592 books directly related to New York City 📚

All 592 New York City books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Book cover of Summer in Williamsburg

Summer in Williamsburg

By Daniel Fuchs

Why this book?

An immersive, impressionistic snapshot of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, as it was in the 1920s and early 1930s, when it was known not for hipsters, craft beer, and creative facial hair but as a Jewish slum rife with yentas and gangsters. Fuchs published this book in 1934 and swiftly followed it up with two more novels, Homage to Blenholt and Low Company. The books didn’t sell, but Fuchs catapulted himself out of the ghetto and into a respectable West Coast life as a Hollywood screenwriter. Only after Fuchs had all but stopped writing fiction did these early books receive a warm…

From the list:

The best books about coming of age in New York City

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Book cover of Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpré

By Anika Aldamuy Denise, Paola Escobar

Why this book?

In this story about Pura Belpre, the Puerto Rican librarian, we learn about her journey of planting story seeds throughout the country. It all starts when she moves to the United States. Working as a bilingual librarian assistant, she notices there are no Puerto Rican stories. So, she writes her own and plants also dream seeds. This is a sparse, lyrical book with vivid and sweet illustrations. 

From the list:

The most fabulosos Latinx picture books

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Book cover of Little Nemo in Slumberland: 302+1 full-page weekly comic strips (October 15, 1905 - July 23, 1911)

Little Nemo in Slumberland: 302+1 full-page weekly comic strips (October 15, 1905 - July 23, 1911)

By Winsor McCay

Why this book?

Now c’mon, was this guy Winsor fer-real? This stuff is off the charts other-realm, lucid sleeping material. His work was done as comic strips, but can now be found in book form in a variety of volumes. It may be the century between us, but these images and text make me feel a little tilted, off-center, and in the best way possible.

From the list:

The best picture books for adults, children, and other dreamers

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Book cover of A Good Girl's Guide to Murder

A Good Girl's Guide to Murder

By Holly Jackson

Why this book?

Told through interviews, prose, and text messages, we watch a small-town murder mystery come to life when the Nancy Drew-esque detective resurrects a murder case that happened years ago that doesn’t quite sit right with her. I love the characters and it was intriguing to dive into a YA Mystery that doesn’t quite read like all the others. Highly recommend the second one in the series as well.

From the list:

The best books that are just the right flavor of experimental prose

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Book cover of Seeing Trees: A History of Street Trees in New York City and Berlin

Seeing Trees: A History of Street Trees in New York City and Berlin

By Sonja Dümpelmann

Why this book?

Maples, magnolias, oaks, and ailanthus: from the native to the exotic, from the carefully cultivated to the weedy and unwanted, Dümpelmann tells the history of the trees that line our city streets in two complementary case studies. Beginning in the late nineteenth century, trees became yet another technology of urban planning, bent to human designs by tree surgeons, dendroscopes, and all manner of other fantastic inventions. Dümpelmann avoids the pathos of the solitary tree sandwiched between asphalt and concrete. Instead, her story is one of flourishing mutualism: as trees became urbanized, cities became naturalized. Urban trees tell very human stories…

From the list:

The best books on nature in the city

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Book cover of The Body

The Body

By Stephen King

Why this book?

I watched the faithful movie adaptation, Stand by Me, before I read this novella. The movie was amazing, and I didn’t see how the short novel could compete. However, this is one of those cases where the book is better than the movie…and an even rarer case where the book is better than a really good movie, as Stand by Me is an excellent film. If you’ve seen the flick and enjoyed it, definitely check out the novella. I think the four kids that King writes about are some of his best-developed characters, and that’s saying a lot as…

From the list:

The best coming-of-age horror novels

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Book cover of Orphan Train

Orphan Train

By Christina Baker Kline

Why this book?

I love books that focus on little-known aspects of American history. Orphan Train highlights the “orphan trains” that ran from East Coast cities to the farmlands of the Midwest from 1854 to 1929, carrying thousands of abandoned children. Some were adopted by loving families while others faced a much crueler fate. This novel takes place in 2011 Maine, where Molly is close to aging out of the foster care system, and she must help an elderly woman, Vivian, as a form of community service. It’s also told from Vivian’s perspective as a young Irish immigrant in 1929, New York, sent…

From the list:

The best dual-timeline historical novels

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Book cover of Year One (Chronicles of the One, Book 1)

Year One (Chronicles of the One, Book 1)

By Nora Roberts

Why this book?

Nora Roberts is one of my all-time favorite authors. If she writes it, I’ll read it.

Year One is a departure from her typical fare. It’s an apocalyptic urban fantasy that begins with a pandemic and ends with an unmasked world filled with magical characters. Published in 2017, it predates the COVID-19 pandemic by three years.

Rather than make me think life imitated art or that Ms. Roberts is psychic, I view it more as Nora Roberts’s take on a story similar to The Stand but written in her unique style. For any of her fans seeking another paranormal romance,…

From the list:

The best books with magic and magical creatures in a modern, futuristic, or urban setting

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Book cover of Stitches

Stitches

By David Small

Why this book?

In this riveting memoir told through minimum text and vivid black and white graphic art, we learn of the hardships, sorrow, and choices Small dealt with as a young man. Although heartbreaking, this is ultimately a story of courage despite a painful upbringing. The reader senses how art helped Small cope with sadness, disappointment, and confusion growing up in a difficult family.
From the list:

The best books that bring real events and real kids alive for readers

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Book cover of Clap When You Land

Clap When You Land

By Elizabeth Acevedo

Why this book?

This novel-in-verse taught me about a significant historical event—the deadly plane crash, on which this story is based around. Elizabeth Acevedo was able to elevate that news story and make me think about the way media does not center the stories that deeply and almost exclusively impact immigrants. Though this is a fictitious tale of two half-sisters living in two different countries, it is written in the most truthful way. Acevedo’s detailed writing ensured I could just as vividly imagine the scenes, scenarios, and characters set in the Dominican Republic as the ones set in New York. Acevedo is able…

From the list:

The best poetry books that explore communities of color

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Book cover of Can You Keep a Secret?

Can You Keep a Secret?

By Sophie Kinsella

Why this book?

This was the book that inspired me to write chick lit and romance novels. After reading Can You Keep a Secret?, I went on to read every book Kinsella wrote. Timeless. But there’s something about this one that is special. A touch of excitement us romance readers love when a bigshot highflyer falls in love with the normal girl on the street. Classic.
From the list:

The best vacation reads about love and friendship

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Book cover of The House of Mirth

The House of Mirth

By Edith Wharton

Why this book?

Oh, how I adore Edith Wharton. She skewers the cruelty of Old New York aristocracy—her worldin such elegant, nuanced prose. The House of Mirth is Wharton’s masterpiece. The doomed heroine, Lily Bart, infuriates me—she’s so shallow, so foolish, so blind. She has such terrible values. But I also get that she’s a victim because she’s a woman with fancy tastes and no money, at a time when women had no options besides marriage. That Wharton also makes Lily beautiful—and therefore even more vulnerable to abuse by menadds to the tragedy. Everybody uses Lily, most of all…

From the list:

The best books about terrible, beautiful New York

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Book cover of The Museum of Extraordinary Things

The Museum of Extraordinary Things

By Alice Hoffman

Why this book?

This one is set in the early 20th century. Coralie, works at her father’s Coney Island freak show as a mermaid and has extraordinary swimming abilities but is as sheltered as a goldfish in a bowl. She meets and falls in love with a photographer who is on hand to document the famous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire. This is for readers who like their historical fiction touched with that kitchen-sink magical realism that Alice Hoffman is celebrated for. Turn-of-the-century New York sparkles throughout. This one is closer to my own Melting Pot roots and its eccentric characters seem so New…
From the list:

The best historical novels set in New York City

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Book cover of Critical

Critical

By Robin Cook

Why this book?

If only half of Cook’s medical exposures were true, we would probably never voluntarily go to a hospital again. But his forensic pathologists (a married couple team) go out of their way to prove him right. And in this 2008 thriller there are enough warnings about looming pandemics to make a reader wonder why covid came as such a surprise. The cadavers told us to be wary.

From the list:

The best books to read whilst awaiting radiology and/or death

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Book cover of The Sun Is Also a Star

The Sun Is Also a Star

By Nicola Yoon

Why this book?

This is a book I have been recommending to teenagers and adults alike.

This is no ordinary romantic tale of girl meets boy; it is a very much contemporary take on the notion. Two very different protagonists, from two very different backgrounds are brought together in the immigrant ‘melting pot’ of New York City. In what could be seen as a modern-day Romeo and Juliet, the characters are much more self-aware than in Shakespeare’s original and thankfully this leads to a more enlightened outcome, for them, and the people they meet on their journey.

Using deceptively simple short chapters which…

From the list:

The best migration fiction books which explore being a stranger in a strange land

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Book cover of The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners

The Berenstain Bears Forget Their Manners

By Stan Berenstain, Jan Berenstain

Why this book?

This is one of my favorite children’s books until today. It’s wonderfully illustrated and it teaches good manners in a fun way. I like how Brother Bear and Sister Bear pretended to observe good manners in compliance with Mama Bear’s Politeness Plan but as time passed, they eventually ended up practicing good manners out of habit. I also like that the book showed that not even the grown-ups (such as Papa Bear) are exempted from the house rules.

From the list:

The best animal children’s books that teaches good morals and values

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Book cover of Amy and Isabelle

Amy and Isabelle

By Elizabeth Strout

Why this book?

Elizabeth Strout’s debut novel is a dual coming-of-age novel, at least in my view. Single mother Isabelle and her sixteen-year-old daughter Amy live in the small, gossipy New England mill town of Shirley Falls. It’s the late ‘60s, and Isabelle is determined to raise her daughter right and live a proper life. But Amy falls in love with the wrong guy. As teenage Amy rebels against Isabelle’s strictures, and as Isabelle tries to ferret out what Amy’s been up to, they move through a rough summer, and both are changed as they begin to understand themselves, and one another, differently.…

From the list:

The best midlife (yes, midlife!) coming-of-age novels

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Book cover of Billy Bathgate

Billy Bathgate

By E.L. Doctorow

Why this book?

E.L. Doctorow was one of America’s greatest novelists, and Billy Bathgate is one of his best (of many great books). Doctorow is the writer who inspired me to write historical novels, and he was both a wonderful writer and an amazing storyteller.

Billy is a boy from the mean streets who insinuates himself into the dangerous circle of the gangster Dutch Schultz. Billy eagerly plunges into the crime world of Depression-era New York City, participating in everything from gangland killings to three-day parties in West Side brothels. Dutch’s world includes Tammany Hall politicians, bankers, lawyers, and a lot of bad…

From the list:

The best American historical crime novels

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Book cover of The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen

The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen

By Katherine Howe

Why this book?

A girl from the past meets a boy from the present—cue the historical details and atmospheric settings. Not every love story ends with a happily ever after, yet sometimes the most impossible attractions are also the most compelling. This book left me captivated even after the last page.

From the list:

The best young-adult sci-fi/fantasy with a swoon-inducing love story

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Book cover of The Gem Thief

The Gem Thief

By Sian Ann Bessey

Why this book?

Having worked for a jewelry designer in the Washington, DC area, The Gem Thief caught my eye. The story took me back to my days in the shop (good memories!), and the author has obviously done her research, because her accuracy is impeccable. I liked all of the characters, but I bonded with one of the secondary characters so much that I felt we could be friends in “real life.” I’ve been to New York City often, so I also enjoyed revisiting the city. The book was both comfortable because of all the associations to “past lives,” and exciting as…

From the list:

The best historical novels with female protagonists in unusual jobs

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Book cover of This Train Is Being Held

This Train Is Being Held

By Ismée Williams

Why this book?

Welcome to the sweet romance of Isa, a dancer, and Alex, a baseball player, teenagers in New York with very different upbringings. Isa is a blonde, half-Cuban/half white, private school girl from a well-off family that’s falling apart behind the scenes. Alex is Dominican, attends public school, and divides his time between his divorced parents. He’s also a secret poet and leaves his poems for Isa to find on the subway train where they first met. Both have professional sports potential, but the reality is more complicated. The couple navigates challenges with their families and neighborhoods, including mental health and…

From the list:

The best teen books about sports (and so much more)

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Book cover of The Wolfen

The Wolfen

By Whitley Strieber

Why this book?

This is the first novel I ever read that made me into a lifelong fan of horror fiction. It’s a werewolf story but set in New York City, which no one had ever done before. Not to my knowledge anyway. Here Streib frequently writes from the werewolves’ point of view which makes the book that much more chilling. I admire a book that can take horror tropes and create something fresh and different from them.    

From the list:

The best books that will make you afraid of the dark

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Book cover of You in Five Acts

You in Five Acts

By Una LaMarche

Why this book?

I like the grittiness and real-life issues addressed in this story. The pressures and joys of being students at an elite performing arts high school are described through the eyes of five friends: two actors, one writer/director, and two dancers. Aspirations, disintegrating friendships, budding romances, vengeance, and addiction interweave as the students forge ahead to the career-making (or breaking) Senior Showcase. Tragedy enfolds the friends in a dark ending as the dangers of the outside world pierce their high school bubble. 

Theatre Quotient: Medium. Plot is split between dance and theater, and the show gets minimal pages.

From the list:

The best novels for tweens, teens and young adults who love theater

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Book cover of City Shapes

City Shapes

By Diana Murray, Bryan Collier

Why this book?

One of my favorite things to do in New York City is to walk around and look at everything. Whether people-watching or admiring the architecture or visiting a museum— there is always something new to see! The city is truly an ever-changing work of art, and art is made up of shapes. Through rhyming text and colorful watercolor and collage illustrations, this book explores the natural and human-made shapes of the city through the eyes of a young girl as she observes the world around her.

From the list:

The best nonfiction children’s books about New York City

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Book cover of City of Girls

City of Girls

By Elizabeth Gilbert

Why this book?

There’s sex, flamboyance, partying, nightlife, unconventional characters, and a gritty urban backdrop – exactly what the protagonist Vivian needs in order to find her true self after disappointing her parents and not meeting their expectations. I love stories where the reader gets to experience the protagonist’s journey and evolution, and in this one, I could feel Vivian’s world expand with each chapter. Isn’t that what we all want for ourselves? To get outside of our bubbles and the judgments of others and find love, fulfillment, and an accepting community? 

