Wednesday, October 19, 2016

NYC books

This is one of those posts that could completely spiral out of control.  It happens that I've read 3 books on New York City in a relatively short space of time (Tim Murphy's Christodora, Madison Smartt Bell's Waiting for the End of the World and then the non-fictional Floating City by Sudhir Venkatesh).  Also, I recently learned that Ben Katchor's Cheap Novelties is being reprinted (and supposedly with some old strips not previously published in book form*).  Katchor's vision of New York/Brooklyn definitely a special case of deep nostalgia for things that may never quite have existed.  Anyway, all this reading has inspired me to think a bit more about all the other books I've read about NYC, and there are certainly many.  While I can't go into great detail (there are dozens of dissertations written on these topics), there are huge differences in the books that were written in each era -- the pre-Giuliani era and those written after 9/11, for example.

To prevent this post from getting too out of hand, I will first link to two long lists of books about NYC.  One is from Wikipedia and includes a handful of non-fiction works, while the other is a list of 100 novels.

This post will then restrict itself to doing two things: highlight the books off each list that I can recommend and pull together a list of books that I will try to read in the (indeterminate) future.  I may move a book from the TBR pile to the recommended pile, but I don't feel overly compelled to do so.

The lists will be ordered by year of publication.  There are a few on my list to read that I probably should have gotten to by this point, but, as I've learned, you just can't read everything...

Recommended NYC books:
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1925)
Miss Lonelyhearts by Nathanael West (1933)
Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (1934)
The Unpossessed by Tess Slesinger (1934)
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (1947)
Seize the Day by Saul Bellow (1956)
Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr. (1964)
The Bag by Sol Yurick (1968)
Mr. Sammler's Planet by Saul Bellow (1970)
The Tenants by Bernard Malamud (1971) (The Bag through The Tenants all are grounded in a New York City rife with racial tension and a near complete breakdown of social services -- interesting but dark)
Bright Lights, Big City by Jay McInerney (1984)
Waiting for the End of the World by Madison Smartt Bell (1985)
The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster (1985-86)
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos (1990)
Marisol by José Rivera (1992)
Angels in America by Tony Kushner (1992-94)
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem (1999)
Jeremy Thrane by Kate Christensen (2001)
The Zero by Jess Walter (2006) (One of the few post 9/11 novels that actually worked for me)
The Empanada Brotherhood by John Nichols (2007) (kind of a minor piece exploring Nichols' life before he became a hit author)
Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (2009) (One of few books to delve into Bloomberg's New York)
Open City by Teju Cole (2012) (I enjoyed Open City, but somehow it doesn't feel that specific to NYC)
Christodora by Tim Murphy (2016) (seemed a bit too focused on artists and/or drug dealers, but had some interesting moments)

NYC books still to read:
Washington Square by Henry James (1880)
A Hazard of New Fortunes by William Dean Howells (1889)
The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905)
The Rise of David Levinsky by Abraham Cahan (1917)
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920)
The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald (1922)
Manhattan Transfer by John Dos Passos (1925)
Jews Without Money by Michael Gold (1930)
A Time to Be Born by Dawn Powell (1942)
The Locusts Have No King by Dawn Powell (1948)
Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin  (1953)
The Assistant by Bernard Malamud (1957)
Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote (1958)
Another Country by James Baldwin (1962)
Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell (1938-64)
Enemies by Isaac Bashevis Singer (1972)
Great Jones Street by Don DeLillo (1973)
The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe (1987)
A Home at the End of the World by Michael Cunningham (1990)
Moon Palace by Paul Auster (1990)
How the García Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez (1991)
The Hours by Michael Cunningham (1998)
Of Kings and Planets by Ethan Canin (1998)
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (2000)
The Good People of New York by Thisbe Nissen (2001)
The Fortress Of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem (2003)
Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo (2003)
The Island of Bicycle Dancers by Jiro Adachi (2004)
Netherland by Joseph O’Neill (2008)
Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2009)
Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (2009)
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer (2013)

* If you do not have a copy of Cheap Novelties, then by all means buy one of these reprinted ones, but the actual new material consists of only a few more fake ads interspersed at the end of the book.  I feel  ripped off (by the Drawn & Quarterly publicists) to be perfectly honest.

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