The best books on urban culture

6 authors have picked their favorite books about urban culture and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of Good Morning, Midnight

“I want a long, calm book about people with large incomes – a book like a flat green meadow and the sheep feeding in it… I read most of the time and I am happy.” First published in1939, this novel is a portrait of a woman who struggles in Paris. She is on her own and has no job or money.

Good Morning, Midnight

By Jean Rhys,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Good Morning, Midnight as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The last of the four novels Jean Rhys wrote in interwar Paris, Good Morning, Midnight is the culmination of a searing literary arc, which established Rhys as an astute observer of human tragedy. Her everywoman heroine, Sasha, must confront the loves- and losses- of her past in this mesmerizing and formally daring psychological portrait.


Who am I?

I am the New York Times bestselling author of The Paris Library and Moonlight in Odessa. Like the authors on the list I selected for Shepherd, I'm skilled at turning experiences at minimum-wage jobs into novels. I earned $25 a month teaching full-time at a high school in Odessa, which is the setting for my first novel. My second book takes place at the American Library in Paris, where I was the programs manager. Setting is the start of my fiction, because I believe that where we are from has a lot to do with who we are. I hope that you’ll enjoy these selections.


I wrote...

The Paris Library

By Janet Skeslien Charles,

Book cover of The Paris Library

What is my book about?

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet seems to have the perfect life with her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into the city, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor's mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

York

By Sarah Rees Jones,

Book cover of York: The Making of a City 1068-1350

This is a masterful work covering the period from the Norman conquest to the Black Death. Sarah Rees Jones is one of my go-to scholars for medieval York, as well as an engaging writer. I particularly appreciate her looking beyond the importance of the royal government in the city’s development to include the strong influence of the Minster and other ecclesiastical institutions in the city as well as the significance of the people of York—merchants and craftspeople.

Check here first if you want a feel for how the city grew, who were the makers and shakers, how the neighborhoods developed, where the influential people lived. Every time I dip into this book I learn something new. With 18 useful maps and an extensive bibliography.

York

By Sarah Rees Jones,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked York as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

York was one of the most important cities in medieval England. This original study traces the development of the city from the Norman Conquest to the Black Death. The twelfth and thirteenth centuries are a neglected period in the history of English towns, and this study argues that the period was absolutely fundamental to the development of urban society and that up to now we have misunderstood the reasons for the development of York and its significance within our
history because of that neglect.

Medieval York argues that the first Norman kings attempted to turn the city into a true…

Who am I?

I have been writing the Owen Archer mysteries, set in and around the city of York in the late 14th century, for 30 years, ever since falling in love with the city of York on a visit. As I studied medieval literature and culture in graduate school, with a special interest in Chaucer, I’ve focused my research on the period in which he lived. I’ve spent months walking the streets of the city, hiking through the countryside, and meeting with local historians. Besides the 13 Owen Archer mysteries I’ve also published 3 Kate Clifford mysteries covering Richard II’s downfall, both series grounded in the politics and culture of medieval York and Yorkshire. 


I wrote...

The Riverwoman's Dragon

By Candace Robb,

Book cover of The Riverwoman's Dragon

What is my book about?

May, 1375. Owen Archer returns from London to find York in chaos. While the citizens are living in terror of the pestilence, a newly arrived physician is whipping up fear and suspicion against traditional healers and midwives. Aided by parish priests, he is especially hostile towards Magda Digby, who has helped and healed the people of York for many years. For her part, Magda is uneasy about the arrival of two long-lost kinsfolk, between whom she senses a hidden agenda. Her troubles multiply when she discovers a body in the river near her home and falls under suspicion of murder.

