There is no shortage of stories set in New York City. In fact, New York is one of the most popular cities in the world for novelists looking for a beautiful, impressive, complex city to write about. Before you visit in person, reading a good book set in New York allows you to explore its history, its architecture, and meet its people. City Tales Sightseeing knows that New York is one of the best cities in the world, so we decided to make a list of the five books you should read before you visit New York! Will your favorite book set in New York make the list?
The Age of Innocence was Edith Wharton’s twelfth novel, and most agree it is her best. In fact, it won The Pulitzer Prize when it was released in 1920, making Wharton the first woman ever to win a Pulitzer Prize. The story follows Newland Archer as he struggles with unrequited love and romantic scandal within New York’s upper-class society in the 1870s. The book concerns itself with the moral inconsistencies and hypocrisies of New York high society and it is sometimes referred to as a social tragedy. The Age of Innocence also looks at how the New York aristocracy mixed (and didn’t mix) with the European aristocracy. This novel is full of restraint and clever social commentary, and is perhaps one of the best stories for anyone interested in reading about ‘old’ New York!
Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye is one of the most famous books of all time. Although it was published back in 1951, it sells approximately 1 million copies each year, translated into many different languages. The book is a coming-of-age story that appeals to teenagers and young adults who feel isolated from others and are struggling with their own sense of identity, loss, and how they fit into society. The book’s protagonist is called Holden Caulfield; he is a teenager from New York living in an institution in California. Holden thinks back to a year before, in New York, and his story begins. In the story, Holden visits many of New York’s most famous sights, including Central Park, Greenwich Village, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and parts of Fifth Avenue. The Catcher in the Rye is relatively short, making it the ideal book to read in one sitting on your flight to New York!
The Great Gatsby is F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece. It follows protagonist Nick Carraway as he is pulled into the many parties and escapades of Jay Gatsby, an impossibly rich man obsessed with his old flame, Daisy Buchanan. As the story goes on, Nick (and the reader) is given clues about how Gatsby acquired his wealth and it is heavily implied that he was a bootlegger during prohibition. The story is often cited as the quintessential “American Dream” novel, and Gatsby is a modern tragic hero who gets all of the money he could ever need and discovers that it can’t buy him love or happiness. Although Gatsby and Carraway live in Long Island, most of the novel is spent in New York or traveling to and from it. New York was (and still is) synonymous with wealth, and The Great Gatsby explores what the city was like in the 1920s. Look out for recognizable New York landmarks in the novel, including the world-famous Plaza Hotel.
While the rest of the books in this list can be regarded as literary classics, The New York Stories is a comparatively less well-known book. It’s author, Henry James, however, is one of the most famous American authors of all time, famous for The Turn of the Screw and The Portrait of a Lady. When he wasn’t writing atmospheric novels, James wrote insightful short stories and The New York Stories is a collection of his best stories set in — and about — New York City! James wrote the stories in The New York Stories over several decades, at all stages of his career, and they offer several distinct perspectives on America’s most famous city. James was writing in the late 19th century and early 20th century, and what is most interesting about The New York Stories is how his view of New York changes as the city changes, giving the reader an idea of how New York grew and changed during this time.
Toni Morrison won a Pulitzer and Nobel Prize for her novel Beloved, and she followed this up with Jazz. Jazz is a complex account of African American people living in New York’s Harlem during the 1920s, but it also dips back into the mid-1800s. Jazz takes considerable inspiration from jazz music, which flourished in African American society in 1920s New York City. Like the music, the novel’s style is sometimes improvisational, sometimes bluesy, and it sometimes revisits earlier motifs from different perspectives. Jazz is a deeply clever, satisfying portrayal of New York City, offering a fresh perspective on the era and the city!
We hope you’ve found this list interesting, and that a few readers have added one or two books from this article to their reading pile. Books tell one side of the story and our guides tell the other, so don’t hesitate to get in touch if you’d like to book any one of our incredible New York tours! Book your next big adventure today!
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