Books set in New York – What I’m taking with me!

Manhattan Skyline at nightManhattan Skyline at night – image courtesy of Francisco Diez via Wikimedia Commons

I’m very exciting to me writing this post at Heathrow Airport, about to board a flight to fabulous New York.

As we all know the most vital part of trip planning is choosing which books to take with you, so I thought I’d update you on my selections for this trip. I’ll only have a few days, which will mainly be filled with catching up with people and drinking cocktails, so I don’t imagine I’m going to have a great amount of time to read. But hey, that’s what seven hour flights are for!

Given the trip’s brevity, I chose just two books for this adventure, one physical book (so you are not stuck during that most valuable of reading time before take-off and landing) and one on the kindle.

The trouble with books set in New York is that there are thousands of them, so where do you start? It’s overwhelming. How can you make sure you choose something which really sums up the New York experience?

In the past I have taken Edward Rutherford’s New York as a perfect choice for a grand overview of the city, and Between Two Rivers by Nicholas Rinaldi, which gives us a series of intertwining stories set around a Battery Park apartment building. Both provided lasting memories and still spring to mind as I pass various Manhattan landmarks.

But what to choose this time?

Not yet having a definitive and expansive list to peruse up on Packabook (must get on with that!!), I had to resort to other ‘books to read in New York’ type lists online, which I often find frustrating. It’s usually only a selection of about 10 on each list, and I find they are heavily weighted towards very worthy books you SHOULD read, but not necessarily the most entertaining and/or contemporary reads available.

Some I’d read many years before (The Catcher in the Rye, Edith Wharton’s novels, Breakfast at Tiffany’s) and while I’m sure they deserve a re-read, I wanted something new for this trip. I’d also read Bonfire of the Vanities some time in the dim, dark past and really didn’t like it, so that was definitely off the list, though perhaps I’d enjoy it more if I tried it now. Others were focussed on locations outside of Manhattan, and while I’m very tempted, they are just going to make me want to go to places I am probably not going to have time to explore (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Tóibín’s Brooklyn and Dreamland are some examples).

So what did I end up with? Well, two not very uplighting choices I admit, but sometimes these things are a little random!

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

Not being a huge lover of poetry I have never read any Sylvia Plath, so I have decided to take this opportunity read her novel The Bell Jar, the story of a woman’s descent into mental illness after taking up a work placement at a fashion magazine in New York.I know, it’s a pretty heavy choice, but hey, it DOES appear on lots of those lists , and if you are going to read something so confronting, perhaps it’s best to do it in the place you are visiting.

The Easter Parady by Richard Yates

I had never heard of The Easter Parade by Richard Yates, but it popped up on one of my searches and I was intrigued. This novel published in 1976 is the story of the “unhappy lives’ of  two New-York based sisters over forty years as they struggle to overcome their family past. It gets extremely good reviews and hey, I always like a story about sisters.

I am actually going to be spending my time in New York with MY sister, but I assure you we will be drinking cocktails and shopping at Macy’s rather than dwelling on any unhappiness in our past – with only a few days in the Big Apple, there’s no time for dwelling!!

I’m really not sure if my choices are the right ones… but I’ll let you know when I get back.

Here’s some other ones I was tempted by – but I’m going to have to wait for the next trip to indulge in these…

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann – The story of a mysterious tightrope walker running and leaping between the Twin Towers in 1974, while below a cross-section of people affected by what is happening live their lives. Based on a true event, it’s considered an homage to the city in the 1970s.

The Emperor's Children by Claire Messud

The Emperor’s Children by  Claire Messud – Three friends heading into their 30s attempt to make their way in New York City. They are spoiled, pretentious and unlikeable; examples of a certain kind of “entitlement” which exists in the city. The novel gets very mixed reviews, but probably worth a try.

Open City by Teju Cole

Open City by  Teju Cole – A young Nigerian immigrant doctor walks the streets of Manhattan, providing us with a fresh view of the city as he loses himself in his thoughts.

What about you? I’d love to hear your New York favourites – especially if they are just great, enjoyable reads filled with the life of the city. Don’t feel they have to be on the ‘worthy’ list! Let me know in the comments, and I’ll update you on these ones when I get back,


Disclosure Policy If you click on the links in the posts to buy books, then I will receive a tiny commission for referring you. This does not affect the price you pay for the books, and I am grateful for your support. Every little bit helps! Thank you. (Packabook is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to

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