From the list:

The best novels with female protagonists who challenge norms and don’t care if others judge them

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Book cover of The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone

By Olivia Laing

Why this book?

Having been abandoned in New York City by her new lover, Laing works through her grief by contemplating the nature of loneliness

“Amidst the glossiness of late capitalism,” she writes, “we are fed the notion that all difficult feeling—depression, anxiety, loneliness, rage—are simply a consequence of unsettled chemistry, a problem to be fixed, rather than a response to… doing time… in a rented body, with all the attendant grief and frustration that entails.” 

Yes. That. So very much that. With its combination of personal story and existential analysis, The Lonely City is a delicious meal for our…

From the list:

The best mixed-genre and/or deliciously out-of-the-box memoirs by women

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Book cover of Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story

Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story

By Paul Shaw

Why this book?

Here is an example of a work that leaves no stone unturned, and does the job properly. There is an excellent introduction on the historical signage of the Subway, a proper explanation of why a new wayfinding system was necessary, the most comprehensive history on why Unimark was chosen to improve the signage and all the images you need of how their 1970 'Graphics Standards Manual' was implemented. Shaw rightly explains the move from the Standard Medium typeface to Helvetica and why it superseded Standard Medium and the fate of the original Unimark system.

From the list:

The best books about subways and urban trains

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Book cover of Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

Rebel Cinderella: From Rags to Riches to Radical, the Epic Journey of Rose Pastor Stokes

By Adam Hochschild

Why this book?

This gem of narrative non-fiction tells the improbable story of an utterly impoverished immigrant woman who married into one of the wealthiest “establishment” families of New York City and became one of the nation’s most prominent radical activists in the early 1900s. The unlikely marriage of Rose Pastor and Graham Stokes made many national headlines -- and attracted attention from federal agents. Hochschild brings this odd couple to life in all their ups and downs, introduces us to their circle of famous fellow activists, and illuminates their fights for social justice, struggles that remain relevant to this day.

From the list:

The best books on spies and radicals

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Book cover of Leningradsky Photo Underground

Leningradsky Photo Underground

By Valery Valran

Why this book?

It’s hard these days to get a sense of what Leningrad looked like back in the 1960s and 1970s, and these photographs are also a tribute to the alternative art of that era: grainy black-and-white-images of stray dogs on rubbish tips, drunks in backyards, dilapidated façades stretching along the eerie silver of canals. The photographers included (such as Boris Smelov, Lev Zviagin, Slava Mikhailov, Boris Kudryakov and Olga Korsunova) aren’t nearly as well-known as they should be, and are as interesting in their way as the ubiquitous Boris Mikhailov. For a comparable figure who isn’t included in Val’ran’s book because…

From the list:

The best books about modern St Petersburg

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Book cover of Reno Now and Then

Reno Now and Then

By Neal Cobb, Jerry Fenwick

Why this book?

Besides knowing everything about Reno history, Neal Cobb and Jerry Fenwick have carefully photographed and juxtaposed the “now and the then” images of Reno sites and captioned the images in detail. The books (there are two volumes) beckon a walking trip through various neighborhoods, books in hand, comparing the past with the present.

From the list:

The best books on the Reno divorce ranch era (when Reno was the divorce capital of the world)

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Book cover of The Art of Memoir

The Art of Memoir

By Mary Karr

Why this book?

Mary Karr brings the lively irreverent voice found in her classic memoir The Liar’s Club to this inspiring guide to the memoir craft. Offering excerpts from her favorite memoirs, stories other successful writers have shared with her over the years, and honest examples from her own struggles on and off the page, Karr addresses not just the difficulties of forming sentences and writing powerful scenes but also the more complex emotional challenges of writing about one’s own pain and heartbreak. Simultaneously practical and inspirational, The Art of Memoir contains Karr’s energy and amazing wit on every page.

From the list:

The best craft books for essayists and memoirists

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Book cover of The New Rules of Divorce: Twelve Secrets to Protecting Your Wealth, Health, and Happiness

The New Rules of Divorce: Twelve Secrets to Protecting Your Wealth, Health, and Happiness

By Jacqueline Newman

Why this book?

New York Divorce attorney Jacqueline Newman’s The New Rules of Divorce: Twelve Secrets to Protecting Your Wealth, Health and Happiness is a great divorce primer, tackling everything from contemplating divorce to dating after divorce. The book is charming and funny as well as deeply practical. While the book will probably appeal the most to wealthy women, it offers useful advice for anyone contemplating or going through a divorce.

From the list:

The best books on getting through divorce successfully

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Book cover of Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables

Six Seasons: A New Way with Vegetables

By Joshua McFadden, Martha Holmberg

Why this book?

Not only is this book a beauty, but it’s also a great way to discover new pairings for your favorite seasonal pizza toppings. Many of my favorite pizza recipes have been adapted from combinations of ingredients found in recipes for salads, casseroles, fancy meals, sandwiches, and more. If you’re a farmers’ market fiend and a homemade pizzamaker, you need more books like this one.

From the list:

The best books for making pizza from scratch

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Book cover of Borrowed Finery: A Memoir

Borrowed Finery: A Memoir

By Paula Fox

Why this book?

Paula Fox, the late great novelist and revered children’s book author, wrote a wonderful memoir of effectively not having parents. Oh, Fox’s parents were around, but they were drunk, careless, and inattentive, often shuffling young Paula to and from locales as varied as Hollywood and pre-Revolutionary Cuba. Her parents are depicted in this memoir as both monstrous and sympathetic, providing aspiring memoirists with a model of artful ambivalence. The book is also filled with extraordinary walk-ons by Orson Welles, James Cagney, Stella Adler, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s a beautiful book by one of the most effortlessly commanding writers this…

From the list:

The best books about trying to understand your parents

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Book cover of Fashion Climbing: A Memoir

Fashion Climbing: A Memoir

By Bill Cunningham

Why this book?

Photographer Bill Cunningham, who died in 2016 at the age of 87, is best known as the New York Times’ street fashion and party photographer. But he got his start in fashion, at the age of 19, as a milliner in New York. His career was briefly interrupted when he was drafted in the Army in the early 1950s and stationed in France—or so he thought. Cunningham started making hats for the officers’ wives, which allowed him to travel to Paris for materials. His tales of Paris are glorious—oh, how he was charmed by the city, and the French—and…

From the list:

The best books about fashion in Paris

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Book cover of The Onion Field

The Onion Field

By Joseph Wambaugh

Why this book?

As a high school senior planning a career in law enforcement, I was mesmerized by Joseph Wambaugh’s account of the kidnapping of two Los Angeles police officers in 1963, and the murder of one of them.  Wambaugh unsympathetically details the stories of the two men convicted in the case, while at the same time humanizing the officer who survived and suffered from humiliation and guilt again and again throughout seven years of court proceedings against the men who kidnapped him and murdered his partner. The courtroom dialogue is verbatim, and to me, that leads to a feeling that the reader…

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The most detailed books about killers

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Book cover of A Beautiful Crime

A Beautiful Crime

By Christopher Bollen

Why this book?

In Bollen’s fourth novel, the boyishly handsome, 25-year-old Nick Brink meets the older and more remote Clay Guillory at the funeral of Clay’s boyfriend/benefactor, Freddy Van der Haar. Freddy, whose name is synonymous with American royalty, was one of the few remaining vestiges of the old New York gay scene. House poor, Freddy bequeathed Clay his shambling Venetian palazzo and a collection of counterfeit antiques. Nick falls for Clay, and they escape to Venice. To fund their new Continental lifestyle, they cook up a plan to con Richard West, a wealthy American retiree who has a sentimental affection for the…

From the list:

The best crime novels for fans of slow burn psychological suspense

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Book cover of The Tender Bar: A Memoir

The Tender Bar: A Memoir

By J.R. Moehringer

Why this book?

Although I loved the city of New York more than ever after 9/11, it was sometimes hard to feel optimism and hope about the bigger picture and humanity as a whole in the first several years of the new millennium. This book was one of several things that helped restore my faith, since Moehringer so lovingly portrays the community where he grew up in Long Island—an area profoundly impacted by the attack on the World Trade Center. While I was fact-checking the title, et cetera, I discovered there’s a movie version coming out in early 2022. Obviously I haven’t seen…

From the list:

The best books that will make you rethink the way we drink and why

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Book cover of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

By Harriet Jacobs

Why this book?

Jacobs’ emotionally compelling book is arguably the most well-known slave narrative written by a woman. Published in 1861, under the pseudonym Linda Brent, this intimate memoir played an important role in the antislavery movement. Nineteen-century readers were moved, as are readers today, by the story of a young woman so determined to avoid the sexual advances of her enslaver that, for seven years, she hides in her grandmother’s coffin-like attic from which she secretly watches from afar her two children at play. The narrative ends on a cautiously hopeful note. When Jacobs finally escapes from North Carolina, she is able…

From the list:

The best books by or about notable enslaved women

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Book cover of The Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic

The Turnaround: How America's Top Cop Reversed the Crime Epidemic

By William Bratton, Peter Knobler

Why this book?

This book describes the harum-scarum changes to the NYPD that made possible an astonishing reduction in crime and homicide in a city in the midst of the crack cocaine wars. When Bratton began promoting hotshot cops on merit rather than seniority, half the senior commanders retired in horror. The result? A lot of fat ex-cops retired to Florida and the renaissance of New York City.

From the list:

The best books on crime and criminal justice

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Book cover of Ten Days in a Mad-House

Ten Days in a Mad-House

By Nellie Bly

Why this book?

Nellie Bly was one of the great muckraking reporters in American history. She pretends to be insane and is admitted to the “mad house.” Along the way, she exposes the horrible treatment of those suffering from mental illness, but of her treatment in a boarding home, where spoiled beef was served.

Many at the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Roosevelt Island suffered no mental illness; they simply didn’t know how to speak English, she wrote. “I left the insane ward with pleasure and regret—pleasure that I was once more able to enjoy the free breath of heaven; regret that I could…

From the list:

The best books for learning about investigative reporting

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Book cover of Slut: The Play

Slut: The Play

By Katie Cappiello

Why this book?

This play, inspired by the experiences of a racially diverse group of New York City teenage girls, explores the intersection of slut-shaming and sexual violence. At its core, the play questions the wisdom of girls embracing the “slut” label for themselves. “Slut” may seem like a carefree term of endearment, and it is—until the moment Joey, a member of her school’s dance team, informally known as the Slut Squad, is sexually assaulted by two boys from school. She brings charges against them, and every sexually provocative thing she previously has done is used as evidence that she is lying. If…

From the list:

The best books on being a young woman in the USA

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Book cover of Sojourner Truth's America

Sojourner Truth's America

By Margaret Washington

Why this book?

Find a performance of Truth’s speech, “A’rn’t I a Woman,” and the actress inevitably slips into a southern accent. Margaret Washington’s book, along with Nell Irvin Painter’s Sojourner Truth: A Life, a Symbol, will tell you that Truth actually spoke with a Dutch accent and that the more famous version of that speech was a revision by a white abolitionist woman. Truth was born and raised in New York, not the south, and she slipped through the cracks of the state’s Emancipation laws, remaining a slave well into adulthood. Her life tells a national story of slavery and shows…

From the list:

The best books to read to reconsider iconic American women

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Book cover of Paris to the Moon

Paris to the Moon

By Adam Gopnick

Why this book?

New Yorker Adam Gopnick’s memoir about life in Paris with his family is a great reminder of why we all became so enchanted with France, and the French, in the first place. The experiences are relatable, but the insights erudite enough to make you feel smart, and want to dig deeper. It’s a dreamy, vicarious immersion in the life of a sophisticated expatriate who grapples with all the quirks and paradoxes of the French capital and its inhabitants.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the French

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Book cover of Yoga for the Wounded Heart: A Journey, Philosophy, and Practice of Healing Emotional Pain

Yoga for the Wounded Heart: A Journey, Philosophy, and Practice of Healing Emotional Pain

By Tatiana Forero Puerta

Why this book?

Yoga, like any discipline designed to integrate us humans with ourselves, works for those who work it. Some, however, have a more challenging path, and this includes survivors of trauma. In this beautifully written work -- part memoir, part self-help -- the author details how finding yoga, and practicing it as if her life and sanity depended on it, brought her out of intense grief and PTSD. She shows us how it can work for us, too, if our life saga includes great sorrow, or if we'd simply like to deal better with the generic ups-and-down.

From the list:

The best and most recent books about yoga and Ayurveda

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Book cover of Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession

Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession

By Janet Malcolm

Why this book?

Sigmund Freud and psychoanalysis have cast a long shadow over our understanding of the human mind. Most research psychologists today find Freud’s ideas to be oversimplified, exaggerated, or simply wrong. It is important to understand his legacy, however, and there is no better way to do so than to read this entertaining, gossipy book about psychoanalytic theory and treatment. Malcolm provides a rare peek into the consulting room of the psychoanalyst, with insightful critiques of the practice and theory of psychoanalysis. What is Freud’s legacy, exactly? I discuss that in Strangers to Ourselves, in a chapter entitled, “Freud’s genius, Freud’s…
From the list:

The best books about self knowledge

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Book cover of Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City

Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City

By Eric W. Sanderson, Markley Boyer

Why this book?

When explorer Henry Hudson arrived in 1609, the island we know today as Manhattan was covered with forests and wetlands and was known as Mannahatta by the native Lenape people. This revelatory, genre-defying book shows us what the island was like before Dutch colonists settled there in the seventeenth century. Mannahatta combines ecological data on the plants and animals that once covered the island with astonishing digital imagery that will make you feel like you are gazing at aerial photographs of a vanished world. Before-and-after pictures thrillingly juxtapose two extraordinary places—a stunning green landscape and the dense, vibrant city of…

From the list:

The best books on New York City history to 1900

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Book cover of Gregor the Overlander

Gregor the Overlander

By Suzanne Collins

Why this book?

I know better than to judge a book by its cover. Still, I didn’t want to read Gregor the Overlander when I first saw the cover. It was recommended for 5th graders and I read it so I would be able to talk to my students about it. I am so glad I did because I loved the story, characters, and world building. When Gregor and his sister, Boots, fell through the grate in the laundry room I was right there with them. The world they discovered was so well described that I felt like I was in the Underland…
From the list:

The best middle grade books to fall into

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Book cover of Manifest Your Destiny: Nine Spiritual Principles for Getting Everything You Want

Manifest Your Destiny: Nine Spiritual Principles for Getting Everything You Want

By Wayne W. Dyer

Why this book?

