New York frame of mine…

August 27, 2011 § 20 Comments

This list  is for Litlove.

Having once mentioned that I love books about New York, that is, that take PLACE in NYC where the city might even be a wee bit of a character itself, Litlove was curious, wondered what I might have on such a list, if one existed.

Here it is.
The list is chaotic and incomplete. It stretches from the extreme of chick lit to that of literary classic.

And  I do not love all the books on the list, though I embrace them, for one reason or another. 
Here goes…

I FEEL BAD ABOUT MY NECK by Nora Ephron…    A true urbanite and also a master of comedic timing, Ephron’s essays are so human, and so huge in scope and so down to the detail as well, you don’t have to be from the megalopolis any of it. 

SLAVES OF NEW YORK by Tama Janowicz… I remember the first page and how I reread it because I was not sure what she was really talking about (what? really?…I was young)  or where such writing could be going. Part of the 80’s writers brat pack, Tama weaves story through stories. She is iconic to me; I love her for the time she represents and for the writing she put on paper.

BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY by Jay McInerney… Putting aside the fact that this was written in the second person singular, more or less a “first” in fiction, I love the book because of the story, the character and the time. The 80s in NYC were particular, and this book handles a microscope look at them.  OK, and our “hero” is a fact checker at The New Yorker.  Instant cred.

EMMA WHO SAVED MY LIFE by Wilton Barnhardt… I read this book in order to review it. It was long. I don’t remember all of it. It is modern in essence, and slightly lonely. It’s not a favorite, but I’m glad i read it, and it’s “New York” after all but you see the angst that has pervaded since coming in this story.

THE AGE OF INNOCENCE by Edith Wharton…Now you don’t want me to on and on about how great this book is. Because it is. No one does character like Wharton. And this one is a winner. It’s always interesting to find that a person who seems made of butterflywing fragility is, in fact, not.

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith… If this is too shiny-faced, it’s cuz it’s to be read when you’re in your early teens. It’s a classic for a reason. It always works; it’s always true. Call it a coming-of-age thing.

MARJORIE MORNINGSTAR by Herman Wouk…..classic,  maybe a bit banal (it is an older book, after all) but worth it to sense the “fever” that is New York.

CATCHER IN THE RYE by JD Salinger… also classic. So much has been said about Holden, and his creator. I’ll leave it to the deep-rooted critics. (I just might prefer Adrian Mole.)

BREAKFAST AT TIFFANYS by Truman Capote…. and yet another classic. I have trouble separating the book from the movie though they are inherently different.

THE GROUP by Mary McCarthy   I don’t know what gets me about this book. It’s dated. It’s terribly well written and the story  is maybe timeless in its way, in terms of character and characterization. About a group of college friends and their moving on into the real world.  This was also a movie, but don’t go there first….do read the book first. The many faceted Mary McCarthy…

TIME AND AGAIN by Jack Finney  If I talk about this one, maybe it’s magic will go away. That’s how I feel about it. It was a gift from my Gran, ages ago. I read it maybe at age 15.  I have that copy still. I own the sequel (what’s it called?) and I save it as a treat, certain that it will be as good if not greater than its predecessor.

SOPHIE’S CHOICE by William Styron   I couldn’t finish this one. But the writing is beautiful, the first chapters which I waded through, though not innocently since I’d seen the movie, those first chapters are like swimming luxuriously in warm water.

RAGTIME by EL Doctorow   This was, for me, the first time a novel put real characters in fictional situations – could you do that? I don’t know why I was so aware of that. Surely thousands of books had done that already. Still, I was fascinated. And delighted to have found Doctorow who I’ve read astutely since.

SKINNY LEGS AND ALL by Tom Robbins   Ah, this was such a romp, such a myth, such a cacophony of real and surreal and ridiculousness and I completely enjoyed it.  Robbins rocks!

THE ALIENIST by Caleb Carr –   a mystery with more Oomph and sometimes more than Raw than I would choose to read BUT it’s well done and different, partly due to its time period. Actually had me kinda nervous; I don’t aldways do suspense and scary really well.

PEOPLE LIKE US by Dominick Dunne   I have read all his books. His own story is full of life and death and tragedy and perserverance. His stars on the page are socialites and fools and hard workers, too.  Some of his tales get thin as his books kept coming, but if you started with THE OTHER MRS GRENVILLE, it’s worth working your way around to PEOPLE LIKE US.

