606 books directly related to New York City 📚

All 606 New York City books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

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

By Bruce Weber,

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

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.


Summer in Williamsburg

By Daniel Fuchs,

Book cover of Summer in Williamsburg

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 reassessment from the likes of John Updike and Jonathan Lethem. Full disclosure: Fuchs was my great uncle! He was the older brother of my maternal grandfather.


Open City

By Teju Cole,

Book cover of Open City

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.


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

By Martha Biondi,

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

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.


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

By Carla L. Peterson,

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

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 Americans whom traditional historians had long neglected.


Stories of Freedom in Black New York

By Shane White,

Book cover of Stories of Freedom in Black New York

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 film, but has remained largely unknown outside of specialists in the field. Hewlett was a Black Shakespearean actor who insisted on his right to interpret Shakespeare for himself and for the community, even as white tastemakers sought to keep the bard’s words to themselves.


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

By Mary Ting Yi Lui,

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

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 only a manhunt for her killer but also a backlash against the Chinese American community including the many hand laundries scattered throughout New York City. Elsie Siegel’s death prompted rumors that these laundries allowed widespread assaults against white women and girls. Lui paints us a heartbreaking account of the suffering that ensued among Chinese Americans when white hooligans vandalized laundries and attacked laundry workers.


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

By Lauren Sandler,

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

Why this book?

This Is All I Got: A New Mother’s Search for Home tells the story of the difficulty of finding acceptable housing for the poor in New York City. Sandler follows the story of a young, poor, unwed mother, Camila, for one year as she struggles to find safe and affordable housing for herself and her newborn son. Against all odds, red tape, and never-ending bureaucracy, Camila never gives up. I found this story inspiring as well as educational about the homelessness crisis in New York City, a new found passion after my experience trying to feed the homeless during the first year of the pandemic.


Tweet Cute

By Emma Lord,

Book cover of Tweet Cute

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 dealing with the pressures surrounding high school graduation, and ultimately, following your own path.


From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

By e. l. konigsburg,

Book cover of From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler

Why this book?

In this book, a sister and brother escape the horrors of suburban Connecticut and take refuge in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where they discover an art mystery that leads them to a wealthy surrogate grandmother. Beyond the iconic setting, this story has an irresistible only-in-New York feeling to it, so that you can’t help believing it all might have really happened, or still could happen.


Little Fire: A Fantasy Romance (Warriors of the Five Realms)

By Hollee Mands,

Book cover of Little Fire: A Fantasy Romance (Warriors of the Five Realms)

Why this book?

Steamy slow-burn with tension you can feel rolling off the page? This one is for you! This new-to-me author was an epic find and I cannot get enough. The world-building is beyond exceptional, the characters and their struggles–both physical and mental–are realistic even as it’s a fantasy! I one-clicked the rest of the series even before I finished the first book! 


Year One (Chronicles of the One, Book 1)

By Nora Roberts,

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

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, it might disappoint, but if you enjoy her writing, you’ll love this book anyway.

Year One is the first book in a trilogy, and it’s a book I couldn’t put down once I started reading it.


Under the Egg

By Laura Marx Fitzgerald,

Book cover of Under the Egg

Why this book?

If a Wes Anderson movie collided with From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, it would feel something like this. Thirteen-year-old Theodora’s grandfather recently died, leaving her alone with her mentally ill mother, a crumbling Greenwich Village townhouse, a heap of unpaid bills, and the cryptic message, “Look under the egg”—and what Theo uncovers is a compelling mystery that stretches from the Italian Renaissance to the Nazi prison camps. The community that builds around Theo as she looks for answers is full of great New York eccentrics, and the Manhattan setting is captured with love and charm.


The Gilded Girl

By Alyssa Colman,

Book cover of The Gilded Girl

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.


The Show Girl

By Nicola Harrison,

Book cover of The Show Girl

Why this book?

The Show Girl is a delicious and entertaining exploration of the life of a 1920s Ziegfield girl with authentic period details and Harrison’s trademark ability to plunge the reader deep into the experiences of her characters. I loved being along for the ride as Olive navigated her relationships and friendships, followed her dreams, and pursued the glamorous life—with all its attendant ups and downs—of a show girl. The Show Girl is a fast-paced and engaging read that will leave readers giving a standing ovation to Olive and to all women who choose to live life on their own terms.


The House of Mirth

By Edith Wharton,

Book cover of The House of Mirth

Why this book?

What’s not to love? Edith Wharton, a member of Gilded Age upper-crust society, used her pen to skewer the mores and strict social conventions of her increasingly shallow and avaricious class. Her heartrending main character, Lily Bart, manages to fall afoul of the rigid rules that prescribed the behavior of a woman of her standing. A small misstep makes her a pariah—and dooms her to a tragic fate. Though set in the late nineteenth century, the novel’s characters are so richly drawn that the book feels as if it could have been written today.


Time and Again

By Jack Finney,

Book cover of Time and Again

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!


Good to a Fault

By Marina Endicott,

Book cover of Good to a Fault

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. 


Alterations

By Stephanie Scott,

Book cover of Alterations

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.


Stuart Little

By E.B. White, Garth Williams (illustrator),

Book cover of Stuart Little

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 it's also just a story about a wonderful little guy named Stuart. It's also a love story, and a coming-of-age story. It's not easy being a mouse born into a household of humans, no matter how much they love you. This is a book that is filled with hope, and perfect for everyone who has never quite fit in and longs for adventuresometimes I will only read the last chapter— one of the most beautiful chapters in American literature for any age.


New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950

By William Chapman Sharpe,

Book cover of New York Nocturne: The City After Dark in Literature, Painting, and Photography, 1850-1950

Why this book?

This richly illustrated account of the century in which Manhattan was the preeminent metropolitan city at night is written by a scholar I admire enormously, who has become a friend since I first read this book. Sharpe has an encyclopedic knowledge of the art and literature of the modern city, and New York Nocturne is in consequence a treasure trove of cultural-historical information. But it is also beautifully written. It reads not only the paintings, photographs, poems, and novels about New York with sensitivity and insight, but the sometimes glamorous, sometimes painfully arduous lives of those who lived in it. 


Why I Hate Saturn

By Kyle Baker,

Book cover of Why I Hate Saturn

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.


The Gilded Age in New York, 1870-1910

By Esther Crain,

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

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!


The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen

By Katherine Howe,

Book cover of The Appearance of Annie van Sinderen

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.


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

By Barnet Schecter,

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

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.


Intern: A Doctor's Initiation

By Sandeep Jauhar,

Book cover of Intern: A Doctor's Initiation

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.


Better Nate Than Ever

By Tim Federle,

Book cover of Better Nate Than Ever

Why this book?

You can’t help but root for thirteen-year-old social underdog and theater nerd Nate Foster as he sneaks away from his “boring” hometown of Jankburg, PA, and takes a bus to New York City to audition for the lead role in a Broadway production of E.T., the Musical. Of course, things don’t go according to plan, but Nate’s spunk, humor, and fearlessness somehow get him through his longshot adventure in the big city. Federle’s warm and vivid characterizations and witty writing style make this one a winner for the whole family. (One caveat: Parents bothered by gay themes in middle-grade books—even understated ones, as here—might want to skip this one. Your loss.) Followed by two more: Fix, Six, Seven, Nate! and Nate Expectations


The Mirror of Her Dreams

By Stephen R. Donaldson,

Book cover of The Mirror of Her Dreams

Why this book?

The Mirror of Her Dreams, Book 1 of Mordant’s Need, is my all-time favorite book. A woman who believes herself dull and unlovable finds herself transported to a world where at least someone believes she is special. The world is doused in a spectacular kind of magic, which I won’t spoil. But the book focuses on someone from our world learning about another reality and growing into a much stronger person than she believed possible. 


Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City

By Neal Bascomb,

Book cover of Higher: A Historic Race to the Sky and the Making of a City

Why this book?

In about one year’s time, from 1930 to 1931, three buildings—the Bank of Manhattan, The Chrysler Building, and the Empire State Building—in rapid succession claimed the prize of “world’s tallest.” This book is a great journalist account of the personalities behind the three-way race at the peak of the Roaring Twenties. We get to see the inside story of the developers, the architects, and the builders. 


Tune in Tomorrow: The Curious, Calamitous, Cockamamie Story of Starr Weatherby and the Greatest Mythic Reality Show Ever

By Randee Dawn,

Book cover of Tune in Tomorrow: The Curious, Calamitous, Cockamamie Story of Starr Weatherby and the Greatest Mythic Reality Show Ever

Why this book?

A struggling actress catches her big break when she's hired onto a reality TV/soap opera show produced by and watched by mythical creatures. They're fascinated with humans and more than willing to accept the soapiest of soap opera plots as reality. Dawn is an entertainment journalist and she mixes humor with insider details that make the set seem authentic. Well, as authentic as a set populated with fawn producers, cameradryads, and security dragons can get.

Although much of the story happens on set, the New York City bits by this Brooklyn-based author feel both authentic and fun to me.


Rush: City Lights Book III: New York City

By Emma Scott,

Book cover of Rush: City Lights Book III: New York City

Why this book?

Oh, Noah. Noah, Noah, Noah. Ask any old-school Emma Scott fan their favorite tortured hero of hers, and their answer will likely be Noah Lake. This one is broken emotionally and physically, which makes it hard to hold a grudge when he lashes out. Not that I even had a grudge to begin with. I mean, think of what he’s suffered! One of the best parts of the angry tortured hero trope is all that delicious groveling, but with Noah, I didn’t need much. (Alright, fine. I didn’t need any.) FYI, Rush is a standalone that’s only connected to the other books in the series by its city setting.


The Second Mrs. Astor: A Heartbreaking Historical Novel of the Titanic

By Shana Abe,

Book cover of The Second Mrs. Astor: A Heartbreaking Historical Novel of the Titanic

Why this book?

I love reading biographies, autobiographies, and memoirs. This is a well-researched, enjoyable biography about the young Madeleine Force and her courtship and marriage to John Jacob Astor IV, a man 30 years her senior. The book follows their year-long honeymoon and ill-fated journey back to New York on RMS Titanic's maiden voyage. It also features Madeline’s life after Titanic.


The City of Bones

By Cassandra Clare,

Book cover of The City of Bones

Why this book?

So Clary may not be your typical witch. But she has powers and to me powers = witch, or at least witch adjacent. And this is an awesome book and start to an amazing series. Clary’s story dragged me under from page one. It was hard to stop reading and I one-clicked the next in the story right after finishing it. There is so much mysticism and mystery lying under, in, and between the buildings of New York City and this book puts you right into that world.


