The best books about Manhattan

38 authors have picked their favorite books about Manhattan and why they recommend each book.

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Wonder

By R.J. Palacio,

Book cover of Wonder

This book took me from fits of hilarity to wells of sadness to fist-clenched anger. It’s not easy being a kid, and in 10-year-old-Auggie’s case, it’s much harder than most. Auggie is clever and witty, but born with a severe facial deformity that propels most to keep their distance. Taking extraordinary to new levels, this book feels like an embrace, like a warm bowl of soup, like a letter of affirmation that life is real and we are real and maybe that means we should be a little more kind to the people around us. Read this story if you want to heal any cuts in your heart. 


Who am I?

I’m sure we all remember some of the first books we picked up, and how they’ve stayed with us despite every year that ticked away. These were stories that didn’t just resonate with us as kids; a part of them lasted—transcended age and periodic experiences. I love books that you can reach for no matter how old you are, with lessons and stories that can be enjoyed by anyone. My own writing is a reflection of that: timeless tales that bridge the gap between adolescence and adulthood, hoping to touch hearts with a spectrum of knowledge in science, myth, and philosophy.  


I wrote...

Nura and the Immortal Palace

By M.T. Khan,

Book cover of Nura and the Immortal Palace

What is my book about?

A magical, wondrous middle-grade debut following a young girl's adventure from real-world Pakistan into the realm of jinn.

Nura has worked all her life as a mica miner, earning just enough to keep her family afloat. Only if she finds the Demon’s Tongue, a legendary treasure buried deep within the mines, will her family never have to worry about money again. When a terrible accident buries her best friend underground, Nura digs deeper in search of him, only to pass over into the enchanting yet treacherous realm of jinn. Nura stumbles her way to a palace, where great riches are on offer. But it’s not long before Nura discovers this world to be as unfair as the real one, and that trickster jinn will always live up to their reputation…

The Stories of John Cheever

By John Cheever,

Book cover of The Stories of John Cheever

Not only is Cheever’s "The Swimmer" part of the “canon” of literary works about swimming, it’s widely considered one of the greatest works of short fiction. He frames the journey as an Odyssey with all the classical echoes that suggests. The protagonist, Ned Merrill, decides to swim back to his home through the pools of his suburban neighbors, a journey that starts out as a lark and slowly turns into a descent into hell. In truth, the story is less about swimming than suburban life in the 1950s, but it packs a powerful punch.


Who am I?

For most of my life I’ve been both a writer and a swimmer. I’ve engaged in both activities for many decades, but I’ve always kept the two entirely separate. Write about swimming? Why? What would I say? What was there to say about water and the act of moving through it? It seemed to me that it was a case of “you have to be there,” that writing about swimming would be too removed from the immediacy, the tactility, the floating state of mind. It was only when I discovered works by some truly great writers that I began to see that I could write about my own love of being in water, and how I might go about it.


I wrote...

Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

By Kathleen McDonnell,

Book cover of Growing Old, Going Cold: Notes on Swimming, Aging, and Finishing Last

What is my book about?

Kathleen McDonnell started swimming in Lake Ontario, infamous for its chilly depths, because it was close to her Toronto Island home. Over the years she began to rely on a daily dip, even breaking through winter ice to raise her spirits and refresh her body. In Growing Old, Going Cold she describes immersion in cold water as “the great anti-aging potion ever discovered.” In this wide-ranging memoir, McDonnell shares her love of cold water swimming and some hilarious stories from her watery travels around the globe.

Short Stories

By Irwin Shaw,

Book cover of Short Stories: Five Decades

Like Cheever, Shaw was a fellow New Yorker contributor but his work is grittier than Cheever’s and was best summed up in The New York Times: “[Shaw] has a primitive skill possessed by very few sophisticated men.” Winner of two O. Henry awards, I would say he is the “meat and potatoes” short story master - but it’s Prime USDA.

Who am I?

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I’ve been obsessed with the romance and “bygone world” of Manhattan in the 40s and 50s since I was a kid. Working in bookstores through high school and college, I quickly gravitated towards The New Yorker magazine which introduced me to John Cheever, Irwin Shaw, and many wonderful authors. Whether it was books or magazines, I couldn’t imagine a more interesting career than working in the New York publishing world - until I went there for job interviews and heard how little they paid. Back in Los Angeles, I figured out how to join from afar without having to live with six roommates on the Lower East Side.


