The subway rumbles by. The skyscrapers seem to pierce the clouds. Taxis honk their way through traffic. There is no place in the world that is quite like New York City. The “Empire City” has always loomed large in the imaginations of travelers, artists, writers, and dreamers the world over.
As longtime residents, we know the magic of this town. That's why we've compiled some favorite books set in NYC. No matter where you live, you can visit The Big Apple with just the turn of a page. Take a look at the titles that made it to the top of our lists. Whether you're looking for a dose of nostalgia, a spine-tingling adventure, or the love story of a lifetime, these books set in NYC will definitely do the trick.
"Another Country" by James Baldwin
Image via Flickr by kjarrett
This mesmerizing novel, released in 1962, explores all sorts of passions that were considered taboo at the time. Race, politics, art, gender, and sexuality are all at play. Set in Greenwich Village, Harlem, and France, the story is a study in characters. Musicians, actors, and other artists come together in NYC in the late 1950s. Love, longing, and loss are ever-present in this group of friends. They say it took 15 years for Baldwin to complete Another Country, his third novel. Readers will find themselves gobbling up his turbulent love story in mere days, if not hours.
"Sweetbitter" by Stephanie Danler
Some people come to NYC for the shows, the shopping, or the people-watching. But many people come for the food. If you're part of the latter group, you'll love this bestselling novel set within New York's elite restaurant scene. Follow the coming-of-age of a young twenty-something who scores a job as a server in a Manhattan restaurant. This high-adrenaline read pulls the reader through the punishing, yet passion-filled lives of restaurant workers—long hours, love, drugs, heartbreak, and so, so much more.
"Jazz" by Toni Morrison
Sit back and breathe while Pulitzer and Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison transports you to 1920s Harlem. First published in 1992, "Jazz" has become a beloved historical novel that makes no apologies. The story follows Joe Trace, a door-to-door salesman who murders his teenage lover, but the story isn't simple. Its music is composed by multiple narrators who “improvise” their stories in a call-and-response style, mirroring the musical style described in the title. This lyrical novel is best enjoyed on a lazy, hot summer afternoon — or a long subway ride across the city.
"Open City" by Teju Cole
In his debut novel, Nigerian-American author Teju Cole explores an immigrant's quest for identity against the backdrop of Manhattan. The main character, a young doctor in his last year of residency at a New York hospital, wanders aimlessly around NYC, giving himself time to process the recent events of his life. Throughout the book, the reader will traverse the streets of New York, Brussels, and Nigeria. If you like to get inside the heads of others, to understand their imaginations, observations, and memories, you will fall head over heels for this nontraditional novel.
"A Tree Grows in Brooklyn" by Betty Smith
Image via Flickr by @jbtaylor
If you haven't yet read Betty Smith's classic novel about a young narrator pursuing the American dream, now is the time. This moving semi-autobiographical tale is set in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, during the early 20th century. It has become an American classic, and with good reason. Readers follow Francie Nolan's formative years in Brooklyn through daily experiences and life-changing moments, all tied up in heartbreak and honesty. For help finding beauty amid life's ugliness, read this book.
"City of Girls" by Elizabeth Gilbert
Elizabeth Gilbert is a bestselling author with countless stories to tell. Her latest novel, "City of Girls," is set in the New York theater community of the 1940s. Entirely entertaining and refreshingly light, the book tells the pleasure-filled life story of Vivian Morris, her travels from Poughkeepsie to NYC, and her adventures at the Lily Playhouse in midtown. Gilbert spins an unconventional love story with an outrageous cast of characters, told by a narrator who has reached the end of her life. This tale of promiscuity, scandal, and human desire is a must-read.
"Severance" by Ling Ma
This debut novel is a post-apocalyptic dream. Chinese-American author Ling Ma combines satire and science fiction to concoct a heartfelt and hilarious coming-of-adulthood story. Protagonist Candice Chen is a millennial worker living in Manhattan when the Shen Fever hits. This plague of epic proportions turns people into non-violent zombies who must repeat menial tasks over and over again. Millennials will appreciate this cynical take on American capitalism. Readers of all ages will appreciate Ma's strong and insightful writing.
"The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt
Tartt's haunting novel won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction, among other honors. The story focuses on Theo Decker, a 13-year-old boy living in New York City. It is, at once, a thriller, a coming-of-age story, and a post-September 11 love letter to NYC. Tartt explores the dark underworld of New York's art community and paints a beautiful picture of Decker's interior life. Readers will hardly be able to turn away from this page-turner.
"The City We Became" by N.K. Jemisin
This urban fantasy novel, which was developed from an earlier short story, transports the reader into the soul — or souls — of New York City. Jemisin's latest book explores the souls of cities and imagines what could happen if that soul came alive inside a human avatar. In NYC, each borough has been awakened inside a different person, and they all must come together and use their special powers to combat evil. The stakes are high in this adventure, the glorious first title in what is sure to become a popular series.
That's it! Whether you're a lifelong New Yorker or someone who longs to visit NYC, these reads will transport you directly to the City of Dreams. Did we leave anything off of the list? Visit us at Martin Busch Jewelers and tell us your favorite NYC story. We can't wait to meet you!