The Hex Is In: The Fast Life and Fantastic Times of Harry the Book

By Mike Resnick,

Book cover of The Hex Is In: The Fast Life and Fantastic Times of Harry the Book

Why this book?

Mike Resnick is a master of writing humor, and Hex collects all of his Harry the Book stories, a Damon-Runyon style tales of a down-on-his-luck bookie and his oddball crew, operating out of a booth in a Manhattan bar. I love this noir-ish version of NYC with zombies, werewolves, and even dragons mixing with human New Yorkers who are even more colorful.

If you love this book, Resnick's Hunting the Unicorn (and sequels) take place in the same setting. 


Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device

By James Aquilone,

Book cover of Dead Jack and the Pandemonium Device

Why this book?

Dead Jack is a zombie private detective with fairy dust addiction and a homunculus sidekick. He plies his trade in the Five Cities of Pandemonium which are very clearly the five boroughs of New York City.

I'm a sucker for a snarky voice first and foremost. Staten Island-based Aquilone melds horror and humor into a page-turner series that deliver my recommended daily dose of Vitamin Snark.


The Lesser Dead

By Christopher Buehlman,

Book cover of The Lesser Dead

Why this book?

The Lesser Dead is set in the past, but it’s not what you’d expect from an historical vampire novel. The setting is New York City, 1978, and so the atmosphere is more like the American police movies and TV shows that I grew up with than a gothic shocker.

Told by an unreliable narrator with an authentic, claustrophobic voice, the story follows an internecine conflict between two groups of the undead beneath the streets of Manhattan. Buehlman expertly mixes a twisting plot with believable vampires, who both disturb the reader and elicit their compassion, making this my favourite vampire novel of the 21st century.


Great Blizzards of New York City

By Kevin Ambrose,

Book cover of Great Blizzards of New York City

Why this book?

This book is ideal for those who simply want to enjoy the plethora of great visuals which capture the splendor of New York City’s most memorable blizzards. Covering twelve such events between 1888 and 1994, this oversized book contains, by far, the greatest number of photos I have ever seen in a single compilation. Each photo’s caption also includes the source detail—something rare in most other accounts. Ample text accompanies each photo, making this a most pleasurable and informative read. 


Death of a Salesman

By Arthur Miller,

Book cover of Death of a Salesman

Why this book?

This play has so many layers: men’s relationship to work, marriage, fatherhood, unrealized ambitions, and the costs of buying your own bullshit.  See it with Dustin Hoffman or Philip Seymour Hoffman.


The Great Level

By Stella Tillyard,

Book cover of The Great Level

Why this book?

Fiction allows for the portrayal of a kind of absorption in the processes and materials of a historical period that is unusual in nonfiction. It can give a powerful sense of how time actually passed for people. Vermeer’s chaotic domestic routine as a painter was splendidly imagined by Tracy Chevalier in Girl with a Pearl Earring, for example. But the technical innovators of the Dutch Golden Age – the telescopists, the astronomers, the surveyors and engineers – are yet to be celebrated in this way. Sadly, nobody has written the story of Simon Stevin, who built a sand-yacht that could outrun a galloping horse as it whipped along the Dutch strand, or of Cornelis Drebbel, who demonstrated a submarine for King James I that mysteriously managed to stay underwater with its crew for several hours in the River Thames.

However, Stella Tillyard has performed this service on behalf of the Dutch hydraulic engineers who came to England during the seventeenth century and so altered large tracts of the English countryside near where I live. The hero of her fiction, Jan Brunt, is a protégé of the real Cornelis Vermuyden, who masterminded the colossal project of draining the fens. (Brunt is the overseeing engineer; the actual digging is done by Irish prisoners of war.) Tillyard describes technical facets of the project with a light touch, and counterbalances this with a sense of the delicate ecology of that unique environment before it was so radically reshaped – an economy as well as an ecology since it includes the reedsmen and water dwellers who will be displaced by the works. This tension resonates gently with our knowledge of peoples and habitats under threat of destruction today in one of a number of surprising – but ultimately convincing – modern echoes. Other such twists of fate lie in wait for Brunt and the English marsh-girl he falls for.


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

By Tina Brown,

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

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 in fighting for the salary she knew she deserved. A witty and colorful document of the last moment magazines really mattered.


All-Of-A-Kind Family

By Sydney Taylor,

Book cover of All-Of-A-Kind Family

Why this book?

In 1951, Sydney Taylor invented the memorable Brenners—papa, mama, five sisters, and baby brother—a Jewish family on the Lower East Side in turn-of-the-century New York. Taylor’s words and Helen John’s illustrations in this book, the first in a series, set the scene. A calendar in the parlor announced that it was 1912. Tenements lined city streets. When I read these novels as a child, I did not yet know that they were closely based on Taylor’s own life. When the entire series was republished in 2014, I quipped: I became a Jewish historian because of these books. 


Back Then: Two Literary Lives in 1950s New York

By Justin Kaplan, Anne Bernays,

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

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.


Fashion Climbing: A Memoir

By Bill Cunningham,

Book cover of Fashion Climbing: A Memoir

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 the diva moments he observes at fashion shows he attended are simply délicieux. The book proves that Cunningham was as gifted a writer as he was photographer.


Untrue Stories of Fiction

By Jack Handey,

Book cover of Untrue Stories of Fiction

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.


Mannahatta: A Natural History of New York City

By Eric W. Sanderson, Markley Boyer (illustrator),

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

Why this book?

This natural history of Manhattan is about the natural “skyline”—the flora and geography that was converted from a natural wonder to the world’s most amazing city. Sanderson’s re-creation of Manhattan before it was Manhattan is a tour de force. While the book is not directly about the Manhattan skyline, a deep understanding of Manhattan’s geography and natural environment before European settlement is actually crucial to understanding how the skyline rose in the 20th century.


Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898

By Edwin G. Burrows, Mike Wallace,

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

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 York. I reach for this book over and over as I seek to learn the story of the city.


The Age of Innocence

By Edith Wharton,

Book cover of The Age of Innocence

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 their lives with integrity and honesty seem to me to echo today in the ongoing injustices perpetrated against society’s powerless.


God is My Co-Pilot

By Robert L. Scott,

Book cover of God is My Co-Pilot

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.


The Lottery and Other Stories

By Shirley Jackson,

Book cover of The Lottery and Other Stories

Why this book?

The story, The Lottery, from Jackson’s collection, held particular horror for me because we see this happen in real life. Not the exact details, of course, but mob mentality and the going along with things taught us without ever questioning what it means. This story evokes human trauma about adults who say and do nothing. A genuinely terrifying aspect of human nature gone awry and the utter lack of respect for life. 


MacDoodle St.

By Mark Alan Stamaty,

Book cover of MacDoodle St.

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.


The Glimpse

By Lis Bensley,

Book cover of The Glimpse

Why this book?

I loved diving into this novel about mother-daughter artists and the devotion, love, and competition that binds them together. Personally, I have no skill or passion for painting or photography—the gifts granted the characters in this book—but as I immersed myself in Bensley’s world, I began seeing the world as visual artists do. That was an unexpected bonus to an already compelling intergenerational story. As I hungrily turned pages, eager to discover what would happen to the characters next, I loved learning about art, the sexism of the art world, and the compelling need to create regardless of external validation.


The View From Breast Pocket Mountain

By Karen Hill Anton,

Book cover of The View From Breast Pocket Mountain

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 to Asia with her childhood friend and future husband, Billy. Any one chapter of her life could have been the basis for an entire book. Anton is an engaging storyteller with an exceptional story -- an unbeatable combination. I highly recommend this memoir to anyone interested in Japan, multicultural families, travel, or just how to live a rich, meaningful life.


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

By Timothy J. Gilfoyle,

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

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 they carried away. Appo refused to name names, though, as he was a self-described “good fellow.”  


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

By George Mahood,

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

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 but lovable Josephine!


Trick of the Light

By Megan Derr,

Book cover of Trick of the Light

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.


Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays

By Eula Biss,

Book cover of Notes from No Man's Land: American Essays

Why this book?

This essay collection isn’t exclusively about New York, but the four essays that open the collection are, and they are excellent. Biss writes personally about race relations in the city, and the United States. Her insights still feel relevant more than a decade later. She also refreshingly tackles the myth of New York, and the way that it is, as she says, overimagined. 


The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984

By Marvin J. Taylor (editor),

Book cover of The Downtown Book: The New York Art Scene 1974-1984

Why this book?

This is the primer for everything Downtown during arguably Downtown’s greatest era. The contributions are first-rate, by people who were on the scene, and it’s a handsome book to hold. If you’re interested in anything from Punk and Patti Smith to Haring, Basquiat, and Afrika Bambaataa, this is the place to start, without nostalgia, agenda, or hype.


Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel

By Lee Child,

Book cover of Past Tense: A Jack Reacher Novel

Why this book?

I can’t pick just one, and they’re really all the same. The burly, idiosyncratic title character, an Army veteran, is like a knight-errant, stumbling into colossal evildoings and coolly saving America, the Army, or (occasionally) a pretty woman. The books are popcorn, potato chips, cotton candy – once you pick them up, you’ll rarely read less than a hundred pages. Is it art? Most definitely not. But will it get you through a very bad afternoon? Quite possibly.


Invitation to an Inquest: A New Look at the Rosenberg-Sobell Case

By Walter Schneir, Miriam Schneir,

Book cover of Invitation to an Inquest: A New Look at the Rosenberg-Sobell Case

Why this book?

The Schneirs did not write the first book on the famous case of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, New Yorkers who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage in 1951 and put to death by the U.S. government in 1953. But for 20 years after its publication in 1965, their book became the definitive version of how the Rosenbergs had been victims of a grave miscarriage of justice, convicted of a crime “that never occurred”.

When the Schneirs published a revised version in 1983, its claims directly conflicted with those of another 1983 book, The Rosenberg File by Ronald Radosh and Joyce Milton, which argued that during World War II, Julius Rosenberg had absolutely been a spy who shared atomic secrets with the Soviet Union. These divergent views led to a very public debate over the Rosenbergs’ guilt.


The Bear's Song

By Benjamin Chaud,

Book cover of The Bear's Song

Why this book?

Just as Papa Bear dozes off into hibernation, Little Bear’s mind buzzes with thoughts about honey. A bee guides Little Bear out of his cave in the forest, and into a city. When Papa Bear realizes Little Bear is missing, he immediately searches for his son. Find Papa Bear, Little Bear, beautiful architectural spaces, and quirky characters on each detail-packed spread. The first in a series, also check out: The Bear’s Sea Escape, The Bear’s Surprise, and Little Bear’s Big House.