I wrote...

Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs

By Robert Trachtenberg,

Book cover of Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs

What is my book about?

From leading men to comedians, ballet dancers to quarterbacks, war veterans to Broadway veterans, Red-Blooded American Male features more than 100 imaginative, striking, and sexy portraits from award-winning photographer Robert Trachtenberg. Pithy captions about each shoot accompany the photographs, giving readers a peek behind the curtain of a famed portrait photographer’s creative process and his world-renowned photographs.

Manhattan, When I Was Young

By Mary Cantwell,

Book cover of Manhattan, When I Was Young

This is an elegant, finely written memoir by a former writer and editor at Vogue, Mademoiselle and the New York Times that offers an interesting hook: her story is set in five different apartments in Manhattan as her life progresses from single working girl to professional and personal success and hardships including motherhood and divorce. If you’ve ever dreamed of working at a magazine in New York City - particularly during this golden period, then this is the book for you.

Who am I?

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I’ve been obsessed with the romance and “bygone world” of Manhattan in the 40s and 50s since I was a kid. Working in bookstores through high school and college, I quickly gravitated towards The New Yorker magazine which introduced me to John Cheever, Irwin Shaw, and many wonderful authors. Whether it was books or magazines, I couldn’t imagine a more interesting career than working in the New York publishing world - until I went there for job interviews and heard how little they paid. Back in Los Angeles, I figured out how to join from afar without having to live with six roommates on the Lower East Side.


I wrote...

Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs

By Robert Trachtenberg,

Book cover of Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs

What is my book about?

From leading men to comedians, ballet dancers to quarterbacks, war veterans to Broadway veterans, Red-Blooded American Male features more than 100 imaginative, striking, and sexy portraits from award-winning photographer Robert Trachtenberg. Pithy captions about each shoot accompany the photographs, giving readers a peek behind the curtain of a famed portrait photographer’s creative process and his world-renowned photographs.

The Grand Surprise

By Leo Lerman,

Book cover of The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman

I’m not going to lie: this is not for everyone. You really have to be interested - and conversant - in the cultural world of post-war Manhattan (and beyond) for this to sink in. Lerman, who was features editor at Vogue and editor at Vanity Fair among other jobs, was at the center of it all. I could name drop from the book for days, but trust me, everyone from Marlene Dietrich to William Faulkner were regular guests at his parties. More importantly, his position allowed him to champion the careers of artists in every field - writers, singers, painters, etc. An astute social critic, the book offers a dazzling look at a very specific time and place in American culture. Surprisingly, I found that passages regarding his adolescence to be among the most lyrical and moving.

Who am I?

Born and raised in Los Angeles, I’ve been obsessed with the romance and “bygone world” of Manhattan in the 40s and 50s since I was a kid. Working in bookstores through high school and college, I quickly gravitated towards The New Yorker magazine which introduced me to John Cheever, Irwin Shaw, and many wonderful authors. Whether it was books or magazines, I couldn’t imagine a more interesting career than working in the New York publishing world - until I went there for job interviews and heard how little they paid. Back in Los Angeles, I figured out how to join from afar without having to live with six roommates on the Lower East Side.


I wrote...

Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs

By Robert Trachtenberg,

Book cover of Red-Blooded American Male: Photographs

What is my book about?

From leading men to comedians, ballet dancers to quarterbacks, war veterans to Broadway veterans, Red-Blooded American Male features more than 100 imaginative, striking, and sexy portraits from award-winning photographer Robert Trachtenberg. Pithy captions about each shoot accompany the photographs, giving readers a peek behind the curtain of a famed portrait photographer’s creative process and his world-renowned photographs.

My Year of Rest and Relaxation

By Ottessa Moshfegh,

Book cover of My Year of Rest and Relaxation

The premise of this book is how to be the ultimate anti-workaholic, and from that concept alone, I was hooked. Our protagonist decides to spend a year doing nothing, literally a year of rest and relaxation. She sleeps, eats, and watches lots of VHS movies. Moshfegh is one of the most exciting young writers of contemporary literature. Her wit could cut through granite, and as ridiculous as the premise is, she manages to pull it off. Reading this book was like giving in to my Id. Sometimes all I want to do is watch myself be lazy.  


