and book curation. And if you’d like to connect, email me at email@example.com or www.booktherapy.io.
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