Imaginary Fred

By Eoin Colfer, Oliver Jeffers (illustrator),

Book cover of Imaginary Fred

Why this book?

Can imaginary friends count as best friends? Totally. Imaginary Fred is a brilliant riff on imaginary friendship, told from the point of view of the imaginary friend. When imaginary Fred befriends non-imaginary Sam, the two have so much fun that Fred panics he’ll be replaced by a real kid (again!). But when real Sam brings home his new friend real Sammi, Sammi befriends Fred too…and her own imaginary friend Freida becomes Fred’s total B(I)FF! The book is quirky/funny, but really moving too. Everybody gets a best friend.


Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

By Elizabeth Rush,

Book cover of Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore

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 impacts of climate change through the lives of the people who are already at the frontlines. This poetic and precise story is not a direct call to action. Yet, Rush somehow leaves her readers feeling acutely aware of the most vulnerable populations and wondering what we, as a society, could do differently to avoid more catastrophe.


Odds Against Tomorrow

By Nathaniel Rich,

Book cover of Odds Against Tomorrow

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.


Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

By Mac Barnett, Jon Klassen (illustrator),

Book cover of Sam & Dave Dig a Hole

Why this book?

This is such a fun book. Between Mac's clever writing and Jon's perfect illustrations I seem to always feel the same anticipation I did on the very first read. Sam and Dave keep digging deeper and deeper, nearly revealing incredible things along the way. It's such a compelling and entertaining story to read aloud to your kids as you turn the pages and dig alongside the persistent Sam and Dave and their dog.


This Is New York

By Miroslav Sasek,

Book cover of This Is New York

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!


The Everywhere Bear

By Julia Donaldson, Rebecca Cobb (illustrator),

Book cover of The Everywhere Bear

Why this book?

The combination of Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb is fantastic. I love the playful illustrations (just look at the children’s hair!), and the rhymes make the story sing. The book tells the story about the Bear from Class One who accidentally gets lost and thus begins his big adventure throughout the city showing us places that can sometimes be hidden from our everyday lives.  


Night Shift

By Stephen King,

Book cover of Night Shift

Why this book?

In the short story “Battleground”, a hitman finds himself under siege in his own apartment by an army of toy soldiers. It’s typical concept-on-a-napkin by Stephen King, and typically compulsive storytelling, too. I’ve got a special reverence for writers who can tackle silly narratives with the utmost conviction (it’s what I try to do myself!), and I just loved the ever-escalating madness here. The final twist will have you grinning, guaranteed.


Nine Stories

By J.D. Salinger,

Book cover of Nine Stories

Why this book?

I enjoyed "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" and "De Daumier-Smith's Blue Period," but the real gem here in Salinger's Nine Stories is "Teddy." "Teddy" is one of the most bizarre (yet thought-provoking) stories I have ever read. I loved reading and exploring all of the possible themes in this short compilation of tales. It seems like Salinger was truly able to portray mental struggles with his characters. 


The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book

By A.S. Crockett,

Book cover of The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book

Why this book?

Double duty as a bar book and memoir makes Crockett’s chronicle my must for skillfully conjuring two historical moments: the Golden Age of Cocktails (a.k.a. the Gilded Age) and the dark era of Prohibition. Anxious that memories of delectable cocktails and their recipes had been buried in the crypt of Prohibition’s thirteen years (1920-1933), journalist Crockett hastened to record and revive the drinks. His history is spot-on, and his fury at the nation’s failed “Noble Experiment” of Prohibition fuels this survivor’s fine wordsmithing.


The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker

By Maeve Brennan,

Book cover of The Long-Winded Lady: Notes from the New Yorker

Why this book?

“I saw a little boy on the street today, and he cried so eloquently that I will never forget him.” Maeve Brennan wrote for the New Yorker’s Talk of the Town section as ‘The Long-Winded Lady’ from 1954 to 1968. She roamed the city’s streets, bars, and restaurants, eyes wide open, weaving stories of vivid emotional detail from the most seemingly mundane moments. None of these are too long – in the waiting room concentration can be fleeting – but each sketch engages. Her story of the crying boy ends this way: “He might have been the last bird in the world, except that if he had been the last bird there would have been no one to hear him.”


The United States of Cocktails: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions from All 50 States (and the District of Columbia)

By Brian Bartels,

Book cover of The United States of Cocktails: Recipes, Tales, and Traditions from All 50 States (and the District of Columbia)

Why this book?

Longtime New York City bartender Brian Bartels makes for an erudite and humorous guide to American cocktails as he surveys the country state by state. Chock full of quotes and quips, plus offering a stunning array of obscure drinking facts along with local lore, the book is not just an amble but a true tour de force. The United States of Cocktails makes for the perfect drinking companion to simply pop open and browse for a drink to make tonight, or to read cover to cover. Educational and transportive, Bartels’ charm keeps readers returning to this impressively researched tome.  


Same Sun Here

By Silas House, Neela Vaswani, Hilary Schenker (illustrator)

Book cover of Same Sun Here

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. 


The Secret Island (Secret Series)

By Enid Blyton, Dudley Wynne (illustrator),

Book cover of The Secret Island (Secret Series)

Why this book?

A larder full of dry goods, a dense thicket of gorse protecting a carefully hidden homestead, heather and pine needles for bedding, dry caves for winter shelter, natural tinctures and salves for injuries and illnesses, small brooks for bathing and cold creeks that preserved fresh milk and sweet butter…Four brave, skilled and industrious children run away from abusive situations in this vintage British book, and manage to care for and support themselves with farming and homesteading skills that were exotic to me as an over-supervised hothouse flower growing up in New York City in the 1970s. Outdoor living and childhood independence were completely foreign to me, and the resourcefulness and nerve of the protagonists created my lasting love for Enid Blyton’s The Secret Island that remains to this day. 


The Islanders: A Novel

By Meg Mitchell Moore,

Book cover of The Islanders: A Novel

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 metaphor; for our lucky characters, it is actually their whole world—even if it’s not forever, or as long as it lasts, but “just for the summer.”


The Humming Room: A Novel Inspired by the Secret Garden

By Ellen Potter,

Book cover of The Humming Room: A Novel Inspired by the Secret Garden

Why this book?

This contemporary retelling of The Secret Garden sets the story in a closed-down tuberculosis sanitarium. Roo's journey to uncover the mysteries of the house and bring life to the garden tucked away inside it unfolds beautifully on the page. With well-developed characters, a deeply haunting revelation, and a setting that springs to life with vivid detail, this was a great take on a classic.


Sidewalks

By Valeria Luiselli, Christina Macsweeney (translator),

Book cover of Sidewalks

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 depend as much on the imagination and on ephemeral memories as they do on reality.   


The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress

By Ariel Lawhon,

Book cover of The Wife, the Maid, and the Mistress

Why this book?

What could be better than one wily, take-charge woman? How about three? This is Ariel Lawhon’s debut novel, and it is pure fun. (I have enjoyed all her novels, but this one is a real romp.) The story launches one summer night in 1930 when Judge Joseph Crater steps into a New York City cab and is never heard from again. I loved how we learn the judge is a not-so-honorable character, involved with three women: Stella, his fashionable wife, the picture of propriety; Maria, their steadfast maid, indebted to the judge; and Ritzi, his showgirl mistress, willing to seize any chance to break out of the chorus line. This is a tantalizing reimagining of a scandalous mystery that rocked the nation in 1930—Justice Joseph Crater's infamous disappearance—through the eyes of the three women who knew him best. Lawhon has a real knack for finding fascinating characters!


The Sound of Stars

By Alechia Dow,

Book cover of The Sound of Stars

Why this book?

This review perfectly summed up this book but neglected to mention it has a spectacular cover, which I’ll admit was the first thing that drew my eye. The story also features a bi-racial main character, and since my children are multi-racial, I love seeing this representation. Because I’m an unapologetic book nerd, I adored the many literary references. And I always love a good road trip! All in all, this is one character-driven YA novel you won’t want to miss.


The Lies That Bind

By Emily Giffin,

Book cover of The Lies That Bind

Why this book?

The night before September 11, 2001, I was in New York City, and my now-husband proposed to me. We woke up the next morning to a whole new world. Any book set in Manhattan that relates to September 11th instantly speaks to me. This romance story is one you will never see coming, and I can’t recommend it more highly.


Midnight Cowboy

By James Leo Herlihy,

Book cover of Midnight Cowboy

Why this book?

I’m sad the brilliance of Herlihy’s novel has been overshadowed by the (admittedly also brilliant) movie it inspired. What the film can’t include is the dangerous repression of sex and sexuality, described in unrelenting detail, that defined Joe Buck’s childhood. The novel’s indictment of this tyranny and the effects it has on people, both individually and collectively, is embedded in its portrait of gay men driven to self-hatred by religion, discrimination, and social pressure. The homosocial love that develops between Buck and Ratso, Midnight Cowboy tells us, could only happen outside the boundaries—represented in the novel by middle-class economics and its accompanying pieties—of “normal” America.


Where's Waldo? The Wonder Book

By Martin Handford,

Book cover of Where's Waldo? The Wonder Book

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.


People We Meet on Vacation

By Emily Henry,

Book cover of People We Meet on Vacation

Why this book?

Poppy and Alex are best friends who want different things in life. Friends-to-lovers is my absolute favorite romance trope, so I will read any book recommended to me with that swoon-worthy storyline. That said, I could never rank People We Meet on Vacation among comparable novels of this ilk that I’ve read. I don’t know how Emily Henry does it, but this novel manages to draw out the developing, slow-burn romance in such a way that every little touch, every flicker of eye contact, every bravely flirtatious comment, feels like it’s setting the room on fire. By the time Poppy and Alex—who believe they’re incompatible—realize they’re madly in love with each other, it feels so earned, so real, and so special. Do. Not. Miss. This. Book.

“Tell me I’m not the reason you’re not married with kids right now, and everything else you wanted.”
He stares at me, face terse, eyes dark and cloudy.
“Tell me,” I beg, and he just stares at me, the silence of the room adding to the buzz inside my skull.
Finally, he shakes his head. “Of course it’s because of you.”


Becoming Mrs. Lewis

By Patti Callahan,

Book cover of Becoming Mrs. Lewis

Why this book?

