Sunday, November 11, 2007

Editorial Ass's Top 3 Books about New York

1) A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN, by Betty Smith
Francie Nolan is a quiet, nerdy, impoverished daughter of an alcoholic club singer father and a hard-as-nails mother in World War I era Brooklyn.

Sorry, guys, was this a cop-out? I LOVE this book. It's one of the few books I read again and again and never feel guilty about.

2) THIS SIDE OF BRIGHTNESS, by Colum McCann
The side-by-side stories of Treefrog, a contemporary "mole" living in the subway tunnels under Manhattan, and Nathan Walker, a tunnel digger who, almost a century earlier, lost his best friend during the creation of those same tunnels.

This is one of those books that I read a bunch of years ago and felt lukewarm about at the time, but which has really affected me in the longterm--I still have very vivid images from the book periodically, especially when I'm riding the subway. McCann makes you think about race, class, what goes into building our city, and what people have given up so we can run.

3) INVISIBLE MAN, by Ralph Ellison
A Southern black man makes his way north through a series of oppressive obstacles. He ends up in New York, the city where everyone's invisible (although that's not the point of the book, exactly). This only makes it to #3 because only part of the book takes place in New York. However, I can't think of another novel that depicts early 20th century Harlem as powerfully.

Runner-up: WINTER'S TALE, by Mark Helprin
Peter Lake, a street roughian who fell in love with a newspaper owner's tubercular daughter at the turn of the 20th century, is pursued into the mist by gangsters. He and the white horse he is riding emerge almost one hundred years later, in Helprin's imagined turn of the millennium (the book was published in 1983). An urban fantasy epic. It has only lost a little power for having dated itself.

[Look at how I limited myself to 3!!!]

16 comments:

Josephine Damian said...

Turn, Magic Wheel by Dawn Powell (read the review on my blog)

The Alienist by Caleb Carr

Billy Bathgate by E. L. Doctorow

Some good NY-based novels.

Maprilynne said...

You know, I used to think I was pretty widely read. I read in most genres and read more than just bestsellers. I even dip into literary fiction no and again.

But boy, your lists are making me feel really illiterate.:) I haven't read any of these! I had at least heard of most of your King Arthur books, but most of the others I haven't even heard of.

Though I did read and enjoy Memoirs of a Geisha.:)

moonrat said...

nonsense--i create these lists to disguise how poorly read i am ;) that's the nice thing about having a blog... reality is on your terms.

writtenwyrdd said...

The only one of these I've read was Wnter's Tale and I thought it was strange and rather boring. I'll have to read it again, because I can't remember anything about it but the white horse, sick girl and the snowy mist. And the blue/white cover art. I remember that best of all, for some strange reason.

Conduit said...

My personal favourite NY book is Bonfire of the Vanities, closely followed by Marathon Man (as cheesy a commercial thriller as it is). I've missed the books you've listed, but This Side of Brightness sounds especially interesting. Might have to check that out.

Church Lady said...

I haven't read any of these.
I'm off to one-click shopping.

Church Lady said...

I just ordered these books, as well as Stephen Parrish's rec listed on his blog.

I think I'll read the Brooklyn one first, but I'm not sure why.

moonrat said...

oh church lady, i'm so sorry. i'm a total enabler.

Church Lady said...

The bill, the query, and the coupon for the exterminator are in a pile next to my bookcase. As soon as I find out who you are...

moonrat said...

hahahaha. good luck. ;)

tessa said...

Time and Again, by Jack Finney.
Better each time I read it.

Ello said...

I was surprised Bonfire wasn't on your list!

The thing about A Tree grows in Brooklyn is I feel like that is my book. Being from Brookly, I was very attached to that one tree that grows there. ;o)

Anonymous said...

for NY books, how 'bout Slaves of New York by Tama Janawitz. Hysterical look at NY art scene.

jg said...

I scrolled down thinking "no way will A Winter's Tale be on this list" and THERE IT IS. Definitely one of my all time favorites and definitely my favorite NYC book.

Anonymous said...

Glad to see "A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" topping your list.

Becca said...

My favourite New York book is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. I think about that book every day, it's one of my ultimate favourites ever.