Ecco / Modern Library / Random House
Elizabeth Entenman
April 04, 2017 1:20 pm

Whenever a film or TV show is set in New York City, the setting comes to life as its own character in the story. Remember how it was commonly considered “the fifth character” on Sex and the City? The Big Apple’s energy, people, and history offer an endless amount of material that enriches every subject it touches. And that’s especially true of books about New York City.

There’s something special about stories set in NYC. Every new title lets you experience the city like it’s the first time, through the eyes of somebody new. Whether you’re a born-and-raised native, a transplant who moved to the city, or an admirer who dreams of visiting, you’ll love these seven books about New York City.

1. “Jazz” by Toni Morrison

Plume

The setting: Harlem in the 1920s. The characters: Joe and Violet, a husband and wife in a complicated triangle of passion. Toni Morrison weaves back and forth in time painting vivid, almost lyrical portraits of the city and of black urban life almost a century ago. An essential New York read.

2. “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote

Vintage Books

If you’ve seen the movie Breakfast at Tiffany’s, you know Holly Golightly as a charming, quirky, and irresistible socialite. But Capote’s original character is a bit wilder and lonelier — and more relatable. Warning: Reading Breakfast at Tiffany’s usually inspires a serious urge to shop along 5th Avenue.

3. “New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009” edited by Teresa Carpenter

Modern Library

New York is a city of many voices; it’s a melting pot of varying opinions, backgrounds, and perspectives. All of those voices come together in harmony in New York Diaries: 1609 to 2009. Teresa Carpenter dug through centuries of library archives, historical societies, and private collections to assemble this rich representation of life in New York.

4. “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison

Random House

Like Toni Morrison’s Jazz, Invisible Man tells the story of a black man who moves from the south to Harlem. He experiences extreme racism and violence as he attempts to understand his identity as a black man in a prejudiced world. The narrator doesn’t have a name, but his coming-of-age story will stay with you long after he’s finished telling it.

5. “Sweetbitter” by Stephanie Danler

Knopf

Sweetbitter is a newer New York novel. It tells the story of 22-year-old Tess, a transplant who takes a job as a back-waiter in one of the city’s fanciest restaurants. She quickly becomes taken with the foodie world — and with her chic Manhattan co-workers. Pour yourself a glass of red and bring your appetite, because Sweetbitter is delicious from start to finish.

6. “Mapping Manhattan” by Becky Cooper

Harry N. Abrams

Every New Yorker has their own version of “their” Manhattan. It could be a winding path through Central Park, a busy block in the West Village, or a tree-lined street in the Upper East Side. Becky Cooper asked natives to show her their version of the city. And that’s how this book of maps, offering an intimate look inside the lives of New Yorkers, was born.

7. “Just Kids” by Patti Smith

Ecco

One of the most romanticized relics of “old New York” is the Chelsea Hotel and its impressive list of artists in residence. In Patti Smith’s first book of prose, she pens a rich autobiography that offers a peek into her creative days spent there with Robert Mapplethorpe in the late 1960s. Even if you weren’t alive in the ‘60s, it’ll still leave you terribly nostalgic for the decade.

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