Becoming Mrs. Lewis is the improbable love story of Joy Davidman and C. S. Lewis. And, at the novel’s onset, their coupling truly feels improbable. While in an unhappy marriage, Joy is very much married. She has young children. Joy has health issues. Joy and C.S. Lewis are separated by a body of water. Yet, Joy is also a very tenacious woman, which also included Joy inserting herself into conversations and places women at that time didn’t frequent. I wholly respect how Joy creates a new life for herself.


A Deadly Fortune

By Stacie Murphy,

Book cover of A Deadly Fortune

Why this book?

This novel embraces all the darkest elements of the Gilded Age—the occult, greed, cruelty, and the notorious asylum for the insane on Blackwell’s Island and I’m here for all of it! The sleuth is Amelia Matthews, a psychic who suffered a head injury that both expanded her psychic ability and landed her in Blackwell Asylum. She is not insane, but neither are many of the other women locked up with her—at least not when they first arrived. It’s chilling to know that this really happened to women who were betrayed by their nearest and dearest. Stacie Murphy made me feel like her characters were real, and I wanted justice for them! 


Titian's Boatman

By Victoria Blake,

Book cover of Titian's Boatman

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 captivating novel. 


One Last Stop

By Casey McQuiston,

Book cover of One Last Stop

Why this book?

One Last Stop is a recent favorite. The book follows August, a bisexual transplant to Brooklyn whose very relatable goal is to just stay in college for as long as possible until she figures out what she wants to do with her life. Again, this book has a bit of magic as August discovers a girl who is perpetually stuck on the Q train and seems to have time jumped from the 1970s to present day. And, of course, they fall in love. This book is a celebration of all things queer, it’s super steamy, romantic, hilarious, and just very very fun.


Native Speaker

By Chang-Rae Lee,

Book cover of Native Speaker

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. 


The Gem Thief

By Sian Ann Bessey,

Book cover of The Gem Thief

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 I turned pages wondering what would happen next.


Becoming Chloe

By Catherine Ryan Hyde,

Book cover of Becoming Chloe

Why this book?

Catherine Ryan Hyde does a masterful job of showing us the stark reality of teen homelessness through the eyes of Jordy and Chloe. The content of the first few chapters was hard for me to read because of what young people must do to survive on the street and what traumas lead them there in the first place. As the story unfolded, though, Hyde took me on a warm and loving journey as Jordy set out to show Chloe that there truly is a lot of beauty in the world. 


Putting on the Ritz

By Joe Keenan,

Book cover of Putting on the Ritz

Why this book?

Joe Keenan’s madcap farces made me want to write my own. They’re the kind of books that make you laugh so hard you just have to read lines from it to the person sitting next to you (preferably someone you know because strangers on mass transit don’t appreciate that kind of thing). As zany as they are, his novels are rooted in the real, doing-whatever-you-can-to-make-it lives of theater people. So they’re not as far-fetched as you might think. Life in New York City really can be that wildly glamorous. And hilarious.


Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York

By Francis Spufford,

Book cover of Golden Hill: A Novel of Old New York

Why this book?

It’s 1764 on Manhattan Island, and a stranger from London arrives at a small town called New York. He expects to receive a thousand pounds. A cast of dynamic characters appear. There are intrigues and adventures. All writers try to be vibrant on the page—to write smart, vivid, witty descriptions and dialogue. And then you come upon a writer like Francis Spufford, who is able, somehow, do it a degree or two better than everyone else.   


Hummingbird

By Nicola Davies, Jane Ray (illustrator),

Book cover of Hummingbird

Why this book?

Sometimes stories from the imagination are the best way to convey concepts in all their layered complexity. Concepts like migration. The beautifully illustrated Hummingbird tells the story of a little girl who moves from her grandmother’s village in Central America to New York City, paralleling a ruby-throated hummingbird’s migratory journey. Information about the hummingbird and its migration are woven seamlessly into the book, shining through the lovely story. 


The New York Trilogy

By Paul Auster,

Book cover of The New York Trilogy

Why this book?

Paul Auster’s New York Trilogy—comprising of City of Glass, Ghosts, and The Locked Room—originally published in 1985-86, carved out a niche all its own, what you might call existential noir. Here, the essence of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, is given a philosophical facelift, with Auster transforming the classic detective novel into a meditation on identity and self, as reflected in a house of fractured mirrors. As someone who grew up in Brooklyn—a fan of noir in film and literature, and of works that are speculative and mind-bending—my discovery of The New York Trilogy was like stumbling onto a literary oasis, which became a fixed source of delight and inspiration. 


Small Admissions

By Amy Poeppel,

Book cover of Small Admissions

Why this book?

We read several popular novels that explore competitive school environments. One of the best in this sub-genre is Small Admissions, by Amy Poeppel, which provides a fictional glimpse into the cut-throat world of Manhattan prep school admissions and ultra-competitive parents. Poeppel crafts a fun, wicked read with sharp dialogue. We could easily imagine what would happen when the children in Small Admissions apply to college…their parents would fit in well with the characters in our book.


Bolivar

By Sean Rubin,

Book cover of Bolivar

Why this book?

I love recognizing Central Park, The Met, The Museum of Natural History, the subway, Chinatown, and more in this story of Bolivar, a dinosaur on the loose In Manhattan. The author has a clear affection as well as a keenly observing eye for all details of a contemporary NYC setting, and the story is fun. Everything from rooftop elements to his depiction of subway mosaic tile is lovingly observed and rendered as a rich backdrop to the rollicking storyline.


Must I Go

By Yiyun Li,

Book cover of Must I Go

Why this book?

There are similarities between this novel and mine – the woman at its heart is an American named Lilia, she’s had adventures, and she is taking stock. But then the fascinating differences begin. She is 81, not 57; she’s had marriages and children; above all, the narrative about Lilia is only one layer of the story, as within the book is another book, the diary of a man she had an affair with when very young, and she annotates his revelations with her own. This resonant novel’s strata – like limestone folds, the sediment of a life brought back to the surface – give Lilia, initially hard and sharp, more and more texture as the story unfolds.


Middlegame

By Seanan McGuire,

Book cover of Middlegame

Why this book?

So many fantasy worlds repeat familiar settings, characters, and types of magic. Middlegame delights because it is so different. I couldn’t encapsulate all of it in a single sentence, but to peel back some of the weird layers: alchemists give universal concepts like Good and Evil semi-human forms in a race to control them and attain godhood. This ties into the theme of storytelling because McGuire reframes historic literary greats like Mark Twain as alchemists, who are intentionally creating and changing the nature of the world with their books. If that isn’t a powerful image of a storyteller, I don’t know what is. 


Bad Marie

By Marcy Dermansky,

Book cover of Bad Marie

Why this book?

I was working as a nanny in New York City when I discovered this wild novel, and I consumed it in short order. Marie, fresh from prison, is hired out of pity to watch a high school friend’s daughter. “The situation would’ve been humiliating had Marie any ambition in life. Fortunately, Marie was not in any way ambitious.” Marie is instead selfish, culpable, hungry, and smitten—first with her friend’s life, then her friend’s husband, and most dangerously, her friend’s daughter. Dermansky’s novel could easily slip into thriller territory, and while it is as fast-paced and compulsively readable, instead we discover unpredictably that Bad Marie is really a love story.


Form Follows Finance: Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago

By Carol Willis,

Book cover of Form Follows Finance: Skyscrapers and Skylines in New York and Chicago

Why this book?

A great account of the interaction between economics and architecture in the rise of the New York and Chicago skylines. Willis is the founder and director of the Skyscraper Museum in New York City. This book was one of the first that I read as I started to do research on the economics of skyscrapers. I was fascinated by Willis' account. Arguably, this book, more than any other, helped to define my 15 years of research on the topic.


Survival Instincts

By May Dawney,

Book cover of Survival Instincts

Why this book?

This is a post-apocalyptic book set well after a war decimated civilisation. We follow two main characters, and it was lovely to see their relationship unfold and grow. Survival and trust are two big themes in this book, as they are in my own, and it was nice to read a similar book. This is for those who are more romantic at heart, as romance is a major part of the book. I really liked the characters. Plus, there’s a dog!


Awakening

By Tracy Higley,

Book cover of Awakening

Why this book?

I was intrigued by this storyline where the main character seems to live in the past and the present simultaneously. She loves ancient artifacts yet when she discovers them, she somehow seems to be tied to them supernaturally and finds herself living the historical moments of what she is investigating. A great storyline for sure! A book hard to put down.


Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams

By Rich Cohen,

Book cover of Tough Jews: Fathers, Sons, and Gangster Dreams

Why this book?

Cohen, whose father grew up in Brooklyn in the shadow of Murder, Inc., has written a savvy, almost affectionate portrait of a world he knew only through his dad. It was a world in which murder was cheap, and sometimes otherwise decent men learned to kill those near and dear. Although Albert Fried’s The Rise and Fall of the Jewish Gangster in America is more historically detailed, Tough Jews is the more colorful introduction to the milieu of the mob and its rackets—a milieu that had Sid Luckman’s father in its clutches.


Local Woman Missing

By Mary Kubica,

Book cover of Local Woman Missing

Why this book?

I love all of Mary Kubica’s books because of her straightforward writing style and the Chicago-area settings. In Local Woman Missing, a peaceful, suburban neighborhood transforms into a harrowing place where people go missing and we question how well we really know our neighbors. Told from multiple points of view and timelines, the twists abound as the reader uncovers what happened to the missing women and girl. The ending was chilling, and I didn’t see it coming, which is exactly what I want from a psychological thriller. 


A Kids Book About Divorce

By Ashley Simpo,

Book cover of A Kids Book About Divorce

Why this book?

A Kids Book About Divorce is a brilliant book for parents and children to read together. It gives voice to questions kids might be scared to ask and illuminates feelings they’ve kept in the dark. Like all of the A Kids Book About books—written and published by the awesome and innovative kids media company, A Kids Company About—this is a great place to initiate an honest discussion about a tough life change. I love how clear it is, in both subject and design. It gets to the heart of divorce.


City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York, 3-volume box set

By Deborah Dash Moore, Howard B. Rock, Annie Polland, Daniel Soyer, Jeffrey S. Gurock

Book cover of City of Promises: A History of the Jews of New York, 3-volume box set

Why this book?

Understanding New York Jews is key to understanding American Jews. There is no city like New York City and there are no Jews like New York Jews. In the middle of the 20th century, they made up around 30% of the total city population. This three-volume award-winning set uncovers aspects of the city’s history that even aficionados don’t know. Each volume can be purchased separately but together they paint an absorbing panorama across four centuries. I like to teach the volumes. They are fresh each time I read them, with lively prose and compelling vignettes. Reading them is like walking the streets of Gotham with a great guide.