WINTER’S TALE by Mark Helprin  I cannot tell you the plot. I can only tell you that every bit of it held me magically in thrall. The writing is as fresh as the story that is spun. Magic. That’s all I can say about this book.

THE GASLIGHT SERIES by Victoria Thompson   Each book is named after a Manhattan neighborhood where a myster (murder) takes place in turn of the century NYC. Sara Brandt is a mid-wife of a blueblood family which drives her parents crazy. Frank Malloy is an Irish cop who is working his way up in the department. They are an unlikely pair yet fate, and crime, manages to throw them together, and the reader is always glad!

THE EMPEROR’S CHILDREN by Claire Messud….   I had to read it; thought it was really going to be something. It wasn’t, quite. Still it’s on the shelf, and I’d hand it to you to read if you were sitting here.

 THE FIRST WIVES CLUB by Olivia Goldsmith…  chick chick chick lit. This one is luscious nilth, neither good nor bad. It’s entertainment. A trio of women “get revenge” (in the nicest way) on their exes. Some comedy, some truth, some universality – to say more would be giving it too much credit.

THE DEVIL WEARS PRADA – by Laura Weisberger…   ok, this one is chick lit to the nth degree. But there’s just enough plot line on which to hang your hat if you can stop snort/laughing at how many times the heroine is dealing with juggling coffee for the people in the office. I love the movie only because I am a nut for fashion and the film has a ton of it, not to mention good old Meryl Streep who breathed life into the so-called Anna Wintour part. 

ONE FIFTH AVENUE by Candace Bushnell…  Author of the original Sex in the City, her writing skills continue to improve while I hear her personality, in real life, does not.

BERGDORF BLONDS by Plum Sykes…   Silliness perosnified BUT I’d read Ms Sykes for several years in VOGUE and rather got a kick out of some of her short  pieces. Nothing anyone needs. Neither is this book. But it’s nice to see her try her hand in writing fiction.  There is some fiction you read just to get to know the author a little better. Ther’s more to her than shopping for lingerie, I’ll give her that.

STUART LITTLE by EB White…    I loved this book. Have owned it since I was 8 years old. Didn’t understand it  as a kid, and still see what doesn’t work, what does. I take that back – it all works. And EB is a fabulous writer (moreover, his essays and letters!).

MANHATTAN TRANSFER by John Dos Passos… What happened? I dunno. Again, caught up in the rhythm of the language and the energy, overall, of the book. Give it a whirl – take it for a spin, even if you don’t finish it

WASHINGTON SQUARE by Henry James   I cannot commend my fascination with this short novel. Other than it is character-based (such readers will know what I mean by that) and therein, held my interest through to its finish.  I will always give James his due though he would likely smirk to hear my accolade.

Yes, there are more, but there are also those why decry overly long blog posts. Therefore, I’ll go make a pot of coffee and ferret out the next fine book.


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§ 20 Responses to New York frame of mine…

  • shoreacres says:

    OK – while you’re getting coffee, I’ll mention two of my favs, from one author. Radical Chic was ’70s Tom Wolfe slicing and dicing New York, social satire at its best and still relevant. Bonfire of the Vanities was a little farther down the road – 1987 – but another good read.

    Yep – you can put me down as a fan of Tom Wolfe. Anyone who lived “the purple decades” probably has a copy of that book, too. Some of us re-read it from time to time for its tart nostalgia.

  • oh says:

    Linda –

    Gaffe on my part! How did I leave Tom Wolfe off the list when indeed he inspired me to the “new journalism”!!!! Yes, yes, BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES. But looks like I need to read RADICAL CHIC cuz I haven’t!!!!
    Thanks for these mentions – and yay for the ’70s and ’80s!

    • shoreacres says:

      Often, Radical Chic comes bundled with Mau-Mauing the Flak-Catchers. As someone who worked within the (ahem) “system” in the Bay Area in the 70s, I highly recommend it. There were times when I re-read that thing every week, just to keep my sanity!

      • oh says:

        You have surely piqued my curiosity. Will now look it up before engaging in yogic tasks such as vacuuming (pets make it a necessity).

  • Arti says:

    Sorry can’t join your discourse, but interesting though.

    Now, Nora Ephron is one humorous lady… I’ve enjoyed her “I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections” but I don’t remember whether it’s about NY or not… 😉 Now, I have Emperor’s Children, since it’s noted as Best Book of the Year. But from yours and other readers’ rating, it’s not that great. Should I start it or just save my time for something else?