Days later, fire rips through a warehouse in the city. Amongst the charred debris lies the body of a man – not burned, but stabbed in the back. Is there a connection to the corpse in the river? Determined to prove Magda’s innocence, Owen investigates amidst violent outbursts within and without the city walls– but the more he uncovers, the deeper the mystery becomes… 

Tapping the Dream Tree

By Charles de Lint,

Book cover of Tapping the Dream Tree

Charles de Lint is one of my favorite authors, and this book of short stories is set in Newford, his fictional city. It’s a fully-formed universe where there's always more to discover. You can read any of his books at any time; there’s no order they must be read in. I guarantee that the more you learn of his worlds—and especially Newford—the more you’ll want. I read Pixel Pixies (my favorite short story of all time) to my mom and dad when my mom was dying of cancer. I could barely read the last paragraph for wanting to cry; not because the story is sad, but because it's so beautiful, so hopeful, so abso-freaking-lutely wonderful. I still get teary-eyed thinking about that evening of reading that story to my mom and dad.

That’s what de Lint does. He transports you not only to a world, but indelibly marks the feelings…

Tapping the Dream Tree

By Charles de Lint,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Tapping the Dream Tree as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I write action-packed post-apocalyptic and dystopian adventures—with a dash of romance. An avid reader of science fiction and fantasy from an early age, the only job I ever wanted—besides being a writer—was to be a Star Fleet Officer. I owe my love of all things zombie to my older brothers, whose influence in books, music, and film continues to this day, although my tolerance for puns and movies that are "so bad they're good" is a whole lot lower than theirs. The idea of becoming a zombie because my car runs out of gas gets me to the gas station when I'd rather not bother.


I wrote...

Love in an Undead Age: A Zombie Apocalypse Survival Adventure

By A.M. Geever,

Book cover of Love in an Undead Age: A Zombie Apocalypse Survival Adventure

What is my book about?

Surviving the zombie apocalypse was hard, but finding true love might be fatal. Miranda Tucci is lucky to be alive, even though her love life is dead on arrival. When an old flame turns up, she wonders...does her DOA love life have a pulse? A ruthless governing council controls the cure for the zombie virus. Miranda joins a plot to steal it, putting her past on a collision course with the present. Will the powerful keep control of the vaccine, or can she survive long enough to usher in a new age of civilization? 

It's only the fate of humanity that's suddenly resting on her shoulders. If she can bring her love life back from the dead, how tough can saving the world be?

Secret Place

By Eve Bunting, Ted Rand (illustrator),

Book cover of Secret Place

This is based on the L.A. River (which is undergoing an exciting revitalization) but it could be any industrial downtown: freeways, warehouses, graffiti, smog. A boy discovers a secret place, where a river still runs through a concrete bed. In hushed tones, he tells us who else knows his secret - an egret, a green-winged teal, nesting mallards, coyotes, and possum. The vivid description makes me feel as if I am right there with him, sharing his sense of wonder. This deceptively simple book offers a powerful argument for restoring green space. 

Secret Place

By Eve Bunting, Ted Rand (illustrator),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Secret Place as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I am an award-winning author of picture books and early readers. I have set my stories in many kinds of locations, including a haunted house, an Eastern European shtetl, an English Renaissance village, and a working cattle ranch. For Wake Up, City, I turned to the setting I know best, the city. I drew on memories of walking to kindergarten in early morning Brooklyn. This book is my love song to cities everywhere. As a lifelong city dweller, I worry about the impact of urban spread on the planet, but I feel hopeful, too, because many cities are becoming more nature and wildlife-friendly. The books I'm excited to share celebrate city wildlife. 


I wrote...

Wake Up, City!

By Erica Silverman, Laure Fournier (illustrator),

Book cover of Wake Up, City!

What is my book about?

Then something changes, something shifts...Like a curtain rising, darkness lifts...Look around! It’s growing light. Wake up, City! Good-by night!

A young girl and her father leave the house in the quiet, pre-dawn darkness. They walk beneath the hazy glow of street lamps, observing rows of cars sleeping “tail to nose” and “sleeping pigeons with tucked in wings.” Slowly, darkness turns to light and the “gumdrop sun” rises, as the city comes magically to life. A woman begins her morning jog, street sweepers whoosh and swoosh down the road, store gates clatter open and trucks deliver crates of colorful produce. Her senses awakened by the sights and sounds of the city, the girl arrives at school, ready for the day. French artist Laure Fournier evokes the awakening city with a childlike sense of wonder, perfectly chosen details, a soft color palette, and a sensitive depiction of the girl and her father.