Academy Street

By Mary Costello,

Book cover of Academy Street

Why this book?

This is one of my favorite novels and one that I can’t stop recommending. There isn’t a word wasted in this intimate and evocative novel which is based between Ireland and New York. The protagonist, Tess Lohan was born in Ireland in 1944. Through Tess, we are given a ringside view of Irish life in the 40s, the harshness and stoicism, the distance between family and that which is unsaid. Tess takes us from Ireland to New York City in 1962 and the challenges of loneliness and joy of an Irish immigrant. We see her struggling as a single mother and an ironclad friendship with Willa, a person of color from Mississippi who shares her apartment block. We see tragedy during 9/11 and follow Tess into old age. I almost mourned when I finish this novel. 


A Touch of Romance

By Merry Farmer,

Book cover of A Touch of Romance

Why this book?

Love is love, so I always adore recommending historical romances that are queer positive. This series by Merry Farmer of four books (to date) are set in 1920s New York and have the most glorious M/M romances that you have ever read. If you’ve never read a gay romance before, trust me: you’re going to fall in love. 


All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir

By Shulem Deen,

Book cover of All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir

Why this book?

Shulem Deen grew up in the culture of Hassidic Judaism in New York City. With limited education and awkward English, he decides to explore the world beyond the insular community in which he has lived his entire life. Despite warnings from his wife and recriminations from his community, he eventually decides to leave and seek a new life for which his previous existence has left him completely unprepared. I’m intrigued that a person has the courage to push the boundaries of his existence even though no one in his family or community supports him.


Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups

By Kay Thompson, Hilary Knight (illustrator),

Book cover of Eloise: A Book for Precocious Grown Ups

Why this book?

Eloise is a children’s picture book about a six-year-old girl who lives with her nanny, named Nanny, at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. She has no real parents; her father isn’t around and her mother prefers to jet set around the world, shopping and eating lunch. Eloise is hilariously unkempt, in her rumpled party dress, uncombed hair, and crooked hair bow, she prowls the hotel, looking for snacks and adventure. Eloise has always been close to my heart for her wild imagination and her plucky acceptance of being a fabulously neglected child. 


The Blizzard of '88

By Mary Cable,

Book cover of The Blizzard of '88

Why this book?

This delightful chronicle of the infamous Blizzard of 1888 and its impact upon the population of New York City was published on the storm’s 100th anniversary. Prior to penning this book, Ms. Cable authored nine others over nearly two decades—including several on American social history—and served as editor/writer for The New Yorker and Harper’s Bazaar (among other publications). In my view, this prior experience was key to her uncommon ability to consistently evoke the vivid images of the trials and tribulations experienced by numerous real-life figures (some famous), and to create a broader social context throughout the book. For these reasons, hers was among the most enjoyable accounts of the Great Blizzard I’ve had the pleasure of reading.


Maiden Voyage

By Tania Aebi,

Book cover of Maiden Voyage

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.


Leningradsky Photo Underground

By Valery Valran,

Book cover of Leningradsky Photo Underground

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 her work was only discovered recently, see this site with Masha Ivashintsova’s work, curated by her daughter.


Reno

By Max Miller,

Book cover of Reno

Why this book?

Published in 1941, you might have to do a little searching to find this book. Max Miller, a former newspaperman, recaptures the glamour of Reno in its heyday as “Divorce Capital of the World”. The prose is racy and fun.


Reno Now and Then

By Jerry Fenwick, Neal Cobb,

Book cover of Reno Now and Then

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.


Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

By Robin Jaffee Frank,

Book cover of Coney Island: Visions of an American Dreamland, 1861-2008

Why this book?

Created in conjunction with a 2015 exhibition, this volume is a visual feast -- a tribute to the way Coney Island inspired artists and endures as part of the public imagination. Paintings, drawings, posters, artifacts, and photographs spanning 1861-2008 fill its pages; artists include Diane Arbus, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Red Grooms, and many others. Accompanying essays explore the seaside resort’s cultural significance.


The Great Comic Book Heroes

By Jules Feiffer,

Book cover of The Great Comic Book Heroes

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.


Borrowed Finery: A Memoir

By Paula Fox,

Book cover of Borrowed Finery: A Memoir

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 country has ever produced. (Full disclosure: As a twenty-eight-year-old greenhorn editor, I had the pleasure of line-editing this book, which wasn’t editing so much as polishing silver.)


A Fan's Notes

By Frederick Exley,

Book cover of A Fan's Notes

Why this book?

Exley was an immensely talented but deeply troubled writer who was able to turn his lifelong obsession with New York Giants superstar Frank Gifford into one of the best novels of post-war America. Starting with his days attending the University of Southern California in the same class as golden boy tailback Gifford, Exley’s patently autobiographical protagonist unwisely measures his own tortured life against that of the football icon. The result is a poignant and hilarious story that provides the most penetrating account ever written of what it means to be a fan. “Life isn't all a goddam football game!” Exley’s hero cries at one point. “You won't always get the girl! Life is rejection and pain and loss.” Exley’s genius is to transform that loss into an undisputed literary victory.  


Woman on the Edge of Time

By Marge Piercy,

Book cover of Woman on the Edge of Time

Why this book?

I have to admit, I almost didn’t read this book. The first fifty pages are so dreary and difficult, with domestic abuse, racism, and excruciating poverty, with no science fiction to be seen. But then, suddenly, the main character is teleporting to another world or also has guests from that world visit her in ours, and things get very interesting. The alternative world has non-binary gender, it is not capitalist but communal, and they have eradicated most of society’s ills, from killer automobiles to cigarettes, domestic abuse, poverty, racism, and so on, and have replaced these with loving relationships, complex child-rearing arrangements and a more loving-relationship-oriented approach to life. It is a fascinating juxtaposition and definitely worth the opening slog.


Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

By Harriet Jacobs,

Book cover of Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl

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 to spend time with her children in New York City and Boston, but she is still enslaved.


The Crime Fighter: How You Can Make Your Community Crime Free

By Jack Maple, Chris Mitchell,

Book cover of The Crime Fighter: How You Can Make Your Community Crime Free

Why this book?

Maple was the architect of the tactics that allowed the NYPD to lower homicides by 60% in two miraculous years from 1990–1992. This book is easy to read and often funny, which doesn’t obscure Maple’s tactical genius. The story of how a lowly transit cop who fancied suits, vests, bow ties, and homburgs became Assistant Commissioner of Police in New York is astonishing. You can only regret that Maple was never able to use his fake “Gun-Sniffing Dog” ploy to flush suspects with concealed firearms. It was sheer genius.


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

By William Bratton, Peter Knobler,

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

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.


Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession

By Janet Malcolm,

Book cover of Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession

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 myopia.”


Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

By David Von Drehle,

Book cover of Triangle: The Fire That Changed America

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 Workers’ Union and making history.


After the People Lights Have Gone Off

By Stephen Graham Jones,

Book cover of After the People Lights Have Gone Off

Why this book?

SGJ has such a unique voice, it’s hard to deny this collection its props. Here you have a wide range of themes and unique characterization, and I think there’s a lot to be learned from a collection such as this. Dialogue, character building, tension; this is like a guide to writing good fiction.


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

By Wayne W. Dyer,

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

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. It introduces you to the benefits of daily gratitude and of being of service to others.


Act One: An Autobiography

By Moss Hart,

Book cover of Act One: An Autobiography

Why this book?

While the prose style of Act One is a little fussy, florid, and overly eager to impress, this is still a moving, funny, and emotional biography of a talented, ambitious young man who is determined to make his mark as a Broadway playwright. And, at the end, when he single-handedly turns his out-of-town failure (co-written with George S. Kaufman) into a hit, you want to stand up and cheer.


Jimi: An Intimate Biography of Jimi Hendrix

By Curtis Knight,

Book cover of Jimi: An Intimate Biography of Jimi Hendrix

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 market for a Jimi bio. I have always respected that. This was the first Jimi bio that I read.

(Sidenote: With Curtis’ second published book on Jimi Hendrix in 1992 called Starchild, he was the only author to have written TWO books on Jimi Hendrix. This is until I came along. I wrote my first book on Jimi called Nobody Cages Me in 2010 and my second book in 2019 called, Jimi Hendrix Black Legacy. I’m honored to share this distinction with Curtis Knight.)


Bob Dylan: No Direction Home

By Robert Shelton,

Book cover of Bob Dylan: No Direction Home

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.


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

By Thomas W. Gilbert,

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

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).


Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs

By Bill Cunningham,

Book cover of Fashion Climbing: A Memoir with Photographs

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 style of fashion journalism. His "street style" brought fashion, no matter how expensive or luxurious, into the world of everyday life. Cunningham made fashion interesting again only through his point of view and photographs. The quiet, always curious and meticulous Cunningham also became known for his commitment to the gay scene.

“If you study Bill’s career at the New York Times, he emerges as an incognito activist who has celebrated gay pride week after week even as he excused himself from the increasingly sexualized society that he chronicled”, wrote The Cut 2013 about Cunningham. “…Without being partisan or political, he has raised awareness of the vital role of gays in New York’s culture…”, and therefore of New York’s fashion culture. Fashion Climbing is the story of a young man striving to be the person he was born to be: a true original. But although he was one of the city's most recognized and treasured figures.


Short Stories: Five Decades

By Irwin Shaw,

Book cover of Short Stories: Five Decades

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.


Manhattan, When I Was Young

By Mary Cantwell,

Book cover of Manhattan, When I Was Young

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.


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

By Po Bronson,

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

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 me and was an apt reminder that sometimes the fruits of our labors come many years later.


Not Since Carrie: Forty Years of Broadway Musical Flops

By Ken Mandelbaum,

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

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.


The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

By N.K. Jemisin,

Book cover of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms

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 gears of society, but its examinations of these aspects of civics are still insightful and, ultimately, optimistic.


The Cuisine of Hungary

By George Lang,

Book cover of The Cuisine of Hungary

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 Lang describes as a "featherweight dessert" to offset the richness of an otherwise heavy meal.


The Record of Singing Vol. 1

By Michael Scott,

Book cover of The Record of Singing Vol. 1

Why this book?

A remarkable tracing of the evolution of singing throughout the decades. Occasionally Scott is dismissive, (sometimes of the most famous singers) but his remarks are always intriguing and thought-provoking. Through his text, Scott causes one to re-evaluate some of the most famous singers and the reason for their fame.


Saturday Afternoons at the Old Met: The Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts, 1931-1950

By Paul Jackson,

Book cover of Saturday Afternoons at the Old Met: The Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts, 1931-1950

Why this book?