This book changed the way I was living my life. It literally changed the words I used to speak about my future plans/goals and made me want to dream big. It leads you to make the connection between what we think and what shows up in our lives. This was an epiphany moment for me. That, we are, who we spend time with, the books we read, and the TV we watch. And thus, the people around us become mirrors of ourselves. It made me examine my thoughts on a minute-to-minute basis and ultimately start living in the present moment.…
From the list:

The best books about following your dreams

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Book cover of Dominicana

Dominicana

By Angie Cruz

Why this book?

Effectively a novelization of Cruz’s own mother’s story, Dominicana is about a 15-year-old girl in the Dominican Republic who, in the 1960s, is married off to a local man in his thirties. He has set up a new life for them in Washington Heights, in upper Manhattan. Despite its moments of struggle, spousal abuse, and loneliness, this novel reads lightly and inspirationally—a celebration of its protagonist’s fortitude.

From the list:

The best books about coming of age in New York City

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Book cover of MacDoodle St.

MacDoodle St.

By Mark Alan Stamaty

Why this book?

My curveball choice. In the late 1970s, Stamaty drew a brilliant, phantasmagoric, visually dense comic strip for The Village Voice that captured the chaos, charm, and entropic scuzziness of Manhattan in that era. His protagonist, a bearded nerd named Malcolm Frazzle, travels on a very funny Joseph Campbell-like hero’s journey that involves a talking cow, the Zen of dishwashing, and overpacked subway cars. I’ve spent the last 40 years revisiting this compendium of Stamaty’s strips, whose every page is a loony, trippy world to fall into.

From the list:

The best books about coming of age in New York City

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Book cover of The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Ninetenth-Century New York

The Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Ninetenth-Century New York

By Patricia Cline Cohen

Why this book?

When I decided to write a novel about a 19th-century prostitute, I of course wanted to read as much as possible about demi-mondaines in that era. Cohen’s narrative nonfiction book is engrossing, and while it focuses on one woman, it also gives a fascinating inside look at what life was like for prostitutes in 1830s New York City.

And, in a stranger than fiction connection to my novel, the murderer of Helen Jewett—Richard P. Robinson—who was sensationally acquitted, moved to Nacogdoches, Texas to start a new life. He married Atala Hotchkiss and died of an unknown fever at a young…

From the list:

The best books about 19th century prostitutes

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Book cover of In the Shadow of No Towers

In the Shadow of No Towers

By Art Spiegelman

Why this book?

Unlike the other books on this list, this isn’t primarily a reprint collection of early-twentieth-century comics. Rather, Art Spiegelman (whose essential memoir Maus was the first comic to win a Pulitzer Prize), re-introduces old comics characters in a very personal story of the 9/11 attacks and the political fallout. Figures like the Happy Hooligan, Jiggs and Maggie, Little Nemo, and Krazy Kat and Ignatz float through these stories like New York City’s awakened ghosts. Spiegelman also adds a masterful essay on comics and curates a few selections of the original strips. No work better demonstrates how the early cartoonists can…

From the list:

The best books for reading century-old newspaper funnies

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Book cover of New York 2140

New York 2140

By Kim Stanley Robinson

Why this book?

My home port, New York City, never stops entertaining me, with endless pockets of culture to explore. Kim Stanley Robinson’s book centers on parts of Manhattan that I know very well, like Madison Square Park, and reimagines them in a Venice-like environment, with most of the city’s streets submerged in water. 

While climate change is clearly at play, this book isn’t all doom-and-gloom. There’s a somewhat quirky cast of characters that all inhabit the same building and include a media star known for her airship escapades and a couple of coders whose disappearance has monumental consequences for the financial industry.…

From the list:

The best novels that wonder about the future

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Book cover of Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs

Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs

By Bill Cunningham

Why this book?

When Bill (William John) Cunningham (1929-2016), son of an Irish Catholic family from Boston, moved to New York at the tender age of 19 in 1948, it became the life-defining step in his career as probably the most famous fashion photographer in the metropolis. He had been interested in fashion from an early age and sold his first hats. After returning from military service in Korea in 1953, he began photographing fashion and writing articles for Women's Wear Daily and the Chicago Tribune.

It is no exaggeration to say that Cunningham's fashion sense and photography quickly shaped a new…

From the list:

The best books about fashion and the fashion industry

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Book cover of Two Homes

Two Homes

By Claire Masurel, Kady MacDonald Denton

Why this book?

Today separation and divorce is common and moms and dads wonder how much explaining is appropriate for their 2- to 6-year old. As a preschool teacher, I found this the very best picture book available to read over and over to give children a positive glimpse of living in two happy, healthy, albeit different homes. There is not a drop of negativity in this book. It is totally upbeat, simple, honest, and encouraging. The main character, Alex (neither male nor female in name nor illustration) is quite comfortable and thankful for his two homes as Alex points out the differences.…
From the list:

The best picture books to motivate kids to manage their own behaviors and feelings

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Book cover of Not Tonight, Josephine: A Road Trip Through Small-Town America

Not Tonight, Josephine: A Road Trip Through Small-Town America

By George Mahood

Why this book?

Impecunious Brits George and his friend Mark decide to search for the ‘real’ America, crossing the continent from east to west in a clapped-out old car. 

At every point, amid clouds of smoke, impending mechanical Armageddon, and brushes with the law, it seems unlikely that they’ll make it. One night, in the middle of nowhere, when ominous sounds emanating from the engine, George pleads, “Not tonight, Josephine…!”

The author has a humorous conversational style and paints an unforgettable portrait of the unlikely places he passed through. I thoroughly enjoyed this bump-start, clunk, and judder across the States with the frustrating…

From the list:

The funniest road trip memoirs

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Book cover of My Side of the Mountain

My Side of the Mountain

By Jean Craighead George

Why this book?

This classic story of a boy running away to the Catskill Mountains and surviving on his own in the wilderness has stayed in my mind for years. Camping in the mountains of California with my comfortable sleeping bag and tent is so much different than reading about Sam Gribley, who brings only his knife, flint, and steel to light fires, some rope, and his ingenuity. Sam bonds with a falcon who helps him survive the harsh winter, which he spends living in a hollowed out log. 

From the list:

The best middle-grade/young adult environmental fantasy books

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Book cover of Family Installments: Memories of Growing Up Hispanic

Family Installments: Memories of Growing Up Hispanic

By Edward Rivera

Why this book?

Rivera’s only major work, Family Installments has influenced many Latinx writers, including Junot Diaz. Published in 1982, it was one of the earliest novels capturing the diasporican experience of the Great Migration in the 1950s. Rivera’s protagonist, Santos Malánguez, narrates his family’s journey from  Puerto Rico to New York in great detail, often with sharp insight and humor. As a young aspiring writer, I identified with Santos, especially as he found, in reading and books, solace from a dreary life of struggle. No other book depicts diasporican life so richly and comprehensively—from harsh rural life on the island to tenement…

From the list:

The best books by writers of the Puerto Rican diaspora

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Book cover of In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863

In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626-1863

By Leslie M. Harris

Why this book?

The history of colonial and antebellum New York, in Harris’s hands, becomes a map of Black activism. This book moves beyond a history of slavery and abolition to offer a sweeping historical narrative of Black life in New York City, starting with the arrival of the first enslaved people in 1626 and culminating in the brutally violent draft riots of 1863. Harris works creatively with little-studied sources to chronicle how, even in the direst of circumstances, Black New Yorkers created vibrant communities. While Harris certainly depicts the obstacles that Black New Yorkers faced in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries,…

From the list:

The best books about 19th-century Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

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Book cover of Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City

Black Gotham: A Family History of African Americans in Nineteenth-Century New York City

By Carla L. Peterson

Why this book?

Part history, part memoir, part detective story, the capacious, impeccably researched Black Gotham depicts an author’s engagement with her own ancestry, as she traces her family’s achievements in nineteenth-century New York City. Starting with the name and a family story about one great-grandfather, Peterson weaves a vibrant tapestry that details the lives of a community of elite Black New Yorkers who attended schools, started businesses, generated national conventions, and lived cosmopolitan lives. In addition to chronicling the lives of these accomplished ancestors, Peterson offers a compelling meditation on the determination and creativity required to excavate the lives of Black…

From the list:

The best books about 19th-century Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

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Book cover of Stories of Freedom in Black New York

Stories of Freedom in Black New York

By Shane White

Why this book?

This beautifully written history focuses on another nineteenth-century Black New Yorker who defies expectations and deserves our attention. Like Educated for Freedom and Black Gotham, White’s story places us in historical moments surrounding the 1827 law ending slavery in New York State. White puts us on the vibrant, noisy, streets of the city, inviting us to see both hope and defiance in how Black people dressed, how they walked down the street, and what they did at the theater. At the center of this history emerges James Hewlett, a man whose life is worthy of at least one feature…

From the list:

The best books about 19th-century Black New Yorkers you wish you had learned about in history class

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Book cover of Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir

Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant? A Memoir

By Roz Chast

Why this book?

Anybody who’s had to clean out a family home knows what a messy, emotional, tedious, painful, sometimes lonely, occasionally humorous process it can be. Cartoonist Roz Chast captures all of that in this graphic memoir about helping her elderly parents move out of the New York City apartment they’d lived in for decades. Like me, Chast is an only child. That made a tough job even tougher, and she’s astonishingly frank about the ups and downs. If you find yourself having to help a loved one downsize, this book will make you feel less alone, no matter how many siblings…

From the list:

The best books to read when you’re decluttering (or trying to avoid it)

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Book cover of The City We Became

The City We Became

By N.K. Jemisin

Why this book?

Suddenly, for reasons no one can quite explain, five ordinary New Yorkers become-slash-embody the city’s five boroughs. For example, a newcomer named Manny discovers he *is* Manhattan; he feels and sees its streets and crowds. Through telling these five people’s stories—and chronicling their efforts to save the city from a powerful evil force—Jemisin tells the story of New York. It’s sort of sci-fi, it’s very funny. It’s also a portrait of the city today through regular, non-wealthy residents.

From the list:

The best books on Post-9/11 New York City

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Book cover of Bad News

Bad News

By Edward St Aubyn

Why this book?

No one captures the self-loathing and paradoxical liberty of the moneyed junkie as well as St Aubyn (except perhaps Anna Cavan). The second novel in his almost-autobiographical Patrick Melrose series, Bad News finds our fucked-up anti-hero on a gargantuan smack binge in New York at the age of 22. How the author – now clean – can reconstruct his frame of mind is remarkable; how he can do it with such precision and wit is mind-blowing.
From the list:

The best books about madness, drugs, and rock’n’roll

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Book cover of The Defense

The Defense

By Steve Cavanagh

Why this book?

Legal Thrillers: The Defense by Steve Cavanagh is the best legal thriller I’ve ever read. Eddie Flynn, a former con artist turned lawyer, is forced to defend the head of the Russian mob in New York City who is on trial for murder. But that’s just the beginning of this Perry-Mason-on-steroids thriller as Flynn brings his A-game to thwart their plans and free his kidnapped daughter. Sleep in late the day you begin reading this legal thriller as you won’t sleep again until after you’ve finished it. Then you’ll be thrilled to discover that Cavanagh’s written several more Eddie Flynn…

From the list:

The best books in various thriller subgenres

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Book cover of It's All Good

It's All Good

By Boogie

Why this book?

I’ll bookend this list with what I consider to be a sort of updated take on Larry Clark’s Tulsa. Serbian photog Boogie has published similarly solemn collections on Moscow and war-torn Belgrade. With It’s All Good, he arrived in New York’s most violent neighborhoods circa 2010 to document the hard and often tragic lives of urban youth. Gangsters pointing their guns into the lens or jabbing their veins with needles might not make the most appealing coffee table book, but the photos themselves are even more sublime than anything shot by Clark, making this book a worthy successor.

From the list:

The best books about documentary photography

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Book cover of Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities

By Rebecca Solnit

Why this book?

The world is hell, so now what? By now we all know how easy it is to fall into despair. “Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting.” Solnit’s arguments and examples of a galvanizing hope are not naïve. They are nuanced, realistic, and give us something to cling to like a life raft as we scan for dry land.

From the list:

The best books for when life throws you a curveball

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Book cover of Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn

Itty-Bitty Kitty-Corn

By Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham

Why this book?

I love Itty Bitty Kitty-Corn because it celebrates the magic of friendship. The book is about Kitty who wants to be a unicorn but her friends try to prove she isn’t one. This book encourages kids to be exactly who they want to be—no matter what anyone says. The art is adorable to create the most heart-bursting, tail-twitching, fuzzy-feeling, perfectly unicorn-y story imaginable. You can’t help but fall in love with Kitty Corn.
From the list:

The best books on unicorn in the uni-verse

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Book cover of Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band

Sweat: The Story of the Fleshtones, America’s Garage Band

By Joe Bonomo

Why this book?

Not many books are written about bands that labor in the trenches for over thirty years with little success. The Fleshtones formed in New York City in the mid 1970s, one of many new wave/punk bands seeking to fulfill their rock-‘n’-roll dream. Today, they are still looking to achieve that dream. Since 1982, they have released over 20 albums, none achieving commercial success. With just the right combination of humor and seriousness (like The Fleshtones themselves), Sweat documents the band’s bad luck, bad management, bad record contracts, bad decisions, and self-destructive behaviors. Always on the brink of breaking through, “The…

From the list:

The best books about rock music and rock bands

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Book cover of Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940

Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture, and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940

By George Chauncey

Why this book?

The “urban culture” mentioned in the subtitle of this book will remind us of themes in other books about the modern city: the urban experience as one of flux and diversity, uncertainty and possibility, community and alienation, class and gender, sex and violence. Chauncey focuses on urban geography and spaces, especially boundaries, interstices, and enclaves. Most astonishing, and an important discovery, are the many spaces of “ambivalent toleration” for sexual and gender difference in pre-1930s New York. This meant spaces like the Bowery, Greenwich Village, Broadway, and Harlem, but also working-class, immigrant, ethnic, and racial subcultures where dominant normativities could…

From the list:

The best books on the modern history of cities

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Book cover of Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems & Drawings

Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems & Drawings

By Shel Silverstein

Why this book?

