While New York City covers only three hundred and four square miles, its five boroughs contain millions of people from a multitude of cultures and walks of life. It is from the particularity of these diverse experiences that the best novels about New York come. One can spend years reading only about New York and never encounter the same story. That’s why we’ve compiled a list of novels that explore (just a few!) of its many sides. From the distinct visions of Harlem in Jazz by Toni Morrison and Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin, to the Lower East Side of the friends in Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, the cloistered world of the Hasidic Jewish communities in Brooklyn in My Name is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, and the lives and loves of the residents of the eponymous uptown neighborhood in Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin, this list has a little bit of everything. It illuminates the wide variety of cultures and stories in the Big Apple and provides a fruitful starting point for planning your own book club’s foray into that particular genre of the “New York novel.”
Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin
“Joshua Henkin is an emotionally generous, deft, witty, and deeply intelligent writer, and his new novel displays these qualities in spades.” —The Boston Globe
When Ohio-born Pru Steiner arrives in New York in 1976, she follows in a long tradition of young people determined to take the city by storm. But when she falls in love with and marries Spence Robin, her hotshot young Shakespeare professor, her life takes a turn she couldn’t have anticipated.
“McInerney is the writer who is funniest and most precise about the view from New York City.” —Harper’s
The third book in McInerney’s celebrated Calloway series, Bright, Precious Days is an aching, extraordinary portrait of a marriage and a city during a period of dizzying change.
“A novel of head-snapping ambition and heart-stopping power.” —Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
An unforgettable novel about love and betrayal and forgiveness, about the grit of the city in the 1970s, about art and truth and rock ’n’ roll: about what people need from each other in order to live. . . and about what makes the living worth doing in the first place.
“Spellbinding. . . . An exquisitely written, complex triumph.” —O, The Oprah Magazine
A Little Life follows four college classmates—broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition—as they move to New York in search of fame and fortune.
“Magnificent. . . . [A] massively ambitious, profoundly accomplished novel.” —San Francisco Chronicle
From the National Book Critics Circle Award–winning author of Motherless Brooklyn comes the vividly told story of Dylan Ebdus growing up white and motherless in downtown Brooklyn in the 1970s.
“With vivid imagery, with lavish attention to details, Mr. Baldwin has told his feverish story.” —The New York Times
In this American classic, Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March 1935.
“A brilliant, daring novel.”—Chicago Tribune
This passionate, profound story of love and obsession brings us back and forth in time as a narrative is assembled from the emotions, hopes, fears, and deep realities of black urban life.
“A novel of finely articulated tragic power.” —The New York Times Book Review
Asher Lev grows up in a cloistered Hasidic community in postwar Brooklyn, a world suffused by ritual. As it follows his struggle, My Name Is Asher Lev becomes a luminous portrait of the artist, by turns heartbreaking and exultant, a modern classic.
“Weaves a spell that is by turns enchanting, mood-shifting, and side-splitting.” —Elle
From the Pulitzer–Prize winning author of The Underground Railroad: a tender, hilarious, and supremely original novel about coming of age in the eighties during a summer spent in Sag Harbor, where a small community of African American professionals have built a world of their own.
“A masterly comedy of manners. . . . Splendid.” —The New York Times Book Review
The Emperor’s Children is a richly drawn, brilliantly observed novel of fate and fortune—about the intersections in the lives of three friends, now on the cusp of their thirties, making their way—and not—in New York City.