  • Arti says:

    BTW, love that post title.

    • oh says:

      Thanks, Arti. So, should you read EC or not? geez, I dunno. Maybe throw it in the back seat and read it if you’re stuck waiting for someone. I really liked it at first…it just…kinda….petered….out.

  • jeanie says:

    Oh, you have given me much to add to my very long book list! When Paris ceases to call, I suspect I may just hop over to New York. I notice a few of my favorites here, including Time and Again, which so few have read and I can’t understand why. I’ve never done “A Tree Grows..” but have it at the lake. Maybe it will make the trip home with me next time! And so many others! Thanks!

    • oh says:

      Dear J, You’ve read Time and Again!!!! do you have the second one…I think it’s FROM TIME TO TIME. Check it out. Just another suggestion for the TBR stack! (ain’t it grand?)

  • litlove says:

    Oh – what a STAR you are!!!!!

    This is a fabulous list and I will print it out now and keep it for reference. I own several of the books on it, and have been interested in many of the others. Hmmmm, now I’m wondering whether to have a New York Christmas, and set myself a little reading challenge for winter.

    This is just wonderful – thank you dear friend!

    • oh says:

      LL – I’m so glad you found this…a personal reading challenge? That’s a perfect idea.

      And do you think we can get sabbaticals (from work) in order to do our reading, ‘specially if we can create some kind of workshop credit for it, proving its valuable alliance with our jobs somehow?

  • I could do this, but about the city of Paris. I almost have a shelf of Paris books! I devour anything I come across that is set in that beautiful city!!

    • oh says:

      Hmmmm….that’s got me thinking about what might be on such a list….so what’s on your Paris shelf? I could use me some Paris!!!!

  • Typehype says:

    I love this post! You know how, when you hear a song, it reminds you of where you were and what you were doing? Books do that for me, too. Nora Ephron’s: I Feel Bad… I was listening to this book on tape (she was reading it!) on my computer while packing up all my belongings to move from L.A. to New York! That book is SO N.Y.

    I’ve read and loved many on your list. I’m with you 100% re Dominick Dunne. There’s a documentary on his life that’s just great. Sophie’s Choice is a book that has haunted me for years. I’ll never forget it. Yes, the writing was gorgeous. Bonfire of the Vanities – yes!!!, as shoreacres mentioned above, hilariously witty, utter genius. I read: A Tree Grows… at just the right age and loved it, too.

    I loved Rosemary’s Baby, which was very N.Y.C. and scary. Also, Oracle Night by Paul Auster. For non-fiction, I adore Joseph Mitchell’s collection: Up in the Old Hotel. Lost and Found is another great collection of stories from New York.

    What a fun post 🙂

    • oh says:

      What? Joseph Mitchel? Must look. Don’t know him – yikes! Thanks for your notes – wonderful to hear on things we’ve read and look forward to checking out not only Mitchell but also Paul Auster.

      • Typehype says:

        If you get around to reading some Mitchell, please check out “Professor Seagull”, a fascinating, touching and poignant tale about a real-life NYC character (a very good film was based on this story called “Joe Gould’s Secret”.) Also, his piece on McSorley’s, an historic old brewery still in existence, is a vivid portrait full of great NY characters – and even more so if you’ve ever stopped in there for a home brew. Mitchell wrote for The New Yorker in its heyday. I just love his stuff.

  • Kathleen says:

    Great list. I really want to reread A Tree Grows in Brooklyn!

    • oh says:

      B&N has a fabulous wall-sized poster of “Tree…” in the store. I wish they would sell some of the book posters they use as their decor.

  • Becca says:

    This is a SUPERB list..I’m horrible at putting together lists like this, so am in awe of your ability to do it.

    I love the Nora Ephron books – her latest is fabulous. I listen to them on audio, because she reads them and they are just pitch perfect.

    I’ve read both of the Jack Finney books, but it has been ages. They were good, I do remember that 🙂

    • oh says:

      Hi, Becca ! – Ehpron on audio – what a great idea!!!!!!!!!!!! I’m gonna ask HM if he can download them on the mp3…. and I’m delighted you know Jack Finney. Maybe it’s time for me to read the second one, which I’ve hoarded all these years. Or maybe I should reread the first one…Or, maybe I should get upstairs right now and clean up my office before settling down with a book?!!!

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