If you don’t read this book with your children, you should feel terribly guilty. This has got to be the greatest treasure of sideway thoughts, words, and pictures ever mined from a mind. Mr. Silverstein’s words flow through us like a great river of giggles.
From the list:

The best picture books for adults, children, and other dreamers

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Book cover of City of Women

City of Women

By Christine Stansell

Why this book?

While this book is about New York, it offers great insights into the role of women in urban spaces that are relevant across the world. Stansell weaves together statistical and official records, court reports, press stories, and paints detailed pictures of the lives of women in the nineteenth-century city. This includes the range of employment women took, and their various strategies to resolve disputes, run businesses, and manage their lives. In a city as diverse as New York, this included women from all over the world.
From the list:

The best books on the history of cities

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Book cover of After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)

After the Fall (How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again)

By Dan Santat

Why this book?

I firmly believe a great children’s book is a great adult’s book too. This one sure fits the bill. Humpty Dumpty has that infamous fall off the wall and what happens to him afterward is funny, healing, and magically majestic. If you know of a child (or adult) in the hospital or simply someone having difficult times, this is a book of humor, acceptance, and creative transformation. It’s a permanent fixture on my bookshelf.
From the list:

The best books to help grieving children and to open up discussions about death

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Book cover of Baby Teeth

Baby Teeth

By Zoje Stage

Why this book?

Stage’s wonderfully sinister novel documents the early years of a child who seems to have been born bad. The thrill in this one is the ever-escalating war between a precocious and seemingly sweet child and her anguished mother, who knows she’s being manipulated by her daughter, while the father remains oblivious to the horror. It’s unusual, and fun, to read a book in which we get to see things from the child’s perspective as she tries to drive her mother insane.

From the list:

The best horror books to make you reconsider having kids

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Book cover of The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

The Mighty Heart of Sunny St. James

By Ashley Herring Blake

Why this book?

Sunny is a 12-year-old with a new heart and new plans for the summer—have amazing experiences, find a new best friend, and kiss a boy. Sunny takes readers on one heart-racing adventure after another as she navigates difficult family situations, goes on a first-kiss quest, and learns to surf. When she makes a new best friend, she discovers that maybe it’s not a boy she wants to kiss after all. Three words to describe this book: humor, heart, and hope.

From the list:

The best LGBTQ+ books for children and young adults

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Book cover of To Night Owl from Dogfish

To Night Owl from Dogfish

By Holly Goldberg Sloan, Meg Wolitzer

Why this book?

An entire book group of girls decided to try sleep-away camp after reading this hilarious title. Constructed entirely of emails between anxious Avery Bloom (NYC) and gonzo Bett Devlin (Los Angeles), it’s about an unlikely friendship that is aided-and-abetted by the existence of the Internet and summer camp…and theatre…and love-at-first-sight…and unvarnished truth.

From the list:

The best middle grade books for a 5th-grade book group

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Book cover of An Unkindness of Magicians

An Unkindness of Magicians

By Kat Howard

Why this book?

Good action isn’t just powered battle armor fights, guns going off, or well-executed martial arts, magic can be pretty damn impressive too. An Unkindness of Magicians opens with a woman auditioning for a spot in a magic dueling tournament by levitating traffic in the middle of New York, and it just gets crazier from there.

I’ve described the book to some as Mortal Kombat with wizards. Magic users in New York face off for an elimination-style tournament where people can die in the matches. It’s not just brute force with fireballs either, any kind of magical ingenuity is on the…

From the list:

The best science fiction and fantasy books with a ton of action

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Book cover of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

By Elizabeth Rush

Why this book?

Rigorously reported and beautifully written, Rising takes readers to some of the places in the United States where sea level rise has been most dramatic, from the Gulf Coast to Miami, and New York City to the Bay Area. For many of the plants, animals, and people living in these periled places, the options are limited: migrate elsewhere, or perish. Rush gives voice to the people in such heavily impacted communities; she weaves firsthand accounts from those experiencing such rapid change in their shoreline communities and profiles biologists, activities, and other members of vulnerable communities.

She exposes the many inequitable…

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The best books to inspire climate action

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Book cover of Odds Against Tomorrow

Odds Against Tomorrow

By Nathaniel Rich

Why this book?

Climate fiction, or “cli-fi” as it is now known, lets readers imagine the world about which scientists are warning, a world where climate-fueled extremes upend humanity’s everyday existence. This book tells the story of a Midwestern math whiz who studies “worst-case scenarios” for a living. When one of those scenarios collides with his own life, action, adventure, and love follow.

From the list:

The best books to deal with catastrophic risks

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Book cover of Tweet Cute

Tweet Cute

By Emma Lord

Why this book?

The humor in this book is delightfully… cheesy. Pun intended. Tweet Cute is about Jack and Pepper, son and daughter of the owners of a mom-and-pop deli and a massive fast-food chain, respectively, who get into a Twitter war once it is revealed that one has stolen the other’s secret family grilled cheese recipe. This book has three things that I absolutely adore: It’s set in New York City, the characters engage almost constantly in witty banter, and it’s packed with puns about—you guessed it—grilled cheese. But humor aside, Tweet Cute is a terrific story about tight-knit families, teenagers…

From the list:

The best young adult books for readers who want to laugh out loud

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Book cover of The Music of Chance

The Music of Chance

By Paul Auster

Why this book?

Paul Auster is known for taking motifs from noir and playing around with them. Of all his books, this one works the best as a straightforward thriller. A pair of drifters attempt to hustle some millionaires out of their money but get outsmarted. After a disastrous poker game, they end up in debt to their victims, who set them to work building a useless decorative wall. It's one of those novels that reads like it could all be a dream.

From the list:

The best thriller books that will make you question reality

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Book cover of This Is New York

This Is New York

By Miroslav Sasek

Why this book?

Anyone who is curious about other cities and cultures will love the complete series of the This Is… books by Miroslav Sasek. They are filled with exciting facts and the colorful illustrations are truly delightful. From New York, to London, to Hong Kong, and many more, these books will inspire you to travel the world!

From the list:

The best picture books about cities

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Book cover of Gorky Park, 1

Gorky Park, 1

By Martin Cruz Smith

Why this book?

This novel is now forty years old, but it’s such a marvelous piece of mystery writing that it’s still worth recommending to any aspiring novelist who hasn’t read it. This is the introduction of Cruz’s wonderful Russian cop, Arkady Renko, one of the best characters in crime fiction. Smith’s writing carefully and skillfully invokes for us a sense of Soviet-era society, the dangers lurking in it, both unique and universal, and shows us how Renko navigates his way through it all to find out what has happened and why. What this book should teach a writer is how well it…

From the list:

The best novels for learning how to write crime fiction

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Book cover of The Library of Ever

The Library of Ever

By Zeno Alexander

Why this book?

This is a fun read about a girl who ends up at a very special library. It’s fantasy yet realistic... a bit Harry Potter-esk in its magic as well as an exciting page-turner about evil forces trying to close libraries and block the path to learning. But the best part is the questions that the librarians get asked are real questions. You think you know the answer but you soon learn how important it is to do research and double-check. As I was reading, I googled and discovered the problems are real ones with unexpected answers. I learned so much!…

From the list:

The best books for children that everyone should read

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Book cover of Lucky Broken Girl

Lucky Broken Girl

By Ruth Behar

Why this book?

Ruth Behar writes for both adults and children and is a multi-award-winning writer and a Cuban-American Anthropologist. She’s also Jewish with Ashkenazi and Sephardic roots. Based on the author’s real experiences, we follow ten-year-old Ruthie and her family who are recent Jewish-Cuban immigrants trying to make a new home in 1960s Queens, NY after Castro comes to power. Just as Ruthie is adjusting to school and making new friends, a devastating car accident puts her in a body cast for a year. It’s a beautiful, heartbreaking, and inspiring story. I particularly loved her friendship with recent Indian immigrant, Ramu, who…

From the list:

The best children’s books with both Jewish and South Asian representation

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Book cover of Rachel's Holiday

Rachel's Holiday

By Marian Keyes

Why this book?

This book blew my mind when I first read it because I had no idea there could be such a thing as a hilarious novel about addiction. I will never forget this line she has in it about how recovery groups will be comprised of “middle-aged men in sweaters.” It was also the first time I realized that people in recovery outside of the US were just as hilarious as those here. The story is a fun sort of Bridget Jones romp if Bridget loved cocaine and men in leather pants but it’s the voice—self-deprecating, self-aware, and funny AF—that’s always…

From the list:

The best books about addiction from a former party girl

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Book cover of Faithful Place

Faithful Place

By Tana French

Why this book?

All of Tana French’s books are characterized by intensity. Her protagonists have powerful backstories that generate the emotional drive to solve the mystery they face. In Faithful Place, set close to the present day, the protagonist Frank Mackey grew up working class in Dublin. Now he’s a detective, called home to Faithful Place when his family discovers a suitcase in an abandoned building—a suitcase that belonged to Frank’s girlfriend Rosie, who vanished years ago, the night she and Frank were to run away together to London. Frank always believed that Rosie abandoned him; but what if she was…

From the list:

The best books of mystery/suspense by women authors

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Book cover of Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass, Apples

Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass, Apples

By Neil Gaiman, Colleen Doran

Why this book?

Snow, Glass, Apples is my all-time favourite Gaiman story, which is quite staggering given how much of his work I adore, but I'd only seen it in short story form before, in Smoke and Mirrors. Then I was given a copy of just Snow Glass, Apples, illustrated by Colleen Doran. The artwork is stunning, beautifully dark with a tight palette and rich, intricate detailing. Every page is a work of art, allowing you to linger and slowly digest the tale as it unfolds. This story is a huge influence for me, in particular for my collection Once Upon A…

From the list:

The best dark fairytale books

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Book cover of Many Points of Me

Many Points of Me

By Caroline Gertler

Why this book?

Another middle-grade novel that includes a journey in a search for meaning after grief, Caroline Gertler’s book is also about the beauty of self-discovery. In a search for her father (and his artwork) the main character Georgia finally finds herself...as well as healing, hope, and family. In the end, Georgia learns that “home” is where she belongs, with the people who love her no matter what. A story not only about grief but about unconditional love, Gertler’s novel is a lovely one for those wondering about a lost parent.

From the list:

The best children’s books about grief

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Book cover of Romancing Mister Bridgerton: Bridgerton

Romancing Mister Bridgerton: Bridgerton

By Julia Quinn

Why this book?

This is the book that kick-started my career! Before walking into a small bookstore in Ghana and picking up this particular novel, I had no idea Regency romance was even a genre. Not only did I find this story engaging, but it was also filled with humor and written in a style that made me crave more. Until that point, I had attempted to write a historical fiction novel (which remains unfinished until this day). As soon as I was done with Romancing Mister Bridgerton I thought, this is the kind of story I want to write. Low and behold,…

From the list:

The best historical romance books by contemporary authors

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Book cover of The Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight Dragonquest the White Dragon

The Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight Dragonquest the White Dragon

By Anne McCaffrey

Why this book?

Dragon-riding was written about well before Eragon. In fact, the first book, Dragonflight, was published in 1967. McCaffrey's world is well-built for fantasy where creatures and characters must interact together for survival. It's fantasy at its best with the wind in your hair and danger falling from the sky with seemingly every flight taken. There's no loss of story throughout the series so it's a fantastic read (or re-read).

From the list:

The best fantasy books series from the past to read (or re-read)

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Book cover of Oh, Baby, the Places You'll Go!

Oh, Baby, the Places You'll Go!

By Tish Rabe, Dr. Seuss

Why this book?

Everyone has heard of Dr. Seuss, but most people don’t realize that he was a prenatal reading enthusiast. As a matter of fact, Dr. Seuss (whose real name was Theodore Geisel) was fascinated by the research that shows that babies can hear and respond to the voices they hear from inside the womb. After his death, author Tish Rabe along with Geisel’s widow Audrey, adapted his popular Oh, the Places You’ll Go to create the first-ever story especially for reading to a baby in the womb. Oh Baby, the Places You’ll Go includes all the fun rhythms, rhymes, and whimsical…

From the list:

The best books to read to your baby in utero

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Book cover of Peak

Peak

By Roland Smith

Why this book?

Peak is a climbing addict in trouble with the law. But he gets to join his estranged father on an expedition to climb Mount Everest. The catch is that his dad just wants to use Peak as a promotion for his climbing company. Peak has to navigate complex relationships, all while trying not to die. I loved the adventure, but also the window into why so many risk it all to reach the top.

From the list:

The best middle grade books that feature an adventurous journey

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Book cover of The Summer I Turned Pretty

The Summer I Turned Pretty

By Jenny Han

Why this book?

They say you never forget your first crush, and this young adult romance perfectly captures the headiness and angst of falling in love (at any age). Jenny Han pours emotion onto the page, and the love triangle between Belly and the Fisher brothers makes for the best kind of romantic tension. I devoured the whole series.

From the list:

The best romance books with longing so intense, you’ll swoon

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Book cover of Yesterday's News (Clare Carlson Mystery)

Yesterday's News (Clare Carlson Mystery)

By R. G. Belsky

Why this book?

Mr. Belsky’s media background is in newspapers, magazines, and TV/digital news. Yesterday’s News is the first in his series featuring Clare Carlson, the hard-driving and tenacious news director for Channel 10 in New York City. When eleven-year-old Lucy Devlin disappeared on her way to school more than a decade ago, it became one of the most famous missing child cases in history. The story turned reporter Clare Carlson into a media superstar overnight.

Now Clare once again plunges back into this sensational story. With new evidence, new victims, and new suspects—too many suspects. Everyone from members of a motorcycle gang…

From the list:

The best books by and about journalists

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Book cover of Same Sun Here

Same Sun Here

By Silas House, Neela Vaswani, Hilary Schenker

Why this book?

Same Sun Here is told by pen pals Meena and River in their letters to each other. Meena is an Indian immigrant living in New York City. River lives in the coal mining region of Kentucky. I am from a rural area myself so was especially drawn to River’s voice and the rural setting. 

From the list:

The best middle grade books written by collaborators

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Book cover of The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

By Stuart Turton

Why this book?