Dhalgren

By Samuel R. Delany,

Book cover of Dhalgren

I’ve always liked fat paperbacks, and this is maybe the best fat book ever. I picked up a copy randomly at a used bookstore, when I was a teenager, and Dhalgren ended up changing the direction of my life. Even then I had wanted to write a book but had no real idea what a novel could do, and how good they could be. Dhalgren changed that. It’s evocative and haunting, like a dream. The ultimate unreliable narrator enters and is lost in a shifting, urban setting. Familiar characters, dialogue that rings true, and an off-kilter, detailed, yet almost plotless story (like life!), all of it written in an exquisite style that only Delany could pull off. Poetry: a high point to set any writer’s bar.  

Dhalgren

By Samuel R. Delany,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Dhalgren as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I’m a Canadian science fiction writer who writes very, very slowly. I’m interested in experimental fiction and books that are unique, both thematically and stylistically. I’d like to think my books fall into this category, or at least that’s what I aspire to. I used to read science fiction exclusively, and the five books I’ve listed here were all read during those formative years; they were fundamental stepping-stones for me, as a writer, and each of them left a profound mark on my idea of how good, or effective, novels can be.


I wrote...

Filaria

By Brent Hayward,

Book cover of Filaria

What is my book about?

I wanted to write a novel that took place in an odd, run-down setting, with relatable characters put into bizarre situations. A structure of rules, like those of the Oulipo books, was added as a challenge to me. I decided that four main characters would occupy separate chapters and never actually meet, yet each would have significant influence on the story of the others; each chapter would take place in a location that’s never repeated; each character would have a different spin on the setting, so that the reader, ultimately, when they get all the perspectives, could interpret it for themselves. To me, there was something about real life in this process, collecting and processing parts with our subjective take on the world to try to form a coherent whole.

London Fields

By Martin Amis,

Book cover of London Fields

I was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar, wait a minute, no, I was working as a copywriter in a Queensway ad agency when I read London Fields on the recommendation of a friend (thanks, Rob!) The book was set in the same area of west London as the agency office (Bayswater, Westbourne Grove), a really lively area with boutique shops that seldom had more than one item in the window and eateries with super-stylish but ultimately uncomfortable stools. I love that Amis is never afraid to show the world his plentiful writing skills, and Keith Talent is an epic name for a wide-boy lead character who’s handy around an oche. There’s no obvious formula at work here and that gets a big tick from me, and the brilliance of this led me to read more of Amis’ work and indeed some of his father’s.

London Fields

By Martin Amis,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked London Fields as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


Who am I?

I’ll let you into a secret. I don’t like reading most novels. Especially formulaic ones like Police Procedurals or Romance. Ugh. Why start a book if you know what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen? I need something that’s going to challenge me, give me a twist on an established genre, or mash a few genres together and see what happens. It might not work, but I’ll appreciate an author who tries rather than one who methodically follows an established formula. I like writers who show off their skills with witty oneliners. They are the things I remember from books, not a writer obsessed with hitting their plot points! 


I wrote...

The Zombie Cop

By Jon Lymon,

Book cover of The Zombie Cop

What is my book about?

This is no ordinary tale of a zombie apocalypse. For starters, it erupts on the Wednesday before Christmas (inconvenient). And it seems not all those who turn zombies can be bothered to do their job and create more zombies.

Typically, PC Jake Rodwell encounters an aggressive type, and one bite leads to another. Only the intravenous intervention of a serum stops him from turning zombie, leaving him trapped in a halfway house between the living and undead. In this state, Rodwell takes to the streets, becoming the lone upholder of the law, his daughter alongside him. It’s a story that, yes, has its fair share of blood and guts, but also traces a rapidly ageing father’s challenges with single parenthood, work, and health.

Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout,

Book cover of Olive Kitteridge

Written as a collection of short stories, each depicting crusty Olive Kitteridge in a different scenario, this novel brilliantly portrays a harsh woman who causes me to question why I love her so much. We see Olive’s self-awareness and sometimes tender side as she moves through her life. We see her in a relationship with her kind husband and with various townsfolks, always bringing her sardonic honesty. When I read Olive’s story for the first time, I surprised myself by falling l in love with her despite her startling relational gaffs. I believe we all have a little more of Olive than we care to admit—at least in our inner thoughts. 

Olive Kitteridge

By Elizabeth Strout,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Olive Kitteridge as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF THE PULITZER PRIZE • The beloved first novel featuring Olive Kitteridge, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Oprah’s Book Club pick Olive, Again
 
“Fiction lovers, remember this name: Olive Kitteridge. . . . You’ll never forget her.”—USA Today
 
NAMED ONE OF THE BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR BY The Washington Post Book World • USA Today • San Francisco Chronicle • Chicago Tribune • Seattle Post-Intelligencer • People • Entertainment Weekly • The Christian Science Monitor • The Plain Dealer • The Atlantic • Rocky Mountain News • Library Journal
 
At times stern, at…

Who am I?

Because of the presence of my four beloved grandparents throughout my growing up years, (all four of my grandparents even attended my wedding), I’ve always enjoyed relationships with older people. My comfort with older people translates into my friendships where many of the women in my life are quite a bit older than me. These intergenerational relationships offer wisdom and experience that informs my own life. I hold an M.F.A. in Creative Writing and have written one novel for adults and one for middle-grade readers. My past jobs include being a television engineer, an adjunct professor, and a publishing professional.


I wrote...

The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon

By Linda MacKillop,

Book cover of The Forgotten Life of Eva Gordon

What is my book about?

Eva wants to run away from her life—if only she could remember how. Failing memory has forced Eva Gordon to move in with her granddaughter, Breezy, but Eva hates the bustle of Boston. She just wants to move back to quiet Cape Cod and be left alone. Then Breezy announces she's getting married, and they'll be moving to her new husband's rundown family farm, where he lives with an elderly uncle. 

It's all too much for Eva, but as her desire for privacy collides with her worsening memory, Eva finds herself in a poignant, hilarious, and intergenerational rescue effort to save her from herself. Can an unlikely cast of misfit characters step in to woo Eva from self-imposed isolation?

Dubliners

By James Joyce,

Book cover of Dubliners

Engaging stories about James Joyce as a young man. This is a perfect read for young aspiring authors for reasons of content and style. It is a classic, and deservedly so, and was my inspiration for writing fiction. As a young man I bubbled over with enthusiasm to write and express my creativity but to do so well needed focus and discipline. So did Joyce and I learned vicariously from him.

Dubliners

By James Joyce,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Dubliners as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A definitive edition of perhaps the greatest short story collection in the English language

James Joyce's Dubliners is a vivid and unflinching portrait of "dear dirty Dublin" at the turn of the twentieth century. These fifteen stories, including such unforgettable ones as "Araby," "Grace," and "The Dead," delve into the heart of the city of Joyce's birth, capturing the cadences of Dubliners' speech and portraying with an almost brute realism their outer and inner lives. Dubliners is Joyce at his most accessible and most profound, and this edition is the definitive text, authorized by the Joyce estate and collated from…


Who am I?

My childhood, very much shaped by World War II, led me the study of international relations and political psychology. I have written numerous books on conflict management and prevention, and also on ancient Greek thinkers and writers, and the elusive nature of knowledge. In recent years I have begun to explore these themes in fiction. This shift has been exhilarating and liberating and provides me the opportunity to present the tragic understanding of life and politics to a larger audience.


I wrote...

Rough Waters and Other Stories: Facing Ethical Dilemmas

By Richard Ned Lebow,

Book cover of Rough Waters and Other Stories: Facing Ethical Dilemmas

What is my book about?

Rough Waters is a collection of short stories about people and political leaders facing ethical choices. These choices arise in extraordinary situations but also in everyday life. Collectively my stories make the case for a tragic approach to ethics. 