Who am I?

I am fascinated by work, especially women at work. I am an immigrant, a child of immigrants, a former scientist, and for most of life, have been conditioned to work because if I could not work, then why else was I here? Yet work is not strictly an emblem of immigrant grit or the model minority mindset. It can be made funny, surreal, existential, and it’s a rich subject to tackle. More often than not, work is treated as taboo. It’s ignored or deemed too prosaic to discuss.  Who wants to see what goes on inside the factory? I do. I’m obsessed with stories that showcase the factory. 


I wrote...

Joan Is Okay

By Weike Wang,

Book cover of Joan Is Okay

What is my book about?

Joan lives on her own terms. And she is okay. Really. Caught between the cultural expectations of her Chinese heritage and her American upbringing, Joan has chosen instead to make work her home. As a successful doctor at a busy New York City hospital, she finds comfort in being just another cog in the vast, orderly machine of the ICU. But to those who know her, Joan can be a puzzle.

Life, unlike medicine, doesn’t always follow a prescribed set of procedures, of course. Family turmoil and loss start to permeate the boundaries Joan has drawn around her. And all the while, cases of a new virus keep rising, and the world hurtles toward an uncertain future. Will Joan be okay?

Spellbound

By Allie Therin,

Book cover of Spellbound: A Paranormal Historical Romance (Magic in Manhattan Book 1)

I’m a sucker for a cool historical setting and also for romance with a social-status difference as a main obstacle, and this novel delivers on both! In 1920s-era New York City, amid Prohibition and jazz and snazzy fashions—and, in this version of things, an underworld of secret magic—wealthy Arthur meets working-class Rory, and the sparks begin. Both of the men are utterly endearing (another feature I’m soft on) and bring different paranormal powers to the problem of a lethal magical relic on its way to New York. There are two more books in the series, so if you fall for this pair, hurray! There’s more to read.


Who am I?

I’ve been making up magical worlds ever since childhood, when I populated the creekbanks and vacant lots in my hometown with ghosts, fae, Land of Oz residents, and other creatures from my imagination. Fantasy and forbidden love have always been my two main allures in reading, and different varieties of sexuality and gender identity also fascinated me once I became more aware of such issues in college, through books as well as my anthropology classes. I was recently pleased to learn there’s at least one cool label for me as well—demisexual—and nowadays I love populating my fantasy novels with queer characters. Everyone deserves adventures in the otherworld!


I wrote...

Lava Red Feather Blue

By Molly Ringle,

Book cover of Lava Red Feather Blue

What is my book about?

On a magical island nation in the north Pacific, Prince Larkin has lain under an enchanted sleep since 1799, until Merrick Highvalley, a modern-day man tinkering with forbidden magic, accidentally awakens him. But the Sleeping Beauty romance comes with a complicated twist: a dangerous faery awakens at the same moment, bent on destroying the island’s humans. Using clues and magic charms left by Merrick’s ancestor, Larkin and Merrick set off into the fae realm with the aim of capturing the enemy.

They view themselves as unlikely heroes, and an even unlikelier couple—but in the territory of the fae, near-miracles do happen.

This Beautiful Life

By Helen Schulman,

Book cover of This Beautiful Life

A painful examination of all that’s at stake when kids make bad decisions, This Beautiful Life made me reflect on the pressure contemporary kids feel to be beyond reproach while growing up amid the instant connectivity and permanent consequences of the internet age. Like Testimony, Schulman’s novel begins with a video, this time one whose ramifications are amplified and complicated as it goes viral in a matter of hours.

A gripping early scene dramatizes the split second when fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot makes the fateful choice to forward a video he’s received to a friend. The scandal that ensues threatens not only Jake, but his entire family’s “beautiful life.” Rather than a boarding school, this novel is set at an elite Manhattan private school where the social strata among parents are even more painfully felt. As the story unfolds, this book takes readers even deeper into the mom’s head—a delightful place…

Who am I?