Quantum Leap is my favorite television show of all time. I loved the time travel premise in an otherwise not very sci-fi program, the anthology format allowing for completely different stories week to week, and the way it could teach different perspectives while (mostly) avoiding a heavy hand. Why do I bring this up while recommending The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle? Pretend Quantum Leap is back as a limited 6 episode miniseries where Sam Beckett has to solve a murder and that's pretty much this book. I don't know if that was the author's intent, but it…

From the list:

The best bizarrely bewildering but by and by brilliantly beautiful books

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Book cover of The Hunter

The Hunter

By Richard Stark

Why this book?

Parker (first name? last name? nobody knows) is the classic ruthless antihero. We pretty much see the world from his perspective, but we never get inside his head. Trust me; you wouldn’t want to. But we can’t help rooting for him as he makes his vengeful way (in this first of a series) from nearly dead to the “one guy” at the top who can give him back his money (that he stole previously). They’ve tried to capture him on film. Mel Gibson’s Payback wasn’t too bad, but Lee Marvin in Point Blank comes the closest in spirit (though they…

From the list:

The best books that feature villains you can’t stop thinking about

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Book cover of The System

The System

By Peter Kuper

Why this book?

In 1997, Peter Kuper knocked my socks off with The System, a wordless book that exposes the underbelly of New York City as an airbrushed wonderland of strippers, druggies, the homeless, dirty cops, killers, taggers, sleaze-balls, muggers, and—oh, yes—there’s a terrorist with a bomb who wants to blow things up. Never was anything so bright and colorful so decadently revealing.

From the list:

The best wordless books

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Book cover of Kristy's Great Idea: A Graphic Novel (the Baby-Sitters Club #1)

Kristy's Great Idea: A Graphic Novel (the Baby-Sitters Club #1)

By Ann M. Martin, Raina Telgemeier

Why this book?

Who doesn’t love Kristy, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey and their babysitting adventures? I was also an in-demand suburban babysitter when I was their age and I only wish I’d thought to join forces with my friends when I was scrambling for a new way to stop a kid from crying or fresh ideas to make bedtime fun. This is the ultimate best-friends-who-start-a-business book! And as a full-color graphic novel, the drama and the humor soar to new heights.

From the list:

The best middle grade books about kids starting businesses

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Book cover of The Nature of Fragile Things

The Nature of Fragile Things

By Susan Meissner

Why this book?

Sophie emigrates from Ireland and answers an ad from a widower in San Francisco who wants a bride. The novel is told in first person, which is somewhat unusual for historical fiction (although my own book is done that way). This point of view gives immediacy to the horror of the earthquake, which entangles Sophie’s life with that of a pregnant girl and a woman in the Southwest, creating a web of dark secrets and lies. I enjoyed this book because it told a greater tale of women’s solidarity, and what a woman will do to protect her children. 

From the list:

The best historical women’s fiction about the San Francisco 1906 earthquake

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Book cover of The Works: Anatomy of a City

The Works: Anatomy of a City

By Kate Ascher

Why this book?

Ascher takes us on a delightful tour of  New York City, teaching us about the inner workings of one of the world’s most complex cities. In doing so, she gives us clues as to how our own cities work. Using words, statistics, history, and illustrations, Ascher makes the complex seem simple, From sewage to stoplights to subways she leaves no stone unturned. Fact to ponder: For years NYC shipped its garbage to a landfill in Texas, nearly 2,000 miles away.

From the list:

The best books for understanding the world outside your front door

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Book cover of Enclave

Enclave

By Ann Aguirre

Why this book?

This book has a unique take on the apocalyptic genre and the interest the story and characters offered.

In old New York, living in the tunnels of the ancient subway system, the book documents what might happen to those left to fend for themselves in a city whose social and political construct collapsed due to a violent strain of some virus. (Sound familiar?)

The way the female lead, Deuce, discovers this new world where the sun is a threat and the wide-open spaces, claustrophobic, is a testament to the way the author captured the character’s innocence. Aguirre expertly relates Deuce’s…

From the list:

The best apocalyptic books of all time

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Book cover of Takedown

Takedown

By Brad Thor

Why this book?

As a writer, it is fun to read several authors in my genre and take note of their different styles of writing. Brad Thor's novels, especially his earlier ones, were a breath of fresh air. Much like Thor's personality, they're excitable, spirited stories that move at a blistering pace…another must ingredient for the thriller genre. His storylines were as present-day as picking up the newspaper and reading the headlines. Never a dull moment with lots of wicked twists.

From the list:

The best spy thriller books

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Book cover of The Girl with the Louding Voice

The Girl with the Louding Voice

By Abi Daré

Why this book?

The Girl With the Louding Voice is a triumphant novel, written with the compelling voice of a young Nigerian girl named Adunni. As she says, "I am not a wasted waste. I am Adunni. A person important enough because my tomorrow will be better than today."

Surviving what is often a violent and cruel life, I find myself cheering at the beauty of Adunni’s spirit.

From the list:

The best first-person novels

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Book cover of Monster Island: A Zombie Novel

Monster Island: A Zombie Novel

By David Wellington

Why this book?

Monster Island is the first book in the first book in Wellington’s Zombie Island Trilogy, followed by Monster Nation and Monster Planet. I loved it because while it starts as a traditional zombie apocalypse novel, Wellington takes the story into some exciting new areas. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but one of the zombies becomes more than a mindless flesh-eater. Much more. Suffice to say, Wellington provides readers with a very fresh take on zombies. A lot of horror trilogies start with a strong first book and then go downhill from there, but the Monster Island…

From the list:

The best zombie books for readers who are sick of zombies

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Book cover of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

By Jonathan Safran Foer

Why this book?

The structure of this incredibly emotional post-9/11 novel is unique, featuring photography, pen scribbles, red-lined and circled words, and pages wherein the words of the anxious narrator close in on each other until ultimately creating a jumbled block of unreadable text; some of the pages when flipped even animate a body falling upward into one of the buildings. It’s a lesson on experimental form. Beautiful prose and an incredible story make this novel special. After finding a key in a vase a year after his father’s death from the terrorist attacks, a nine-year-old boy named Oskar sets out on a…

From the list:

The best literary novels that immerse readers through poetic prose

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Book cover of The Islanders: A Novel

The Islanders: A Novel

By Meg Mitchell Moore

Why this book?

Personalities collide during a Block Island summer. While I enjoyed all three point-of-view characters, I laughed out loud at Anthony the author’s “head-writing;” he described a scene in front of him as if he were writing a novel. Tongue just slightly in cheek, I felt like Moore was poking fun at the novelist’s eye—while simultaneously using it as shorthand to show us Anthony’s view.

The Islanders came out only a few months before my book. Though both novels can be considered “beach reads,” they are each much more than just a fluffy happily-ever-after throwaway. An island makes a very convenient…

From the list:

The best novels that take place on the coast

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Book cover of The Night Country: A Hazel Wood Novel

The Night Country: A Hazel Wood Novel

By Melissa Albert

Why this book?

So this is actually the sequel to another amazing book called The Hazel Wood, but we get to see more romance blossoming in this one. I adore this author. She has that rare ability to completely suck in a reader and paint the inside of their mind. There’s a delicious bleakness to the writing, the plot relentlessly dark and challenging. It covers so many enduring themes such as sacrifice and normalcy versus the extraordinary. And the romance is so atypical as well. There’s no true linear journey, and their feelings are compromised by these big divisive issues. Such as…
From the list:

The best books if you seek a peculiar romance

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Book cover of The Gilded Girl

The Gilded Girl

By Alyssa Colman

Why this book?

Fans of A Little Princess will find a story both fresh and comfortingly familiar inside these pages. Izzy and Emma's personalities spark off the page, and the ticking clock to the time their magic is either activated or snuffed out forever makes their journey to friendship even more endearing. Featuring themes of justice and social change, this is a retelling not to be missed.
From the list:

The best retellings for middle grade readers

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Book cover of Lie Down in Darkness

Lie Down in Darkness

By William Styron

Why this book?

I’ve read it twice, and I can only stand back in wonder at how a person could create such a magnificent work of art (his first novel) at age 26. For richness of character development, philosophical weight, and power of language, this is one for the ages. Though the subject matter is heavy, it’s not a difficult read. Yet there are passages where you’ll want to slow down and take in the music of the words.

From the list:

The best non-Faulkner books from the American South

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Book cover of The Two-Family House

The Two-Family House

By Lynda Cohen Loigman

Why this book?

A beautifully written family saga spanning decades, The Two-Family House, Cohen Loigman’s debut novel, is about brothers Mort and Abe along with their wives and children who occupy a two-family house in Brooklyn. It’s also about one major secret that further and inextricably links the two families and will ultimately work to tear them apart. You will feel so many feelings while reading this book and won’t be able to put it down.
From the list:

The best historical fiction novels set in NYC

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Book cover of Sidewalks

Sidewalks

By Valeria Luiselli, Christina Macsweeney

Why this book?

Valeria Luiselli dissects the odd systems and networks of our world’s cities and reveals in their hidden corners and corridors strange and magical identities. Luiselli’s essays further interrogate a city’s relationship to the bodies, cultures, artifacts, and languages that inhabit its spaces. In the essay, “Flying Home,” Luiselli journeys to Mexico City, the place of her birth, and, staring out of her airplane window, considers the city’s layout from this great height. This act of “mapping” according to her extraordinary vantage (suspended in flight), allows for a greater, incantatory meditation on our various perceptions of “home,” and how said perceptions…

From the list:

The best nonfiction books that feature amazing flying things

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Book cover of The Pale Blue Eye

The Pale Blue Eye

By Louis Bayard

Why this book?

This book is a haunting and haunted story of the young Edgar Allen Poe when he was a cadet at West Point in 1830. Already a published poet at that point, young Edgar is a moody and very unlikely candidate for the army, but his inclination for the darker side of human life comes in handy when a cadet is found hanging—with his heart cut out—and Edgar is chosen to help the big city detective who comes on campus to solve the murder. I just learned this was made into a movie! I loved the book, read it years ago,…

From the list:

The best historical mysteries with famous people as the amateur sleuths

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Book cover of Time and Again

Time and Again

By Jack Finney

Why this book?

Written and illustrated in 1970, his one’s for time travel story buffs, like me. “Pure New York fun” is how the New York Times described this nostalgic recreation of the upper West Side in the late nineteenth century. It surrounds a love story full of adventure and human devotion that may remind you of the movies Somewhere in Time, Frequency, and Mirage. I’m a sucker for a love story that defies time, place, and physics. Enjoy!
From the list:

The best historical novels set in New York City

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Book cover of The Sound of Stars

The Sound of Stars

By Alechia Dow

Why this book?

The Sound of Stars is one of my all-time favorite books! I love the romance, the action, characters, and really just everything about this book. This was also the first book I ever read that had demi-sexual representation, and seeing that experience represented so beautifully made me so incredibly happy. The alien love interest, M0Rr1S (Morris) is one of the sweetest and most lovable characters I’ve ever read!

From the list:

The best young adult books about queer people of color

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Book cover of Good to a Fault

Good to a Fault

By Marina Endicott

Why this book?

This book by Canadian writer Marina Endicott is quirky in all the best ways—smart, tender, heart-wrenching, and quietly hopeful. It is about a lonely, divorced accountant who takes in a homeless family after crashing into their car. The book is gorgeous on the sentence level and the way Endicott writes about the connections and lack of connections between the characters in the book is full of wisdom and pathos. Though the premise is quite simple, the book is full of surprises. 

From the list:

The best books about looking for and finding refuge

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Book cover of Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover

Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover

By Sarah MacLean

Why this book?

This book is #4 in the Rules of Scoundrels series and while they are all good, this one was my favorite. I particularly enjoy the wit and wisdom of the heroine and how she manages three different personas and three different lifestyles. The series satisfies my interest in fallen or bad boy heroes that manage to redeem themselves enough to earn the love of a good, independent woman.

It’s delightful! It’s a fun series filled with the types of characters that I love to read (and write) about!

From the list:

The best historical romance books with heroines disguised as boys

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Book cover of One of Our Thursdays Is Missing: A Thursday Next Novel

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing: A Thursday Next Novel

By Jasper Fforde

Why this book?

The first thing I noticed when I started reading Jasper Fforde was how funny and clever he was. This is what I’m looking for, I thought, smiling broadly. The heroine of the series of which this book is a part is a literary detective named Thursday Next. Need I say more? You know immediately the kind of humor you are getting into.

I am not easily entertained by stories with average complexity and imagination. When I find a writer like Fforde who can push my boundaries, I am so grateful. In this book, he creates a delightful alternate world in…

From the list:

The best funny sci/fi fantasy books

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Book cover of Chains

Chains

By Laurie Halse Anderson

Why this book?

Chains tells the story of the enslaved during a revolution for independence. The irony of the enslaved risking their well-being for a new nation whose founding and ideals fell short of granting all men and all women “certain inalienable rights,” is not missed in these pages. In fact, it is masterfully delivered for all readers – young and old. Anderson is a master weaver. She beautifully threads stunning strands of real history within the tapestry of her modern classic. Most Americans are not aware that the mayor and other leaders of New York nearly succeeded in ending the rebellion against…

From the list:

The best history books for young adult readers interested in the American Revolution

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Book cover of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

By David Sedaris

Why this book?

If you can appreciate a drink coaster with the witty saying, “I just child-proofed my home, but they’re still getting in,” you’ll enjoy the sarcastic writing of satirist David Sedaris. While based on his childhood and young adulthood, I can only hope he’s embellished the characters who encompassed his early years. I’m not sure I’d recommend all his books but this one from earlier in his collection smacks of family dysfunction that just might have you saying, “Well, at least my family wasn’t that f*cked up."

Best read with a hearty Cabernet.

From the list:

The best family dysfunction books to read while drinking

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Book cover of Death of a Hollow Man: Inspector Barnaby #2

Death of a Hollow Man: Inspector Barnaby #2

By Caroline Graham

Why this book?

Graham's village mysteries are dark reflections of the villages found in Agatha Christie, and she is especially good at looking under the rocks and finding what's crawling behind the idyllic villages. Chief Inspector Barnaby is the perfect British sleuth, both tough and intelligent. She does a terrific job of finding the problems that drive us in everyday lives, in this case, the secret passions that hide at an amateur production.

From the list:

The best mysteries in the theatre world

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Book cover of When Harry Met Minnie: A True Story of Love and Friendship

When Harry Met Minnie: A True Story of Love and Friendship

By Martha Teichner

Why this book?