One of the greatest series of books ever written about the early years of live broadcasting from the Metropolitan Opera. Jackson’s detailed analysis of the existing broadcasts is informative and fascinating. Even better they can be read by themselves, or even better, when listening to the actual broadcast. The amount of information in this series (3) is unbelievably vast and fascinating. All three are recommended.


Down These Mean Streets

By Piri Thomas,

Book cover of Down These Mean Streets

Why this book?

Thomas’s memoir is a seminal text of Nuyorican Literature (a sub-genre of Diasporican Literature) and the Latinx canon. It also belongs to the urban literature genre that emerged in the 1960s. His, however, was the first Latinx version of a narrative that depicts, some would say sensationalizes and exploits, the gritty, raw life of the inner city. As such, it had a tremendous impact on developing Latinx writers who had few role models at the time. His work, along with others of that genre, still holds influence stylistically and thematically with some Latinx authors. Written in the traditional Augustinian autobiographical model, Mean Streets tracks Piri’s fall into crime and drugs and final transformation and redemption. More significantly, this memoir introduces the issue of Latinx black identity and the complication of it within the American black-white paradigm. 


The Rough Patch

By Brian Lies,

Book cover of The Rough Patch

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 and your young children know that anger and wanting to destroy things is very normal, and even though it doesn’t feel like it, new things will grow.


Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants

By Robert Sullivan,

Book cover of Rats: Observations on the History & Habitat of the City's Most Unwanted Inhabitants

Why this book?

Sullivan’s narrative nonfiction illuminates the New York that the city’s rats have conquered, and it’s a humbling, fascinating place. One of the epicenters, for Sullivan, is Wall Street, where he began doing research a few months before 9/11, blocks from the Twin Towers. The book isn’t about the aftermath of 9/11, its sticks to rats, but at moments it does become a chronicle of the city during this shocking and disturbing time, when going underground with the rats seems like a reasonable idea.


Bad News

By Edward St Aubyn,

Book cover of Bad News

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.


Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City

By Nicholas Dagen Bloom (editor), Matthew Gordon Lasner (editor),

Book cover of Affordable Housing in New York: The People, Places, and Policies That Transformed a City

Why this book?

For my money, affordable housing is the biggest issue New York faces right now and this book was one of the happiest, most fascinating surprises in my research. No one should utter that phrase—“affordable housing”—until they read this book, a comprehensive, overview of all the different kinds of affordable housing created in and by New York over the last century. With fabulous imagery from photographer and sociologist David Schaillol, it ultimately becomes an alternative history of what the city has done, which made me hopeful about what it can do if we choose to.


Go Away, Big Green Monster!

By Ed Emberly,

Book cover of Go Away, Big Green Monster!

Why this book?

This brilliantly constructed book features cut-out pages that, when turned, gradually build the scary parts of a monster into its full glory. But then, at midway, the narration reads, “… YOU DON’T SCARE ME! So GO AWAY,” giving the child the agency to turn the pages to make the monster gradually do just that. In my experience, younger kids are delightfully a little terrified at first and then master that fear as they turn the pages to make the monster recede, using lines like “GO AWAY big red mouth!” When reading this one online, I find that it works best to read the words and then zoom each image up close to the camera. This one always gets a lot of squeals and laughs! 


Maria Malibran: Diva of the Romantic Age

By April Fitzlyon,

Book cover of Maria Malibran: Diva of the Romantic Age

Why this book?

Few nineteenth-century celebrities were as fascinating as Maria Malibran (1808-1836). She made her debut at London’s King’s Theatre at the ripe age of seventeen, and then blazed a trail across Europe and New York City, becoming one of the most in-demand and beloved prima donnas of her day. But, as April FitzLyon compellingly illustrates, Malibran’s life was anything but perfect. Her father, the famous tenor Manuel Garcia, may have abused her as a child, and her first husband, Eugene Malibran, went bankrupt shortly following their wedding. Most disturbing was her premature death at the age of 28, the result of overwork and a gory horse-riding accident. This biography presents a devastating account of the pressures, pains, and glories inherent in leading the life of a superstar during the first half of the nineteenth century.


How to Catch a Unicorn

By Adam Wallace,

Book cover of How to Catch a Unicorn

Why this book?

I love this book because it's about kids who want to try and catch a unicorn. They set up all kinds of traps to trap the magical creature. Of course, the unicorn is way too clever and is determined not to be caught. The kids use everything imaginable to lure the unicorn: ice cream, glitter, and lemonade. It’s also a very sweet rhyming book, which is hard to do. Better luck next time!


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

By Joe Bonomo,

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

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 Fleshtones,” as lead-signer Peter Zaremba put it, “have stared in the face of success and laughed.”


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

By Winsor McCay,

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

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.


Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems & Drawings

By Shel Silverstein,

Book cover of Where the Sidewalk Ends: Poems & Drawings

Why this book?

This is an absolute staple to this day! The pages are frayed because of my many rereads and trying to master Shel's whimsical and effortless drawings. Countless tales of silly adolescent nonsense but all with that hidden knowledge of greater wisdom. His words echo the innocence and rawness of childhood on an endless journey of ignorance and adventure.


City Lights: A Street Life

By Keith Waterhouse,

Book cover of City Lights: A Street Life

Why this book?

Waterhouse was famous as a journalist, dramatist, and novelist. But this memoir of growing up in Leeds from the 1930s-50s brings the place and time completely alive. He didn’t have a privileged upbringing, by any means, and Waterhouse captures the day-to-day of poor areas and estates, and well as the magic of the city centre. The novel Billy Liar brought him fame, and while the location was unnamed, it was the Leeds he’d known, right down to the funeral home where he worked after leaving school. Waterhouse innately understood Leeds and its people, and they jump off the page – even if he leaves at the end (something Billy Liar could never bring himself to do). Read this and you’ll carry a magnificent picture of the city in your head.


We the Animals

By Justin Torres,

Book cover of We the Animals

Why this book?

My favorite! Some people think it’s too flowery and abstract, but I think Torres’s ability to capture brutality and adolescence almost entirely through a sensual reckoning is incredible. I’d love to hear the entire book read aloud as a single monologue. No, I have not seen the movie because I don’t want to corrupt my experience. Keywords: sad, gay, hot.


The Basketball Diaries: The Classic about Growing Up Hip on New York's Mean Streets

By Jim Carroll,

Book cover of The Basketball Diaries: The Classic about Growing Up Hip on New York's Mean Streets

Why this book?

This is the New York City “classic” rock-n-roll, basketball-playing, bad behaving, love life chasing, down and dirty poetic feel-good like a young god book. You have to read this whip-smart, live life to the fullest, see-it-all book set in NYC. After you read this book you will move there because you’ll be addicted to the literary electricity in this book.


The Eye of Love

By Margery Sharp,

Book cover of The Eye of Love

Why this book?

Okay, this is really three novels, but they’re all linked, and all fascinating. Martha, the orphan, is offbeat, often unlikeable, and yet one of the most compelling characters you’re likely to find in fiction. Though Sharp is best known for The Rescuers and its sequels, this series is in a whole different universe, and definitely not for young readers. (By the way, they’re also very funny.)


Tap Into Improv: A Guide to Tap Dance Improvisation

By Barbara Duffy,

Book cover of Tap Into Improv: A Guide to Tap Dance Improvisation

Why this book?

As a professional tap dancer myself, this book is a great tool to utilize when exploring improvisational tap dance skills. It is insightful, tells a great story about a personal journey, and I recommend it to all of my students on their own personal tap dance journey. Barbara danced with world-renowned tap dancer Gregory Hines.


Emma's Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty

By Linda Glaser, Claire A. Nivola (illustrator),

Book cover of Emma's Poem: The Voice of the Statue of Liberty

Why this book?

Emma’s Poem is a lovely book about a girl who had plenty of everything and grew up to work for those who didn’t. The words are simple and well-chosen, the art is bright and vivid, and I was amazed to realize that one poem by one woman has had such a huge and lasting impact. Without Emma Lazarus, the Statue of Liberty would be just a giant metal sculpture, rather than a beacon welcoming the world’s “huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Emma taught generations of Americans who we are at our best. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!


The Library of Ever

By Zeno Alexander,

Book cover of The Library of Ever

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! And if you like the first book, there’s a second book too!


Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway

By Michael Riedel,

Book cover of Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway

Why this book?

The true-life story of the ’70s and ’80s in New York City and the world of theatre—when the Great White Way was basically slated to become a parking lot—as it is saved by a colorful host of characters (and a boardroom coup!) is just begging for a musical of its own. Until that happens, we will have to be content with this page-turning book from a saucy and witty theatre columnist, which chronicles the entire amazing ride of how Broadway was reborn. 

Along the way, we get a thorough probing of Broadway history and the highs, lows, and everything in between including some scandal, gossip, and shocking reveals. See? How is this not a musical already?! Riedel is a dramatic and verbose writer who holds back nothing, thankfully. Recommendation: Don’t expect to be using a bookmark too often. I couldn’t put this book down.


Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George

By James Lapine,

Book cover of Putting It Together: How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George

Why this book?

I don’t think I could put together a list of books for next-level Broadway lovers without a Sondheim entry. There are many books to choose from but this one sweeps you off your feet and into the world of creating a Broadway classic. “Behind the scenes” doesn’t even begin to cover this journey into not only the Pulitizer award-winning show but also the intergenerational friendship between Sondheim and Lapine. That relationship and their creative collaboration are curated through script notes, personal photos, and sketches, giving you a glimpse into genius Broadway minds. 

Sunday in the Park with George is such a layered work on its own but this book takes you another step into the mix, with a backstage view of how it came to be. My brain was firing in a million directions when I was finished with this one. This book, like the rest of this list, enhances the view of our favorite musicals and the genre we love. 


Old Age Comes at a Bad Time: Wit and Wisdom for the Young at Heart

By Eliakim Katz (editor),

Book cover of Old Age Comes at a Bad Time: Wit and Wisdom for the Young at Heart

Why this book?

It’s a little book of quotes, the sort of book you could keep in the guest loo (if you don’t mind losing your guests for half an hour), but it is stuffed full of oomph and I’ve carted it with me through three migrations because it has been giving me quotes, when I needed something pithy and to the point, for thirty years. I really hope it is still in print because nobody’s getting their hands on my copy. Relevance to my theme? Picked at random – “the first forty years of life gives us the text, the next thirty years supply the commentary” (Arthur Schopenhauer). “If I had my life to live again, I’d make the same mistakes – only sooner”. (Tallulah Bankhead)   


This Beautiful Life

By Helen Schulman,

Book cover of This Beautiful Life

Why this book?

