There’s something hypnotically beautiful about New York. Fictional New York, that is. As readers, we are expected to take words from a page and use it to paint images in our minds.
There are always certain places in a book that seem to craft the most wonderful images. For me, New York has always been that place. That place of loss, confusion, home and chaos. I always gravitate towards books with a specific setting and books set in New York (mostly) never fail.
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger
This book was there for me through all stages of my life. I first read it when I was 15 and it changed my life. I read it again just before starting university, and yes, un-shockingly, I uncovered another layer of beauty in Salinger’s work.
This is a coming-of-age, angsty, teen book with the right levels of sophistication to make it part of the classic American literature canon. As a 15-year-old, I saw myself in Holden Caulfield: a young student in an all-consuming city where no one seems to understand you.
This book can transcend onto everyone regardless of what age you are or what stage of your life you are going through. The ‘no-rubbish’ tone has the ability to wake the inner angry adolescent within you.
This book is a relic of 1950s New York, so you can imagine it as the perfect backdrop for the ‘olden days’ yet it has a modern, relatable, home-like feel.
Salinger’s word crafting has the ability to shrink one of the most hectic, large cities in the world to the size of your palm. Whilst reading this book, you are in that yellow taxi cab, following Holden around as he is trying to find himself in the world.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
This is a book I wish I had read when I was younger because I knew that Franny Nolan would have been my heroine. Again, this book doesn’t beat around the bush. You can uncover everything.
It doesn’t require deep thought because Smith is candid and honest with the experiences Franny has to go through in Brooklyn.
This book is set way, way, way before Brooklyn got gentrified, so it contains the grit, pain and the dirt of the streets. In each sentence, you feel a different emotion and you can set yourself in the world created by Smith.
A touching read.
American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis
This book is a token from New York in the 90s. All of those ‘nostalgic’ films and TV series you watch set in those times come to life even more when reading this book.
Despite this book being outrageously gory and not to everyone’s taste, the nostalgia is undeniable with the sly pop-culture references.
You get a feel of the exclusive clubs and hidden nooks in the city, it feels as though you were there as well.
It is grotesque satire — a fantastic ode to sneering at Yuppie culture in the 90s.
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote
Again, this is another book that had a very important film adaptation with Audrey Hepburn playing Holly Golightly. However, the book is a lot more powerful in building an ‘all-around’ image of the setting. The film glamourised many of the aspects of living in the city, yet the book included the beauty and the ugliness.
As a reader, you expect there to be a balance between the good and the bad of a city. Therefore, this book has the ability to set an honest, truthful image of building your story in the backdrop of a vast, dense city.
The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Beautiful and Damned is set between the 1910s and 20s. It provides the reader with scope and real insight into the ‘café society’ comprised of socialites and the ultra-rich.
Although it is hard to feel sorry for Anthony Patch, the protagonist, this book serves as a real indulgence in a very iconic time in history.