Dogs and children turn us into neighbors; they force us into friendships we would not otherwise consider, and they present us with a gazillion opportunities to practice compassion. When Harry Met Minnie is a story of the friendship, first and foremost between two bull terriers but also between two women, one of whom is dying of cancer. I went back and forth in this book: sometimes I was the friend, and my heart was breaking under the enormous weight of the inevitable and pending death. Other times I was in bed next to the woman who was dying, and my…
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The best books if you’re a dog needing rescuing

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Book cover of Fireborne

Fireborne

By Rosaria Munda

Why this book?

Although the dragons in Fireborne aren't technically “central characters,” they are certainly central to the plot. That, plus the fact that the human relationships were so wonderfully balanced and beautifully nuanced, ensured this book made it onto my list.

This is one of those classic dragon/rider stories. Our two protagonists, Lee and Annie, have both become dragon riders in a post-revolution society where they – and their draconic mounts – are sworn to protect the populace. I loved the depictions of dragons competing, flying, and bonding with their riders, but I enjoyed the politics and human drama just as much.

From the list:

The best books for people who love seeing dragons as central characters

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Book cover of The Caves of Steel

The Caves of Steel

By Isaac Asimov

Why this book?

Asimov wrote this novel way back in 1953, after an editor insisted that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres. While some aspects of the story are understandably dated, it shows a remarkable amount of creativity and imagination given the year it was written. It introduced the “buddy cop” trope, but with one human detective and a robot (R. Daneel Olivaw, one of the great sci-fi characters), who must abide by Asimov’s “Three Laws of Robotics”. Like all of Asimov’s work, it’s well-written, a great read, and, in my opinion, perhaps the true genesis of the Sci-Fi/Detective genre.

From the list:

The best novels that combine science fiction and detective stories

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Book cover of Alterations

Alterations

By Stephanie Scott

Why this book?

The moment I heard this was an adaptation of Sabrina, I was in! The main character Amelia has unreciprocated feelings for Ethan, but of course, it’s his brother Liam who’s her best match. The falling-for-the-brother trope is one of my favorites, and this one did not disappoint. The nerdy references in this book are also top-notch—as Liam is a slightly nerdy, cinnamon roll character you can’t help but root for. Short and sweet, this book was a super fun read.

From the list:

The best YA retellings and adaptations

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Book cover of Stuart Little

Stuart Little

By E.B. White, Garth Williams

Why this book?

When I wake up in the middle of the night I want to re-read something that will make me feel safe, and the character of Stuart is so sweet and funny, and familiar, that I come back over and over and always find something new to love in this book. The pictures are also just right, with Stuart looking jaunty as he sails his boat in Central Park, or rides his mother's wedding ring up out of the bathroom sink drain. I'm a New Yorker, so I have a soft spot for stories that take place in New York, but…

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The best books to reach for in the middle of the night

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Book cover of What Alice Forgot

What Alice Forgot

By Liane Moriarty

Why this book?

This is such a unique plot! And it reminds me a little of my own novel, so double points. This second chance married romance happens because Alice gets a brain injury and loses 10 years. She thinks she has a happy marriage, not that she’s going through a divorce. She doesn’t remember her three kids! It’s a fun twist on a popular trope. You could say many authors use the amnesia plotline but it’s so satisfying when done well! 

From the list:

The best romantic dramas with unique storylines

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Book cover of Where's Waldo? The Wonder Book

Where's Waldo? The Wonder Book

By Martin Handford

Why this book?

This book is perfect for looking at on your own or sharing. The wealth of detail is amazing! Open any page and I am absorbed for hours looking for various people and objects and enjoying the funny scenes of massive crowds. I still have my original copy from 1987 and am delighted anew whenever I take a peek. The other Where’s Waldo books in the series are equally entertaining.

From the list:

The best children’s books in which to happily lose yourself for hours

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Book cover of A Death of No Importance

A Death of No Importance

By Mariah Fredericks

Why this book?

I think Jane Prescot is the perfect sleuth for this story of old money versus new money in 1910 New York City. She is a ladies’ maid to the new money Benchley daughters and she’s determined to keep them out of trouble. Her task becomes more difficult when Charlotte Benchley’s brand new fiancée is murdered. 

Jane is uniquely positioned to move through the city streets as well as into the homes of the upper crust. She’s smart, resourceful, and tenacious, but it’s her loyalty to her not-so-nice employers that had me rooting for her to uncover the killer. It definitely…

From the list:

The best female sleuths of the Gilded Age

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Book cover of Why I Hate Saturn

Why I Hate Saturn

By Kyle Baker

Why this book?

This story really covered a lot of ground for me, it sorta collapsed my idea of how to present visual information, it’s “novelistic” in structure, snippets of a woman’s messy life told mostly in the equivalent of subtitles, the visuals sometimes tracking the emotions rather than a string of actions. It was also published by the publisher of Batman but there was nothing even remotely supernatural about it, it wasn’t edgy or dark beyond how any of our lives are.

From the list:

The best books for expanding your idea of what visual storytelling can be

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Book cover of Titian's Boatman

Titian's Boatman

By Victoria Blake

Why this book?

This complex novel is akin to going on a highly enjoyable journey through gorgeous settings and two distinct periods of time. A multitude of seemingly unrelated stories set in London, Venice, and New York City, slowly intertwine and merge throughout the novel. Revenge drives one character, the desire to reach a higher social standing another, fame and perhaps wealth motivates a third, and memories of better times keep a fourth going. Yet all of their stories are connected via a single painting, Titian’s Man With the Blue Sleeve. To find out how and why, you’ll have to read this…

From the list:

The best mysteries featuring amateur sleuths searching for lost art

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Book cover of Mrs. Poe

Mrs. Poe

By Lynn Cullen

Why this book?

I didn’t know much about the life of American Gothic writer Edgar Allen Poe before reading this novel about his mistress, Frances Osgood, who was also an author. The parallels with my debut book are obvious. Cullen and I share interests in adultery, the muse/artist dynamic, and the stultifying inequality of nineteenth-century marriages.

From the list:

The best historical novels inspired by the lives of famous writers

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Book cover of Everything, Everything

Everything, Everything

By Nicola Yoon

Why this book?

Maddy (a biracial black Asian teen) suffers from a rare illness that has made her allergic to literally everything! A modern-day “bubble girl,” the illness has kept her confined in her house for 15 years, her only company being her mom and her nurse. But when hot new neighbour Olly moves in across the street everything changes. Maddy falls in love and vows to leave the house and sneak away with Olly…cue the huge plot twist! No spoilers from me, but you will want to race to the end. Oh, and beware of the movie version, classic example of “the…

From the list:

The best romance novels labeled YA but equally great for gals old enough to drink wine at book club

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Book cover of The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910

The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910

By Esther Crain

Why this book?

A lavishly illustrated and engagingly written history of New York during the Gilded Age that covers not just crime, sin, and policing but also such topics as rich vs. poor, the immigrant wave, the early women’s movement, and theater and entertainment. You’ll be entranced by the many beautiful photographs and illustrations alone; I know I was!

From the list:

The best books about crime and punishment in the Gilded Age (1870-1910)

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Book cover of Native Speaker

Native Speaker

By Chang-Rae Lee

Why this book?

I feel Chang-Rae Lee broke out of the mold of Asian American books that always dealt with immigration or stories set in Old Asia. A young man, Henry Park, is hired to infiltrate the campaign of a Korean American running for mayor in New York City. Yes, this delves into the issues of assimilation and alienation, but the novel is about so much more. It’s lyrical and poignant and universal in its explorations of familial and marital love. 

From the list:

The best first novels by now-established Korean American authors

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Book cover of Cricket: A History of its Growth & Development throughout the World

Cricket: A History of its Growth & Development throughout the World

By Rowland Bowen

Why this book?

Although a book that bites off more than it may comfortably chew, Bowen’s masterpiece could not be ignored. As the first (and only) attempt to tell the history of cricket on a global scale, Bowen’s analysis may appear, considering subsequent research, a tad superficial in places. However, as a point of reference, it is a remarkable – unique even – book that has belatedly been recognised as a classic. 

Why the delay? Bowen, as the game’s first maverick historian, was not only adept at exposing the inferior scholarship that then passed for cricket history, he also took great pleasure in…

From the list:

The best cricket histories

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Book cover of Piper Perish

Piper Perish

By Kayla Cagan

Why this book?

Choosing this book was a no-brainer for me as I absolutely adored this novel. It reminded me of my younger self in high school, very artistic and yet still trying to “fit in” with the cool kids and trying to find my own way and destiny. The storyline revolves around a cool Piper Perish who “inhales air and exhales art.” She and her best friends Enzo and Kit, are dreaming of leaving Houston to get into art school in New York City. It’s been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s ready for…

From the list:

The best YA books about finding your way through school

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Book cover of Waiting to Exhale

Waiting to Exhale

By Terry McMillan

Why this book?

I don’t think you can talk about books that celebrate strong friendships without mentioning Waiting to Exhale. McMillan’s classic tale about four Black women learning to love themselves as they navigate relationships has been the standard for storytelling about Black female friendships since it came out in 1992. You’ll laugh, cry, get angry, and ultimately feel empowered by the end of it to take on the world—as long as your friends are right there with you. 

From the list:

The best books celebrating strong friendships

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Book cover of The Devil's Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America

The Devil's Own Work: The Civil War Draft Riots and the Fight to Reconstruct America

By Barnet Schecter

Why this book?

The four days of deadly fighting that shook New York City in July 1863 are best known as the Civil War Draft Riots, but they combined multiple, overlapping grievances. While some men rioted in outrage that poor men must fight while rich men could buy an exemption, others seized the chance to lynch African Americans, settle old political scores, loot shops, or smash the grain elevators and street-sweeping machines they blamed for their unemployment. Schecter connects the intimate, block-by-block events of a riot with the largest debates facing the nation, helping to explain the ultimate disappointment of Reconstruction.

From the list:

The best books on mob violence

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Book cover of Playing the Part

Playing the Part

By Jen Turano

Why this book?

Let me introduce you to the wonderful world of Turano's historical romances. Playing the Part is my favorite; it is about a 19th-century New York City actress who hides away at a friend's country estate. Every character is quirky and engaging. I laughed out loud, over and over, at the myriad of crazy situations they got themselves into.

From the list:

The best historical novels that are light and silly

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Book cover of Anybody Out There?

Anybody Out There?

By Marian Keyes

Why this book?

This is my favourite book from my all-time favourite author. I will never forget reading this for the first time, in my then-boyfriend’s flat at the start of our relationship. I ignored him all day (it’s ok, we ended up married) until I’d read it cover to cover. Marian Keyes knows how to pack a devastating emotional punch within her witty, entertaining novels and this is one of the most brutal. It’s a crystal-clear insight into grief, a book that made me sob uncontrollably, and there is no one better at presenting the frustrations and comforting joy of family dynamics…

From the list:

The best books about grief and complicated family dynamics

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Book cover of Sevenoaks

Sevenoaks

By Kevin Sacco

Why this book?

I met Kevin Sacco when he was an advertising storyboard artist. Kevin knew how to sell the story of an ad simply and dramatically in a series of graphic panels with an economy of words. In Sevenoaks, I see the same brain at work. His book is based on his life: a ‘60s-era New York City high school kid sent to an elite private school outside London. Sacco’s distinctive elongated and restrained figures, beautifully drawn geometric and airy cityscapes, and genial pace can lull one into a sense of calm, so that his moments of high and even magical…

From the list:

The best graphic auto-fiction, from memoir to magic realism

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Book cover of Best Day Ever

Best Day Ever

By Kaira Rouda

Why this book?

The story of a flamingly narcissistic man plotting to betray his wife shouldn’t be funny at all, but Kaira Rouda definitely pulls it off with impressive skill and verve. Husband Paul is so insanely self-centered that I couldn’t stop laughing at the stream of inanities flying around in his egotistical brain as he drives his wife Mia to their lake house for what’s supposed to be the most memorable day of their lives. And is it ever, thanks to Mia’s moxie. You go, girl!

From the list:

The best novels about women taking back their power from controlling and abusive men

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Book cover of Sanctuary: Volume 1

Sanctuary: Volume 1

By Cat Andrews

Why this book?

Sanctuary is an epic, three-volume-long ride of feels. As with many modern Austen variations, Pride & Prejudice is a jumping-off point, but Andrews puts her own spin on the tale. I love stories that develop the setting almost as another character, and Sanctuary does that with Maine. The essence of Elizabeth and Darcy is in the details, even though the modern world has had their way with the beloved characters. Darcy as a dad? *chef’s kiss*  

From the list:

The best books that bring Jane Austen into modern times (that you probably haven’t heard of)

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Book cover of Royal Wedding: A Princess Diaries Novel

Royal Wedding: A Princess Diaries Novel

By Meg Cabot

Why this book?

I had never read the Princess Diaries books but was a fan of the movies. I had also read some of Meg Cabot’s adult novels. When I heard that Meg was releasing an adult installment of her popular princess series, I had to read it. Royal Wedding follows Princess Mia and her Prince Charming as they plan her fairytale wedding. This book was also unique as it connected to a series of middle grade novels about Mia’s younger half-sister. (From the Notebooks of a Middle School Princess) I wound up buying my daughter the whole series for her Easter…

From the list:

The best chick lit novels to bring a smile to your face

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Book cover of Intern: A Doctor's Initiation

Intern: A Doctor's Initiation

By Sandeep Jauhar

Why this book?

Intern is the realest account I’ve ever read of what it’s truly like to start working after leaving the nest of medical school. Jauhar’s writing is crisp and human, while the content gives the reader a true glimpse into the life of a new doctor. This book taught me that it was okay to experience impostor syndrome, to feel overwhelmed, and to express yourself creatively even as a doctor. This author has gone on to write regularly in The New York Times and has become one of medicine’s most treasured physician-writers.

From the list:

The best medical memoirs that will make your heart ache with emotion

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Book cover of Charming as a Verb

Charming as a Verb

By Ben Philippe

Why this book?