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

A gripping early scene dramatizes the split second when fifteen-year-old Jake Bergamot makes the fateful choice to forward a video he’s received to a friend. The scandal that ensues threatens not only Jake, but his entire family’s “beautiful life.” Rather than a boarding school, this novel is set at an elite Manhattan private school where the social strata among parents are even more painfully felt. As the story unfolds, this book takes readers even deeper into the mom’s head—a delightful place where wit and satire know no bounds—and explores the maternal experience that what happens to our children, happens to us as well.


Neil Gaiman's Snow, Glass, Apples

By Neil Gaiman, Colleen Doran (illustrator),

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

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 Twisted Fairytale, because it flips the story of Snow White on its head. All of the elements of the traditional tale - the huntsman, the stepmother queen, the dwarves, the glass coffin - are there, but put together from the perspective of the queen, totally changing the story. I love to play with who is narrating a story, seeing how that changes the motivations, the moral theme, the feel of it, and the shape of it. Thanks to Gaiman I've written a great many new twists on old fairytales, but I've never done it so masterfully as this.


Real Happiness: A 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation

By Sharon Salzberg,

Book cover of Real Happiness: A 28-Day Program to Realize the Power of Meditation

Why this book?

The first book I ever read by Sharon Salzberg was her memoir, Faith. And then, I had the opportunity to study with her at Tibet House in New York City for several years. One of the things that I love so much about Sharon as a teacher is how simple, practical, and approachable she makes meditation. There’s nothing complicated or intimidating in her instruction—whether you’re a beginner or an advanced practitioner, you always feel like you’re practicing with a good friend who is super smart, exceptionally generous, and consistently humble. All of those qualities are immediately accessible and apparent in her book Real Happiness.

She has created a 28-day program that demystifies meditation so you can easily integrate it into your daily activities. And the book also includes guided meditations led by Sharon herself to eliminate any possible resistance to sitting still and breathing. You literally just have to push play, and she will take you on a magical and completely safe exploration of your inner world.


A Fine & Private Place

By Peter S. Beagle,

Book cover of A Fine & Private Place

Why this book?

Yes, this novel is about life, death, and love, but if you’re envisioning a Bergman film full of angst, think again. For nineteen years, Jonathan Rebeck has been living in an abandoned mausoleum at Bronx’s Yorkchester Cemetery. Finding a way home has been as challenging for Rebeck as it was for Odysseus.  Rebeck has spent his time at the cemetery talking to ghosts, and to a raven quite the opposite of Poe’s. Usually, the human sees to the needs of the animal. In this instance, it is the raven who brings Rebeck pilfered food, and his unique wisdom.

As a romance blossoms between two of the ghosts at the cemetery, Rebeck and a widow he has become friendly with, try to help the spirits belatedly find love, and give Rebeck his own way back to life. 


Chronic City

By Jonathan Lethem,

Book cover of Chronic City

Why this book?

Jonathan Lethem’s language and story structure are wonderful just as their own experience. What I enjoy even more is that, while dystopian fiction almost inevitably leads to a parable, this book manages to lean into that while still insisting the characters live life as fully existing people. I felt welcomed to spend time with Chase Insteadman and his small circle of friends as they meandered through a harsh urban winter, confronting mortality in a world that doesn’t quite fit any of them. They were good company during a pandemic when actual friends couldn’t be while I was confronting mortality in a world that doesn’t quite fit me.


Orphan Train

By Christina Baker Kline,

Book cover of Orphan Train

Why this book?

I love reading historical fiction to learn about nuanced aspects of society that we didn’t learn in history books, and Orphan Train is a novel that delivers along these lines. I had no idea that orphans or otherwise abandoned children were shipped west on trains during the latter part of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century, sometimes to be adopted by loving families but other times to be forced into what was essentially indentured servitude. I’d like to think that my novel also enlightens the reader about lesser-known events, such as the flight of the Nez Perce, who were chased through Yellowstone by the U.S. military in an attempt to round them up and relocate them to a reservation.


The Cloister: A Novel

By James Carroll,

Book cover of The Cloister: A Novel

Why this book?

The Cloister: A Novel by James Carroll (Anchor, 2019) is a gripping, magical novel that dramatizes the connections between the medieval and modern worlds. Father James Kavanaugh meets Rachel Vedette at the Cloisters, the famous museum and gallery in upper Manhattan dedicated to the art of the Middle Ages. He is a parish priest with doubts and worries; she is a Holocaust survivor; and their relationship brilliantly conjures up the forbidden love affair between the medieval philosopher and “rock star,” Peter Abelard, and Heloise, an immensely talented nun. James Carroll, a former priest, is also the author of Constantine’s Sword, a memorable non-fiction book about the history of the Church and the Jews. The Cloister paints convincing pictures of Abelard and Heloise and creatively blurs the line between modernity and religious tradition.    


The Stray Dog

By Marc Simont,

Book cover of The Stray Dog

Why this book?

I absolutely love this story and the painterly illustrations in this book. It’s about a family that befriends a stray dog in the park and names him Willy. After thinking about Willy all week, they decide to go back to find him. It’s a heartwarming story with little moments of humor and joy, one that I come back to again and again.


Excellent Ed

By Stacy McAnulty, Julia Sarcone-Roach (illustrator),

Book cover of Excellent Ed

Why this book?

Ed lives with the Ellis family. Ed is a good dog – a very good dog. But in Ed’s family, everyone is excellent. Could that be why he is not allowed to eat at the table? Or use the indoor bathroom? Maybe Ed needs to be excellent too. He will try to be excellent, but what will happen if he cannot do it? There’s so much to love about this earnest and sweet dog and his adoring family. 


A Ball for Daisy

By Chris Raschka,

Book cover of A Ball for Daisy

Why this book?

Meet Daisy, a bouncy puppy with a favorite red ball. One day, while playing in the park, a bigger dog bites on it and –puff! Her ball completely deflates. Daisy is crushed!  She returns home and buries herself on the sofa, totally downcast. Told in wordless panels, Daisy’s feelings are deeply felt and understood. The illustrations are amazingly expressive and perfectly capture the character’s emotional journey from playfulness to sadness. On a return visit to the park, can Daisy find a way to joy again?


The Lost Apothecary

By Sarah Penner,

Book cover of The Lost Apothecary

Why this book?

As a historical fiction author, I am a picky historical fiction reader, which made Sarah Penner’s, The Lost Apothecary, an exciting find. Who doesn’t love a good murder mystery? Set in the back alley of London in 1791, in an apothecary shop, we meet Nella, a woman selling poisonous potions to other women who are looking to kill off the men in their lives. Weaving in a modern-day component, Penner takes us into the life of Caroline Parcewell, a historian on a trip to London who accidentally discovers this series of unsolved murders from centuries earlier. A fantastic story of revenge, and the strength of women who band together.   


Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family

By Patricia Volk,

Book cover of Stuffed: Adventures of a Restaurant Family

Why this book?

“My family struck me as larger than life, bigger than news,” Volk once said. This memoir imbues her relatives’ stories with all the wonder and glamour children confer on the mere mortals who raise us. In the waiting room, you may still feel that way about the person inside. Volk’s family ran restaurants in New York City – her grandfather owned 14 – and four generations lived within five blocks of each other. The details of their clothes, their couches, and their craziness (Uncle Al had an affair with Aunt Lil for 11 years then refused to marry her because she wasn’t a virgin), hark back to those Sundays forever ago when families chose to visit each other on their only day off. Reading this feels like home. 


Gizelle's Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog

By Lauren Fern Watt,

Book cover of Gizelle's Bucket List: My Life with a Very Large Dog

Why this book?

This is a book about finding unconditional love with a dog when you never got it at home. Lauren and I both had aloof mothers. Mine was lost in post-divorce depression and hers to alcohol and pills. For daughters like us, the unconditional love of dog isn’t just nice, it’s vital. Lauren takes her 160-lb English Mastiff to college, and afterward to a micro-apartment in New York, making every ridiculous accommodation she can for her giant dog. But when Gizelle gets sick, Lauren creates a bucket list full of steak dinners and winter beach visits to make sure her most loyal friend has the best life possible of what remains. This book reminded me that dogs have such a grace about how they love us, and wouldn’t it be wonderful if more of us humans could love that bravely? 


Harriet the Spy

By Louise Fitzhugh,

Book cover of Harriet the Spy

Why this book?

Louise Fitzhugh’s book Harriet the Spy was published in 1964, a little later than the others on my list. It has a younger protagonist but she is a model of proto-feminist girlhood for me. Harriet is an urban kid from an upper-class milieu with sophisticated taste. She has an imperious nanny who takes her on the subway to an art museum. Her parents are checked-out intellectuals so that Harriet is neglected in the best way, free to roam city streets. She is a tomboy and would-be writer who observes city life and people’s habits, not only in public spaces but by peeping into windows and even sneaking into homes. The narrative punishes her by having her friends discover all the terrible things she writes about them and shaming her.  But she remains a likely writer. 


Stitches

By David Small,

Book cover of Stitches

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.


The Hunter

By Richard Stark,

Book cover of The Hunter

Why this book?

Professional thief Parker claws his way back from vagrancy and single-handedly takes on "The Outfit," a sub-syndicate of the national Mafia, in order to get revenge on the man who shot and robbed him – and used his own wife to help him do it.

This wasn't the first Parker novel I read, but it was one of the books that made me truly love the character. Parker is an outsider, but he has ties to the mob, and they first close ranks when he threatens one of their own. But when Parker's target is shown to be weaker than he's presented himself, the sharks smell the blood in the water and begin circling, seeing opportunities to rid themselves of dead weight and maybe promote themselves within the organization, until it's a matter of letting Parker have his way or his destroying them all.

"Family" and "honor" and so forth are common subjects in mob fiction, but it can be truly cut-throat, as well, something I think we sometimes forget. It's something that really resonated with me as I read it and something I try to keep in mind when writing.


The Works: Anatomy of a City

By Kate Ascher,

Book cover of The Works: Anatomy of a City

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.


The Fourteenth Goldfish

By Jennifer L. Holm,

Book cover of The Fourteenth Goldfish

Why this book?

Books that use humor to explore serious issues are delightful, and this one tops my list. Eleven-year-old Ellie isn’t the biggest fan of change. Then one day her mom is called to pick up Ellie’s grandfather from the police station and comes home with...a thirteen-year-old boy?! Ellie’s grandfather has managed to reverse the aging process, and now he’s enrolled in her middle school. Ellie and her grandfather form a strong bond over their shared interest in science. She even helps him break into his old lab so he can retrieve the specimen he needs to publish his findings. But Ellie becomes uneasy with the possible applications of her grandfather’s discovery. Maybe change isn’t always the worst thing after all? This light-hearted book will make you laugh—and think. 


