Past to present … New York’s people and and places spill on to the pages of countless books about the city.
A literary crawl of New York
Call It Sleep by Henry Roth: … capturing the immigrant patois of the Lower East Side, 1934’s Call It Sleep has no equal. “You stay righd hea in de daw an’ don’ go ‘way or I’ll moider you!” one character exclaims.
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison: A brilliant early novel of the black experience in modern America, set largely in Harlem where the unnamed narrator moves through the streets of Manhattan, unseen by whites… . “I’m in New York, but New York ain’t in me, understand what I mean? Don’t git corrupted,” advises one character. It ain’t pretty but Invisible Man is a bitter, brilliant and dismayingly current portrait of New York.
New York 19 by Tony Schwartz: … Not a book, but an album. … Schwartz was a lifelong agoraphobic who rarely moved beyond the confines of his block, and yet managed to capture the cacophony of Manhattan’s streets.
Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara: … Some poems might read as code to a non-New Yorker. … But his 1964 work Lunch Poems includes the famous “Ave Maria” which calls for something many of New York’s inhabitants lack - space. “Mothers of America”, he writes, let your kids go to the movies! Get them out of the house so they won’t know what you’re up to.”
The Power Broker by Robert Caro: No man has done more to shape what modern New York City looks like than Robert Moses, … Caro’s biography is a study not only of the man who changed New York but the New York he changed.
Bright Lights Big City by Jay McInerney: The endless search for booze, cocaine and sex that characterised New York City in the “me me me” … The real hero of the novel is Tad Allagash, the narrator’s friend, who is obsessed with the hurly-burly world of Manhattan. Cynical, cyclical and Celine-like, McInerney’s book suspends a certain fast-living era of New York in ambered perpetuity.
My Misspent Youth by Meghan Daum: Chasing away the hangover of the 80s, the 90s were a time of reckless hope in New York City. … Meghan Daum’s book of essays captures one woman’s enchantment and subsequent disillusionment with the ever-retreating ideal of Manhattan living.
Lush Life by Richard Price: Richard Price’s crime novel in 2008 isn’t all that different from the LES in the bud of the 20th century, as portrayed by Henry Roth in Call It Sleep… but the treasure of the novel is Price’s ability to peek into the windows and psyches of both LES old timers and arrivistes.
— by Joshua Stein for The Guardian UK