I wanted to hate Charming as a Verb by Ben Philippe because it was starred in a review comparing our two books. Unfortunately, the book is as charming as its main character, Henri “Halti” Haltiwanger, and I loved it. Halti is a scholarship student at an elite private school in New York. He’s convinced he knows what it takes to be successful, but the pressure to “make it” leads him to make some…questionable decisions. I couldn’t relate to his charm, or the extra pressures of being the child of immigrants, but I recognised a fellow over-thinker in Halti (and I…

From the list:

The best books for over-achievers

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Book cover of Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood

Harlem Grown: How One Big Idea Transformed a Neighborhood

By Tony Hillery, Jessie Hartland

Why this book?

Sometimes, living in a city makes it easy to forget where food comes from. And sometimes it takes just one person to see the possibilities in an empty city space. Gardens can grow in urban places, including gardens that provide fresh, healthy food to eat! This is the inspiring story of one man and a group of school children who, through trial and error and perseverance, transformed an abandoned New York City building lot into a garden full of fruit and vegetables— while growing a sense of collaboration and community in the process.

From the list:

The best nonfiction children’s books about New York City

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Book cover of Leave the World Behind

Leave the World Behind

By Rumaan Alam

Why this book?

A surprising choice, perhaps, for a book list framed around comedy, as the lingering feeling this book leaves you with is closer to a deep dread. But the family at the center of this book—who are on vacation during what very much seems to be the beginning of the end of the world—exhibit such a specific and well-observed type of wealth and whiteness. The book’s social satire adds some levity amid really dire circumstances. And the language in this novel is just delicious.

From the list:

The best books that find the funny in an unjust world

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Book cover of Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World

Thirst: A Story of Redemption, Compassion, and a Mission to Bring Clean Water to the World

By Scott Harrison

Why this book?

Harrison’s personal journey from party boy to non-profit CEO is impressive, as are his sales skills. The author can certainly pitch a story, as he did while he built Charity: Water, the name of the aspirational non-profit that he founded to bring clean water to poor and underserved areas. The book is a first-person narrative that reads like a novel—except that it’s not, and the heartbreaking chapter about Rachel Beckwith will remind you that everyday heroes walk among us. It might even inspire you to be a hero to someone else in Rachel’s memory.

From the list:

The best books for heroes that we can relate to

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Book cover of Maiden Voyage

Maiden Voyage

By Tania Aebi

Why this book?

I first read this memoir as a young teenager and was completely captivated by the idea of a girl not much older than myself simply raising a sail and setting off into the vast ocean. In 1985, Tania Aebi was eighteen and aimless, and her father gave her an ultimatum: either go to college or sail solo around the world. She chose the latter. Sailing is hard work, and Aebi has plenty of hard days, but her unusual coming-of-age story is romantic (sometimes literally) and exciting and opened my eyes to the possibilities of adventure and courage.

From the list:

The best books about female adventurers

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Book cover of The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America

The Island at the Center of the World: The Epic Story of Dutch Manhattan and the Forgotten Colony That Shaped America

By Russell Shorto

Why this book?

Yes it’s true, there is no city like New York, but I only understood why after reading Shorto’s meticulously researched book about Dutch Manhattan. New Amsterdam was set up in 1624 by the Dutch West India Company, not as a government colony but as a private financial entity. The Dutch were shrewd businessmen, and their culture astonishingly liberal for the times. (Still is). New Amsterdam existed solely to make money and welcomed immigrants because it was good for business. We owe the Dutch for creating Manhattan’s mad-paced, money-centered, anything-goes ethos, the only place in the world where anybody from anywhere…

From the list:

The best books about terrible, beautiful New York

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Book cover of The Vanity Fair Diaries: Power, Wealth, Celebrity, and Dreams: My Years at the Magazine That Defined a Decade

The Vanity Fair Diaries: Power, Wealth, Celebrity, and Dreams: My Years at the Magazine That Defined a Decade

By Tina Brown

Why this book?

Londoner Tina Brown alights in New York City and falls fast and hard for power-playing, the machinations of billionaires and politicos, the trappings of glamour and wealth and the city itself, whose rococo sensibility she brings to Vanity Fair, a magazine she rescues from irrelevance and turns into a monthly-must read. Brown generated national headlines with her high-low sensibility and indelible cover images (a naked and pregnant Demi Moore scandalized middle America, much to Brown’s delight). She also writes about her guilt as a working mother, the thrill of matching the right journalist to the right story, and her trepidation…

From the list:

The best books on American pop culture

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Book cover of Life Is a Wheel: Memoirs of a Bike-Riding Obituarist

Life Is a Wheel: Memoirs of a Bike-Riding Obituarist

By Bruce Weber

Why this book?

Weber was for many years the lead obituary writer for The New York Times, hence the somewhat odd subtitle of this wry chronicle of a bicycle journey from Oregon to New York City. Weber has a sardonic wit that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

From the list:

The best books on bicycles and cycling

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Book cover of Back Then: Two Literary Lives in 1950s New York

Back Then: Two Literary Lives in 1950s New York

By Justin Kaplan, Anne Bernays

Why this book?

Written in separate voices in alternating chapters, this unusual double memoir by the long-married couple, the novelist Anne Bernays and biographer Justin Kaplan, tells the stories of two privileged New Yorkers.  Growing up on opposite sides of Central Park, they came of age in the 1950s. Dreaming dreams of literary lives, they came to see them realized as their lives converged.

From the list:

The best memoirs through the voices of women

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Book cover of A Civil Action

A Civil Action

By Jonathan Harr

Why this book?

I recommended this book because it demonstrates how difficult it can be to obtain civil justice even in seemingly obvious cases of environmental harm.  Residents of Centralia, to hark back to that story, worked with a skilled (and pro bono) Washington law firm which, try as it did, could not find a likely road to win damages for them. While the book favors the cause of justice, Harr does not spare Schlichtman from exposure of his personal faults. A Civil Action is almost a primer on the litigation process, and is said to be taught in some law schools.…

From the list:

The best books about environmental catastrophes

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Book cover of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay

By Michael Chabon

Why this book?

For me, no book connects more wonderfully the themes of show business and history than The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Opening with the daring escape of a young Jewish magician from the clutches of Hitler to unite with his equally young cousin, a devotee of the burgeoning comic book craze, in America, this novel is about as theatrical as it gets. The two teenagers scale the heights of invention creating new comic book heroes who enthrall America as World War 2 brings the earth crashing all about them. It’s thrilling, compelling, funny, utterly engrossing and one of…

From the list:

The best books that embrace show business and history

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Book cover of The Great Comic Book Heroes

The Great Comic Book Heroes

By Jules Feiffer

Why this book?

Jules wrote this book in 1965, so it certainly doesn’t reflect the latest scholarship. But as probably the first critical history of the Golden Age, it’s a valuable read—and a lot of fun!  Jules gives a real sense of what it was like to be alive, in New York City, creating these great works.

From the list:

The best books on the history of golden age comics

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Book cover of Cutting for Stone

Cutting for Stone

By Abraham Verghese

Why this book?

The only novel on this list, Cutting for Stone isn’t even strictly about a civil war. Most of the book takes place in hospitals, rather than on the battlefield. But I would be hard-pressed to find a book that better illustrates how the political and social forces rippling across a country can tear apart a family. I read this book while I lived in Addis Ababa, and somehow Verghese’s descriptions of life in Ethiopia felt even more alive and colorful than the world outside my window. Cutting for Stone is a deeply moving book, about the human toll of rebellion…

From the list:

The best books on the human toll of civil war

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Book cover of Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

Blood, Bones & Butter: The Inadvertent Education of a Reluctant Chef

By Gabrielle Hamilton

Why this book?

Hamilton’s memoir recalls her turbulent family history, her sexual ambiguity, her love of Italy, and more unexpectedly, her Italian mother-in-law, who nurtured her passion for cooking. It doesn’t hurt that outside the kitchen, Hamilton earned her M.F.A in fiction writing from the University of Michigan and can write about the devastating fallout from her parents’ divorce with the same acuity and poetry she deploys about cooking an egg. In the waiting room, where her galloping curiosity and generosity of spirit suffuse you, be reminded that there is a whole world out there, and that past this unhappy day, there…

From the list:

The best books to read in the waiting room

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Book cover of Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909

Brave Girl: Clara and the Shirtwaist Makers' Strike of 1909

By Michelle Markel, Melissa Sweet

Why this book?

The title of this book hooked me right out of the gate: Brave Girl. I knew it was a story for me. How could it not be? Young Clara Lemlich stood only 5 feet tall, but she was a spitfire. Her story will inspire boys and girls alike when they learn how she fought for equality, raising her voice against powerful factory owners in the early 1900s. Another reason this book is such a treat is that it was illustrated by Melissa Sweet, one of the most creative children’s book illustrators around. The art in this book is a…

From the list:

The best children’s books about brave and extraordinary women

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Book cover of Roller Girl

Roller Girl

By Victoria Jamieson

Why this book?

Your kids may have no idea what roller derby is (I didn’t), but I guarantee they’ll love reading about this tough, fast, aggressive sport, with its creative, counter-cultural vibe. Just about every character is a girl or a woman, and as the mother of boys I’m so happy to see them reading a book like this. The main character, Astrid, is sweet but strong, with a tetchy, vulnerable style of middle school humor. She suffers through friendship issues kids will identify with, and deals with them in some fantastic ways: you’ll love her decision to brave her mother’s fury and…

From the list:

The best books on sport for 8-12 year olds

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Book cover of The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune

The Paper: The Life and Death of the New York Herald Tribune

By Richard Kluger

Why this book?

This is primarily the story of three newspapers--James Gordon Bennett’s New York Herald, Horace Greeley’s New York Tribune, and the merged paper under the ownership of diplomat and politician Whitelaw Reid and his heirs, including his daughter-in-law, Helen Rogers Reid, a firecracker of an executive and woman about town. But it is also a comprehensive story of New York newspapering from the 1830s to the 1960s and about the city and country that served as the focus for news coverage during those decades. It is a poignant tale of soaring triumphs and ultimate decline as new challenges beset…

From the list:

The best books on the triumphs and struggles of American journalism

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Book cover of Untrue Stories of Fiction

Untrue Stories of Fiction

By Jack Handey

Why this book?

This is the guy who wrote Deeper Thoughts and some of the best sketches on Saturday Night Live. He is a regular in The New Yorker and American Bystander and one of our generation’s finest humorists. This collection I feel is his best yet. I read a passage before I go to sleep to deal with this crazy world.

You can only buy this book directly from the author here.

From the list:

The best books to make you laugh

Book cover of The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother

By James McBride

Why this book?

I rarely read books a second time, but this book is an exception. McBride writes with charm and humor about his family of twelve children living in the projects in Red Hook, Brooklyn. His mother refused to admit she was white while raising her children with her Black minister husband. Coming-of-age, racial identity, and family secrets are ever-present themes in this powerful and poignant narrative.
From the list:

The best memoirs on Black family life in America

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Book cover of Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom

Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom

By Leonard S. Marcus

Why this book?

I love letter collections and this one is among my very favorites. From 1940 to 1973, Ursula Nordstrom was the director of the Department of Books for Boys and Girls at Harpers, one of New York’s biggest publishing houses. Her letters to the authors she worked with are so funny, sharp, and wise that I always wish I’d had a chance to work with her. Even if I had, though, the competition was stiff as her authors included pretty much every single person who wrote and/or illustrated what we now think of as a children’s classic. To name just a…

From the list:

The best books about beloved children’s books

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Book cover of Just Kids

Just Kids

By Patti Smith

Why this book?

I know everyone has raved about this but really it’s amazing. This book by Patti Smith describes her years living in New York with her friend, partner, mentor, and sometimes lover Robert Maplethorpe. Although to me this book’s best parts speak about being a poor artist and making art, Patti Smith is one of my musical heroes. I loved learning about what New York was like in the 1970s. Patti is a true artist in every aspect. She and Robert lived life to the fullest although they had no money and oftentimes were homeless. The book is poetic, raw, and…

From the list:

The best female musician rock memoirs

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Book cover of The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt

By T.J. Stiles

Why this book?

Stiles is one of our most talented biographers, and his books manage to be both erudite and highly entertaining. He has won two Pulitzer Prizes (among many other awards), and one of them was for The First Tycoon, a riveting biography of a New Yorker who dramatically influenced his city and nation in ways that continue to affect our lives today. Cornelius Vanderbilt (1794-1877) was a brilliant and ruthless man from a modest Staten Island farming family who saw the future and made a fortune in steamboats and railroads over many decades of the nineteenth century. His business practices…

From the list:

The best books on New York City history to 1900

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Book cover of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

By Edwin G. Burrows, Mike Wallace

Why this book?

Winner of the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for History, this book is the essential guide to New York City history from the days of the Dutch colony to 1898, the year New York expanded to become the city of five boroughs: Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island. Despite its length, Gotham is eminently readable, thanks to its hundreds of colorful characters and fascinating stories of politics and culture in a rising world city. The wealth of research that went into this book—over twenty years’ worth—gives us by far our most complete single-volume account of how New York became New…

From the list:

The best books on New York City history to 1900

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Book cover of The Age of Innocence

The Age of Innocence

By Edith Wharton

Why this book?

Before there were Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer, there was the book that brought them together (in the movie): Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence, Wharton’s lush, sepia-toned tale of the New York haut ton of the 1870s. Gilded Age society at its best; it won the 1921 Pulitzer for fiction, making Wharton the first woman to win the prize. Read it first, then stream the movie. I loved its opulent portrayal of the well-heeled society of upper-class New York and its spot-on portrayal of moral hypocrisy. The battles that nineteenth-century women of all classes fought to live…
From the list:

The best books on the glittering gilded age and its seamier side

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Book cover of God is My Co-Pilot

God is My Co-Pilot

By Robert L. Scott

Why this book?

The archetypal combat flying story, this is an easy, fun, and eye-opening book that Scott wrote only months after returning from the war. Scott clearly loved to fly and had done so since the early 1930s after graduating from West Point. Resourceful and tenacious, he received command of a fighter group in China after having been officially told the previous year that he was too old (at the ripe old age of 33) to fly fighters. This is a rollicking read that will be enjoyed by readers of all ages.

From the list:

The best personal accounts of World War II air combat

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Book cover of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

By David Von Drehle

Why this book?

