In 2017, I made a list of my favorite books about New York for our wedding guests. I called the list “Reading New York,” and thought it might be a nice way for out-of-town visitors to get to know our home city. I came across this list recently, and found myself amused by the way this list feels like a snapshot in time. I also started thinking about how I would expand this list, which new titles I might add.
The 2017 Reading New York list:
- Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence
- Betty Smith, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
- Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities
- Patti Smith, Just Kids
- Kim Gordon, Girl in a Band
- Joan Didion, “Goodbye to All That,” Slouching Towards Bethlehem
- Gabrielle Hamilton, Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef
- Rem Koolhaas, Delirious New York
- Russell Shorto, The Island at the Center of the World
Looking at this list, I’m surprised that I left off some classic New York novels, like J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, or F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, or Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man. The Bell Jar didn’t make it onto the list because it seemed too depressing to associate with a wedding.
Why did I put Patti Smith and Kim Gordon on this list, but leave off Rachel Kushner’s novel, The Flamethrowers?
Let’s just say that this list has room to grow.
What else would I add, for Reading New York: 2022? New categories.
I’d create a new category for photo-books, and I’d include many of the books on this list. What are your favorite New York photobooks? What am I forgetting?
- Jacob Riis, How the Other Half Lives (Riis was the subject of a recent Bowery Boys podcast)
- Weegee, Naked City
- William Klein, Life is Good & Good for You in New York
- Berenice Abbott, Changing New York
- Helen Levitt, A Way of Seeing
- Jamel Shabazz, Back in the Days
- Janet Delaney, Red Eye to New York
- Bruce Davidson, Subway
- Nan Goldin, Ballad of Sexual Dependency
- Karla and James Murray, Store Front and Store Front II
Illustrated books–what some call “adult picture books–also deserve their own category. For this new category, I’d add Maira Kalman’s books, The Principles of Uncertainty, and My Favorite Things, and Decoding New York, by Antonis Antoniou and Steven Heller. But what else? A question for 2023.
The 2017 list was also short on “fun” books. For the 2022 list, I’d add Judy Blume’s Summer Sisters. I read it in high school, while working a part-time job at a local bookstore, and forgot all about it until this summer, when I read it on the beach in Martha’s Vineyard. I had forgotten that the story takes place partly in New York, and it was fun to see familiar landmarks through Blume’s eyes. Henry Chang’s Chinatown Beat should also be on this list.
In 2017, only one book on New York history made the cut, Russell Shorto’s Island at the Center of the World. But there are so many other good books on New York history, this category could easily balloon and become very, very long. But since it’s my personal list, I’d like to stick with books that had some kind of personal resonance. After 2020, I recommend Charles E. Rosenberg’s Cholera Years to everyone. In this history, NYC plays a starring role, and Corlears Hook — just a few blocks from our apartment — makes an appearance. It is not a happy story, but it gave me a different appreciation for both the geography of this city, and the terror of facing down a new, and highly contagious, pandemic.
What am I missing? What would be on your “Reading New York” list? Send me your suggestions!