Takedown

By Brad Thor,

Book cover of Takedown

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.


All the Greys on Greene Street

By Laura Tucker,

Book cover of All the Greys on Greene Street

Why this book?

This novel captures SoHo in 1981 so vividly. Ollie is twelve years old and dealing with overwhelming turmoil at home: her father disappears in the middle of the night, and her mother is bedridden, struggling with depression.

Ollie is an easy protagonist to root for. Her struggle to navigate the complexities of the adults around her is something many children will relate to, and the mystery and importance of her quest to find her father provides a captivating, page-turning plot for readers. Add in some authentic, vintage SoHo grit and a cast of multi-dimensional, well-developed characters, and readers will easily identify with Ollie’s confusion, curiosity, and grit in the face of adversity.


The Personal Librarian

By Marie Benedict, Victoria Christopher Murray,

Book cover of The Personal Librarian

Why this book?

A fascinating story about Belle da Costa Greene who, as J.P. Morgan’s personal librarian in the early 1900s, finds herself a part of New York society and the rarefied art and book worlds. But all is not as it seems for Belle who was born Belle Marion Greener, and is hiding her true identity as a Black woman to protect herself from a world that won’t accept her for who she truly is. Historical but topical in so many ways.


The Address

By Fiona Davis,

Book cover of The Address

Why this book?

Davis is well-known for basing her meticulously researched stories in famous NYC buildings and The Address, set at The Dakota, the famed apartment building on the Upper West Side, is no exception. It’s the story of Sara Smythe who comes from London to work for the Camden family upon the opening of The Dakota in the late 1800s. Her station rises along with opportunities, and her relationship with her employer becomes more complicated. Davis alternates this story with one set in the 1980s and masterfully connects the two in a way the reader will not have seen coming.


The Two-Family House

By Lynda Cohen Loigman,

Book cover of The Two-Family House

Why this book?

This book has everything a book club could ask for. Characters that you love, even when maybe you shouldn’t. Relationships that seem both familiar and endlessly fascinating. An epic dilemma that resonates and flourishes until the very end. It’ll definitely have you wondering, what would I do? At the end of the day, that question is all you really need for a lively book club discussion. 


Sweet Thing

By Renée Carlino,

Book cover of Sweet Thing

Why this book?

Renee Carlino’s book about being in love—and loving music—when you’re in your early 20s is the kind of story that feels like time travel. She captures life and love and grief and confusion so perfectly. And for anyone who has ever found guitar players sexy, well, I bet Will will win your heart.


Act Cool

By Tobly McSmith,

Book cover of Act Cool

Why this book?

Another YA book set in New York, but this time in the world of a performing arts school. August Greene, a trans boy from a conservative Pennsylvania community, not only gets accepted into a prestigious performing arts academy in the big city but gets to live his authentic life while doing so. Trouble is, his parents don’t know he’s trans. McSmith is heavily involved in the NY theatre scene, and he writes with insight and accuracy about both trans issues and trans representation in the performing arts. 


True Love Story

By Willow Aster,

Book cover of True Love Story

Why this book?

Willow Aster’s debut novel is one of my all-time favorite second chance romances. The story of Sparrow and Ian is one of deep love and unbelievably bad timing. Life seems to constantly put them together only to rip them apart but somehow they keep finding each other. True Love Story made me believe in soulmates and the power of letting go of the past to create a beautiful future. It will break your heart and mend it back together in the most beautiful way!


Skyward

By Brandon Sanderson,

Book cover of Skyward

Why this book?

Brandon Sanderson is one of the most prolific writers working today. He’s also my single biggest source of inspiration as an author. He’s written everything from massive, tome-sized fantasy epics for adults to middle grade action-adventure.

With Skyward, a YA space opera set in the far future on an alien planet, Sanderson is having a total blast. You truly cannot turn the pages fast enough. Our heroine, Spensa, wants nothing more than to be a pilot, like her disgraced father (who was branded a coward after inexplicably turning on his flight mates). You see, for Spensa, getting enrolled into flight school and becoming a pilot isn’t just about joining the war against the Krell—it’s about clearing her father’s name and fighting for her family’s legacy.

The book tackles many themes that young readers will resonate with. But, more importantly, the action’s relentless and it’s a quick, satisfying series opener.


Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

By David Sedaris,

Book cover of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim

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.


Prep For Doom

By ER Arroyo, Laura Albins, Amy Bartelloni, Brea Behn, Casey L. Bond, TK Carter, Kate Corcino, Harlow C. Fallon, Kelsey D. Garmendia, Caroline A. Gill, DelSheree Gladden, John Gregory Hancock, Casey Hays, Kate L. Mary, Jon Messenger, Monica Enderle Pierce, Cameo Renae, Hilary Thompson, Yvonne Ventresca, Megan White

Book cover of Prep For Doom

Why this book?

This collection of short stories by twenty different authors explores how a fictional deadly disease affects a range of people, from scientists to government officials to everyday teens. (My contribution is chapter 13, “Escape to Orange Blossom.”) What I especially enjoyed about this anthology is the way that the characters from one story might appear in another. Using a single incident to drive the plot, the collaborative nature sets this collection apart.


Sophie's Squash

By Pat Zietlow Miller, Anne Wilsdorf (illustrator),

Book cover of Sophie's Squash

Why this book?

Sophie befriends a squash meant for dinner, and her parents respect this relationship, her emotions, and her decision-making. Even after the squash begins to rot. There’s gentle humor here, but it’s not a laugh-out-loud book, or an overtly interactive book. So why list it here? Because it’s just fantastic storytelling that never fails to completely capture the online attention of classrooms of kids I’ve read it to (and a niece more times than I can count). A perfect story can do that. And it has a scientific solution to the dilemma! I adore and recommend it for that reason as well.


Fireborne

By Rosaria Munda,

Book cover of Fireborne

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.


Time Out

By J. Cassidy,

Book cover of Time Out

Why this book?

Although this book is only 16 pages long, it tells a story that could easily have been a novel, which is that she is capable of condensing something so dense down to so few words without making it feel like anything was left out. Here we see a rather fantastical time travel tale, but one that, although at first seems quite light-hearted, ends up being one of the darkest of such tales I've ever read...and the most thought-inducing.

I loved this book and have a very difficult time reviewing it without giving too much away, but if you've got a spare thirty minutes (you know, for you slow readers), I'd highly suggest you pick this one up immediately.


What Alice Forgot

By Liane Moriarty,

Book cover of What Alice Forgot

Why this book?

I love an unreliable narrator, and what’s more unreliable than a woman who has lost her memory? Liane Moriarty is masterful in giving the reader just enough information to follow along in the mystery with Alice as she tries to puzzle together what’s happened to her life in the ten years she’s “lost.” The story is thought-provoking in the best way, forcing the reader to think about how we all sometimes get stuck in a rut that might lead to a place we never really felt we chose. It made me wonder what me ten years ago would think if she suddenly woke up in my life today.


Bad Behavior: Stories

By Mary Gaitskill,

Book cover of Bad Behavior: Stories

Why this book?

This collection of short stories is really about how sexual desire and social ambition can lead to all sorts of compromising and bizarre situations. I originally was drawn to it because I’d loved the film Secretary based on one of the short stories in the collection. I related to it because it is nearly all from a young female P.O.V – a kind of potpourri of trying to make it in NY in the 1980s. It's the perfect illustration of how powerful short story as a form can be in terms encapsulate an event, mood, and era – It also showed me how fictionalized memoir can be a good source of material and that if the book is really well-observed it never dates. 


Masterpiece

By Elise Broach, Kelly Murphy (illustrator),

Book cover of Masterpiece

Why this book?

A middle-grade novel about an artistic beetle? Sign me up. This delightful story of a talented beetle named Marvin, his human friend James, who work together to help the Metropolitan Museum of Art recover a stolen artwork is delightful, thrilling, and heartwarming. It’s not always easy to have (or not have) artistic talent!


Wolverton Station

By Joe Hill,

Book cover of Wolverton Station

Why this book?

Many of the stories contained within Joe Hill’s collection Full Throttle are superb, however, there’s one in particular that stands above the rest, and that’s Wolverton Station. Wolverton Station is an anomaly, in that most of it is dedicated to fleshing out the main character, a cynical, middle-aged man who works for a large corporation. The story takes a hard turn into the surreal in its second half, but in doing so, it highlights how our protagonist sees the world, and how that world might see him. Wolverton Station is one of those stories that showed me that when it comes to a straightforward short story, the devil is in the details.


Mrs. Poe

By Lynn Cullen,

Book cover of Mrs. Poe

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.


Rising Strong: The Reckoning. the Rumble. the Revolution.

By Brené Brown,

Book cover of Rising Strong: The Reckoning. the Rumble. the Revolution.

Why this book?

This book was life-changing for me. It is all about falling down (The Reckoning), staying face down long enough to wrestle with how you got there (The Rumble), and then getting back up and moving on with renewed wisdom and strength (The Revolution). “If we are brave enough often enough, we will fall.” Brené gives readers practical tools for overcoming the setbacks we all face in life. An invaluable guide for every human who longs to live more wholeheartedly.


Scoundrels in Law: The Trials of Howe and Hummel, Lawyers to the Gangsters, Cops, Starlets, and Rakes Who Made the Gilded Age

By Cait N. Murphy,

Book cover of Scoundrels in Law: The Trials of Howe and Hummel, Lawyers to the Gangsters, Cops, Starlets, and Rakes Who Made the Gilded Age

Why this book?

Shakespeare wanted to kill all the lawyers, and this book will give you a reason to. On second thought, be glad that these two roguish lawyers, William Howe and Abe Hummel, lived to fill this book with colorful stories of the criminal underworld in late nineteenth-century New York and how the crooks got away with it. Howe, a flamboyant, heavily bejeweled (and heavy) trial lawyer, could reduce juries to tears, while his gnomish partner, Abe Hummel, counted P. T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill Cody, and other celebrity hucksters among his clients. Between them, Howe and Hummel were in on almost every major criminal trial of their era, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, but always leaving behind a trail of crookedness that would make even the shadiest of today’s lawyers blush.


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

By Rowland Bowen,

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

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 baiting the establishment and those who thought they were part of it. As such, it is upon his shoulders, rather than James perhaps, that fellow ‘revisionists’ Birley, Marqusee, and myself stand upon.