This gripping, cinematic tale of a watershed workplace disaster immerses you in the grueling, gritty world of young immigrant – Jewish and Italian – women workers in early-20th century New York City. The horrific fire in a shirt-waist factory saw workers jumping to their deaths, revealing that “a huge and vulnerable world existed far above the street.” It created a cauldron of outrage and empathy, bare-knuckle politics, and leftist ideology leading to reform. You most remember the gumption and survival instinct of these young women, far from home without even the right to vote, coming together in the Ladies’ Garment…
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The best books about labour and workers fighting against all odds

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Book cover of The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York

By Robert A. Caro

Why this book?

The Power Broker is thought of as one of the best biographies of all time, having won the Pulitzer in 1974. Author Robert Caro traces the steps city planner Robert Moses took in implementing his vision of New York City, oftentimes at the detriment of the communities he served. It continues to be a lesson in what not to do when designing for the future. 

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The best books about the future of design and sustainable living

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Book cover of Swan Song

Swan Song

By Robert McCammon

Why this book?

Saving the best for last. This was published after and said to be inspired by Stephen King’s The Stand, but I feel it far surpasses it. This book has the same scenario of a desolate end of everything with the remaining humans in a fight of good versus evil, but in this book, I feel the characters are more believable. The evil ones are despicable, and the good ones are likable. Especially Swan, whose innocence shines from the page.
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The best books about the end of the world and being the last person on earth

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Book cover of Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx

Becoming Maria: Love and Chaos in the South Bronx

By Sonia Manzano

Why this book?

Manzano played Maria for more than 40 years on Sesame Street, but this isn’t a book about that show. A sort of next-gen, nonfiction companion to Dominicana, it tells the story of Manzano’s hard-knock childhood in the South Bronx, and how her gifts as an actor and storyteller propelled her out of a rough neighborhood and troubled home (her father physically abused her mother.) Manzano doesn’t paper over the anger she felt and still feels about the systemic forces that ghettoized Hispanic kids like her. But she succeeds in offering hope and modeling Nuyorican success to latter-day versions…

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The best books about coming of age in New York City

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Book cover of Jimi: An Intimate Biography of Jimi Hendrix

Jimi: An Intimate Biography of Jimi Hendrix

By Curtis Knight

Why this book?

I mentioned that David Henderson’s book was the first SERIOUS biography on Jimi Hendrix. It was not to take a dig at this book, which was the first biography written on Jimi Hendrix (1974). It was written by his friend and early musical collaborator, Curtis Knight, who was really the first person to let Jimi spread his wings musically. Jimi was his bandleader and shared the spotlight with Curtis. Since this bio was written so early, you can’t really say that Curtis was trying to cash in on the Hendrix craze that exists now. At that time, there was no…

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The best books that start to reveal the genius of Jimi Hendrix

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Book cover of Bob Dylan: No Direction Home

Bob Dylan: No Direction Home

By Robert Shelton

Why this book?

Among the 1,000 plus books about Bob Dylan this is the closest we have to a full authorised biography. Robert Shelton was with the artist from the beginning in 1961, witnessing all the controversial concerts. No Direction Home is the definitive biography, written with Dylan’s blessing and co-operation and with favoured access to original sources. This beautifully illustrated 2011 edition, edited By Elizabeth Thomson and Patrick Humphries, is an update of the original 1986 standard.
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The best books to help fathom Bob Dylan, the enigmatic song-laureate of the 20th century

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Book cover of The View From Breast Pocket Mountain

The View From Breast Pocket Mountain

By Karen Hill Anton

Why this book?

Anton, a former columnist for The Japan Times, grew up in New York City, one of three children raised solely by an African American father. (Her mother was institutionalized due to mental illness.) She studied dance with Martha Graham, modeled for the pages of LOOK magazine at a time when African American models were few and far between, and copy-edited for Joseph Heller. Later, she traveled to Europe where she met Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton when she interviewed to be their house-sitter in Gstaad, fell in love and gave birth in Denmark, then later journeyed overland from Europe…
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The best memoirs by foreigners in Japan

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Book cover of A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York

A Pickpocket's Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York

By Timothy J. Gilfoyle

Why this book?

If you read one biography/memoir of a Gilded Age criminal, make it this one. It tells the story (often in his own words) of the celebrated pickpocket George Appo, an odd little half-Chinese, half-Irish, one-eyed fellow who could make $800 in a few days when most working men made less than that in a year. Appo would rivet New Yorkers when he testified about his second career as a “green goods” con man, working to swindle gullible out-of-towners who came to buy purported counterfeit money at a discount, only to discover that there was nothing but sawdust inside the packages…

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The best books about crime and punishment in the Gilded Age (1870-1910)

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Book cover of Lewis Carroll: Photographer

Lewis Carroll: Photographer

By Helmut Gernsheim

Why this book?

Mention the name ‘Lewis Carroll’ and most people will immediately think of the two Alice books. Very few would equate the name to Charles Dodgson, the photographer. This, however, is the aspect of the multi-talented Oxford don which Gernsheim, a professional photographer himself, appraised in his 1949 first edition for the very first time, concluding that Dodgson was ‘the most outstanding photographer of children in the nineteenth century. Many of the black and white plates substantiate this claim, but equally, Dodgson’s mastery of this new invention enabled him to meet and photograph (sometimes uniquely) numerous famous writers and artists, as…
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The best books about Lewis Carroll and Alice

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Book cover of How Baseball Happened: Outrageous Lies Exposed! The True Story Revealed

How Baseball Happened: Outrageous Lies Exposed! The True Story Revealed

By Thomas W. Gilbert

Why this book?

Gilbert is both a shrewd historian and a wonderful writer, and in this deeply researched volume, he details how and, convincingly, why the rise of the emerging urban bourgeoisie, extant political currents, and the expansion of railroads took the game of baseball from a game played in New York City and Brooklyn to the most popular sport among both players and spectators from one side of the continent to the other (and beyond).

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The best books that place baseball in historical context

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Book cover of Open City

Open City

By Teju Cole

Why this book?

This is a novel about a man who wanders ruminatively around New York a couple of years after the 2008 financial crisis. One of the reasons it works, I think, is because everything we see about New York, every person we meet or interaction we overhear or street we observe, is through the eyes of the story’s narrator. Getting to know him means getting to know the city, and vice versa. He has a relationship with New York, which is charged and at times deceptive, which felt true, if nothing else.

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The best books on Post-9/11 New York City

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Book cover of Short Stories: Five Decades

Short Stories: Five Decades

By Irwin Shaw

Why this book?

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.
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The best books if you’re delusional and want to pretend you live in 1940s Manhattan

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Book cover of Manhattan, When I Was Young

Manhattan, When I Was Young

By Mary Cantwell

Why this book?

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.
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The best books if you’re delusional and want to pretend you live in 1940s Manhattan

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Book cover of What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question

What Should I Do with My Life?: The True Story of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question

By Po Bronson

Why this book?

I love it when authors want to tackle an enormous question that we have all asked at some point. Po Bronson traveled to meet people who are both unique and common, impressive and ordinary, and ultimately just like everyone else. They share how they’ve tackled the question for themselves. There is no formula, no one way, and that comes with a certain sense of freedom. 

My favorite story features a man who is working to revolutionize the income model of America’s Native Peoples to elevate both their stature and power (literally). He is working on a 50-year plan, which impressed…

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The best books of incredible real life stories

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Book cover of To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City

To Stand and Fight: The Struggle for Civil Rights in Postwar New York City

By Martha Biondi

Why this book?

Biondi does not just examine the little-known history of police brutality against black New Yorkers. It is a history of how black New Yorkers, over decades, challenged abuse at the hands of “New York’s finest.” The black challenge to police brutality has been fierce, especially as New York City’s black communities grew. But the anti-police brutality campaign has also been extremely difficult.
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The best books on race and policing

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Book cover of Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops

Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops

By Ken Mandelbaum

Why this book?

Musical theatre fans delight in reading about the famous and not-so-famous disasters in the genre. Mandelbaum covers nearly 200 of these musical flops that opened (and often quickly closed) on Broadway between 1950 and 1990. It is a lively read, well researched, and has plenty of "what were they thinking?" attitude. Not much copy is given to one musical (except the title musical Carrie) but the coverage is comprehensive. A favorite among musical theatre fans, Not Since Carrie was the inspiration for Mark Robinson and myself when we continued Mandelbaum's chronicle with our own Musical Misfires.

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The best books about Broadway musicals

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Book cover of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

By N.K. Jemisin

Why this book?

The world-building in The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms explores how the powering of societies can come at a human cost—though in this case, the humans have outsourced that cost to the gods. Enslaved by the Arameri aristocratic family that rules over the Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, gods and godlings power the Arameri’s control of the city of Sky, allowing the city to flourish but at the expense of the common people’s or the gods’ agency. Compared to the other books listed here, this tale is more concerned with the structures of class and authority (and less so utility) that help turn the…

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The best fantasy books with fantastical civic design

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Book cover of The Cuisine of Hungary

The Cuisine of Hungary

By George Lang

Why this book?

The legendary restaurateur George Lang escaped from a labor camp under the Nazis and in 1946 managed to emigrate to New York City. This book is his love letter to his native land. I can't think of another writer who conveys the fascinating history of Hungarian cuisine with such detail and depth of feeling. The book features "Gastronomic Profiles" of the country's distinctive regions and contains excellent information on Hungarian wines. Lang's book is rich in literary quotations, including an ode "To a Fattened Goose" by József Berda. The recipes are excellent, many with enticing names like "Witches' Froth," which…

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The best cookbooks for armchair travelers

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Book cover of Dear Exile: The True Story Of Two Friends Separated (For A Year) By An Ocean

Dear Exile: The True Story Of Two Friends Separated (For A Year) By An Ocean

By Hilary Liftin, Kate Montgomery

Why this book?

This story is told in a series of letters exchanged between two former college roommates, one who marries and joins the Peace Corps in Kenya with her husband, the other striking out on her own in New York City. Each writer has a magic in her writing style that is all her own, which would make either of their tales a standalone success, but the “secret sauce” of this book lies in the juxtaposition of their two very different lives. Each writer’s tales of triumph and woe—lifestyles that could not be more polar opposite—play off one another in the most…

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The best books about serving in the Peace Corps

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Book cover of The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-Of-The-Century New York City

The Chinatown Trunk Mystery: Murder, Miscegenation, and Other Dangerous Encounters in Turn-Of-The-Century New York City

By Mary Ting Yi Lui

Why this book?

Mary Lui’s fascinating book hinges on a hook that nearly always works—a murder mystery. In this case, the victim was Elsie Siegel, a young white woman from a good family who did missionary work with the Chinese American community in New York City. She was the picture of innocence until her body was found bound up in a trunk in a Chinese American man’s apartment. Further investigations uncovered a set of love letters not only to this man but also to another Americanized Chinese immigrant. Seemingly one of her lovers had killed her out of jealousy. What followed was not…

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The best books on the politics of doing the laundry

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Book cover of How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir

How We Fight for Our Lives: A Memoir

By Saeed Jones

Why this book?

Jones first emerged in bookstores with his poetry collection Prelude to Bruise. While some may have been expecting another volume of poetry as a follow-up, he released a memoir—an utterly powerful telling of his life, “written at the crossroads of sex, race, and power.” While Jones’ journey alone makes for intense reading, his prose makes the experience wholly unique; a poet to the core, Jones imbues his sentences with such singular voice and style that you’re left in awe of his command of language—and the possibilities to reimagine your own sentences.

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The best books to read if you want to learn how to write nonfiction like a motherfu*ker

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Book cover of The Brotherhood of the Rose

The Brotherhood of the Rose

By David Morrell

Why this book?

On one level, this novel is about Chris and Saul, two orphans raised by Eliot, a CIA operative, to become world-class assassins. After an international incident, Eliot decides Chris and Saul must be eliminated. Solid and engaging on that level, of course. But on a deeper level, it’s about two young men who trust their “father,” the one person who ever cared about them, only to feel the sting of his betrayal rock them to their core. The emotion makes the action matter. Everything is personal. The accurate tradecraft, killer action, and depth of character all combine to make this…

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The best non-fantasy novels for fantasy readers

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Book cover of Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

Eighty Days: Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland's History-Making Race Around the World

By Matthew Goodman

Why this book?

Eighty Days takes readers behind the scenes of the lives of Bly and Bisland, two successful women who made a name for themselves during the late 1800s. It reveals the private women behind the public personas during an era when women were expected to mind house and home.
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The best books on barrier breaking women

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Book cover of Trick of the Light

Trick of the Light

By Megan Derr

Why this book?

An urban-fantasy about superheroes...and how horrible they are.  This story is about the “villains,” not the goodie goodie “heroes” who do nothing but leave disaster and death in their wake.  This is a fun read, packed with an intriguing relationship, thoughtful social questions, and an interesting world.  It may be short, but it’s super sweet.

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The best LGBTQ fantasy and science fiction

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Book cover of The Rough Patch

The Rough Patch

By Brian Lies

Why this book?

Even though we always talk about how anger is part of grief, it is hard to truly understand the rage that can accompany losing someone until it happens to you. This goes doubly for children with even less control of their emotions. 

In The Rough Patch, Evan, a master gardener, deals with the aftermath of the death of his beloved pet dog. In a fit of rage, he rips out and completely destroys his garden, then only allows ugly and prickly weeds to grow, until one day, new life finds a way in.

A great way to let yourself…

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The best books for guiding your child through grief

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Book cover of Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

Sonny Rollins Plays the Bridge

By Gary Golio, James E. Ransome

Why this book?

A talented saxophone player, Sonny Rollins left a successful performing career at age 29. He believed he could improve his craft by constant practice, and he found a unique place to do so—the Williamsburg Bridge that connects Manhattan and Brooklyn in New York City. Inspired by the sights and sounds of the city, Rollins played his heart out. Gary Golio’s lyrical text captures the rhythm and flow of Rollins’ saxophone, while Ransome’s vibrant watercolor and collage artwork provides a perfect complement to the text. Back matter offers further information about Sonny Rollins’ life and career and about the Williamsburg Bridge. 

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Book cover of This Is All I Got: A New Mother's Search for Home

This Is All I Got: A New Mother's Search for Home

By Lauren Sandler

Why this book?

Sandler tells the story of Camila, a young and poor transplant, as she tries to find a place to live in New York while caring for her newborn son. It’s a riveting nonfiction narrative about how hostile New York is to those without homes and jobs, a population that has continued to grow over the past twenty years, as the city has become more and more unequal. Camila is resilient, but personal crises abound, and Sandler shows how much the city neglects so many of its inhabitants.

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