Because of Winn-Dixie

By Kate DiCamillo,

Book cover of Because of Winn-Dixie

Kate DiCamillo has an amazing way of creating characters that are easy to fall in love with, including a dog named after a grocery store. My daughters and I loved this book, which sits prominently on our shelf of favorite books. This story is especially beautiful because of the main characters, Opal and her father. Both are struggling with the abandonment of Opal’s mother. This book deals with important themes of grief, hope, acceptance, loss, friendship, and the healing power of animals.

Because of Winn-Dixie

By Kate DiCamillo,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Because of Winn-Dixie as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Funny and poignant, this 2001 Newbery Honor novel captures life in a quirky Southern town as Opal and her mangy dog, Winn-Dixie, strike up friendships among the locals.

One summer's day, ten-year-old India Opal Buloni goes down to the local supermarket for some groceries - and comes home with a dog. But Winn-Dixie is no ordinary dog. It's because of Winn-Dixie that Opal begins to make friends. And it's because of Winn-Dixie that she finally dares to ask her father about her mother, who left when Opal was three. In fact, as Opal admits, just about everything that happens that…


Who am I?

In my work and my writing, I love to explore what helps friendships thrive and what trips us up. My book BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends)? A Girls Guide to Happy Friendships grew out of a friendship program I ran for preteens. My second book, Middle School - Safety Goggles Advised grew out of the stories I heard after spending time in 7th-grade classrooms. As a child, I loved interactive books so I include activities like quizzes, choose-your-own-ending stories, and other ways to engage readers in my books. I have a master’s degree in social sciences and my latest books explore social-emotional topics in ways that connect with kids.


I wrote...

BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl's Guide to Happy Friendships

By Jessica Speer, Elowyn Dickerson (illustrator),

Book cover of BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends): A Girl's Guide to Happy Friendships

What is my book about?

Let’s face it, friendships can be challenging. BFF or NRF (Not Really Friends) tackles friendship struggles head-on, leaving readers informed and empowered as they navigate the tricky world of friendship.

Through fun activities, quizzes, and real stories, this book helps girls decipher healthy vs. unhealthy relationship skills and how to navigate struggles. But more importantly, this book gives girls a new perspective on friendship and the role they play in creating positive change.

The Little House

By Virginia Lee Burton,

Book cover of The Little House

I cannot stop loving this book, which graphically depicts a city growing up around a small farm country cottage. While the storyline concerns the fate of the tiny house, the thrill is watching the steady mushrooming growth of vehicles, electric lines, street cars, street lamps, apartment buildings, elevated and subway trains, and finally skyscrapers as they surround the home before it is able to make its satisfying escape back to the country. The art is warm and cozy, befitting a book that has a gutsy cottage as the main character.

The Little House

By Virginia Lee Burton,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Little House as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Seventy-five years ago, Virginia Lee Burton created the Little House, and since then generations of readers have been enchanted by the story of this happy home and her journey from the pleasures of nature to the bustling city, and back again. In celebration of this beloved classic's seventy-fifth anniversary, this special edition features a beautiful set of window cling stickers - perfect for decorating your own "Little House" - and free downloadable audio (access code printed inside the book). AGES: 4 to 7 AUTHOR: Virginia Lee Burton (1909-1968) was the talented author and illustrator of some of the most enduring…

Who am I?

I especially love books for children that capture city life in a way that feels both unique and child scaled. I have set most of my books in cities because I love the story possibilities that exist in what are almost entirely human-made environments. Paradoxically, city settings make any kind of connection to the natural world or animals even more important. On this list are all books I feel show a particularly special aspect of city life for children.


I wrote...

Red Again

By Barbara Lehman,

Book cover of Red Again

What is my book about?

When a young boy discovers a forgotten book on a city street, it opens a window to another world just as real as his own. But what happens when the two worlds collide? This imaginative companion to the Caldecott Honor-winning The Red Book works in a continuous loop, showing us that stories never really end.  And that just maybe someone is waiting for a chance to visit us, through the magic of a book.

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