I’m an award-winning author of two novels, the most recent of which, The Nine, is set on a fictional New England boarding school campus. Although a secret society’s antics and a scandal on campus keeps readers turning the page, at the heart of the novel is the evolution of a mother-son relationship. Even before my three children began considering boarding schools, I was a fan of the campus novel. Think classics like A Separate Peace or Catcher in the Rye. My fascination surrounding these little microcosms—their ideals, how they self-govern, who holds power—only increased after experiencing their weird and wily ways as a mother. 


I wrote...

The Nine

By Jeanne McWilliams Blasberg,

Book cover of The Nine

What is my book about?

When well-meaning helicopter mom Hannah Webber enrolls her brilliant son and the center of her world, Sam, into the boarding school of her dreams, neither of them is prepared for what awaits: an illicit underworld where decades of privileged conspiracy threaten not only Sam but also their fragile family.

Both a coming-of-age novel and a portrait of an evolving mother-son relationship, The Nine is the story of a young man who chooses to expose a corrupt world operating under its own set of rules—even if it means jeopardizing his mother’s hopes and dreams.

American Psycho

By Bret Easton Ellis,

Book cover of American Psycho

American Psycho takes the idea of a driven but morally skewered sociopath and plunges him into the wild excesses of the eighties. Patrick Bateman worships at the altar of financial greed; who indulges in the gods of torture, murder and mutilation to an unbearable degree. There are two contrasting interpretations to the novel where every monstrous act committed by Bateman is real, while the other claims it’s all in his head. I believe it’s the former, but the idea of the latter also fascinates. American Psycho is an undeniably unsettling and powerful piece of work which lives long in the memory. Although sometimes, you’ll wish it wasn’t.  


Who am I?

I am a comic book writer, published by Marvel and DC Comics, turned novelist. I enjoy getting inside the heads of my characters until they become entities of their own, with their own voices and actions. At that point I’m merely the facilitator; an interested spectator with a keyboard. Maybe, one whose prose shows a visual flair. Sometimes, I hear competing voices in my head, rather like the warring personas that feature in my debut novel GoodCopBadCop, but I don’t like to play favourites. 


I wrote...

GoodCopBadCop

By Jim Alexander,

Book cover of GoodCopBadCop

What is my book about?

GoodCopBadCop is a crime novel with a twist. It is a modern crime take on Jekyll and Hyde where both ‘good cop’ and ‘bad cop’ are the same person. This is not a story about a good man turned bad, or a bad man turned good. Both good and bad arrived at the same time.

As we delve deeper into the murky world of organised crime, Good Cop and Bad Cop in turn give the reader the benefit of their uniquely skewered perspective. With GoodCopBadCop you have two narrators for the price of one. This is Book one of a trilogy, the sequel (Good Cop) was published in 2021 and book no 3 (Bad Cop) is in development.

The Writer

By Gina A. Jones,

Book cover of The Writer: A Psychological Thriller Romance

If mystery and suspense are your thing, this is a who-dun-it that will suck you in quickly. This book totally captivated me from start to finish. I think what hooked me was the way the author took the prologue to actually show the past, and then when the novel started, all the threads of the story were sewn together so beautifully. Full of twists and turns which make a great suspense experience. There is some romantic drama tossed in which is always the icing on the cake for me as well.


Who am I?

My passion for true crime fiction started in 2016 with the murders of eight family members in a neighboring county in Southern Ohio. The case made international news, and five years later there are still more questions than answers. I felt the victims of this heinous crime deserved some closure which the legal system has not yet provided. So, writing a fictional version of this story was my way of providing closure - at least in my own mind.


I wrote...

Murders on the Ridge: Mystery in Briar County

By Andrea Smith,

Book cover of Murders on the Ridge: Mystery in Briar County

What is my book about?

Eight bodies were found in less than four hours in Briar County, Ohio. Every significant member of a local family, their ages ranging from 16 to 44, were shot execution-style inside of four different homes not far apart. Local, Federal, and State law enforcement officers swarmed the community, interviewing more than 50 people and combing the wooded areas surrounding the crime scenes. The Ohio Attorney General said the massacre was “pre-planned” and “sophisticated.” A businessman out of Cincinnati offered a $25,000 reward to anyone with answers.

But when the answers started to come, they only raised more questions. Fingers began to point, family conflicts grew, and before this crime was solved, one more local would be found dead.

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