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Must-Read Novels Set in New York

April 21, 2021
To say that New York is a diverse city is the understatement of the century. This East Coast destination is practically the most diverse city on Earth. No matter how international other major cities are becoming, New York is simply in a league of its own. Different races, cultures, classes, and even sexual orientation and gender identity live here, mostly harmonious too. However, beyond these, New York has also given the world some very diverse stories. Somehow, it always inspires novelists to come up with some of the most riveting literary works. Here are some you should read if you love New York or planning to go here!

Must-Read Novels Set in New York


“The Great Gatsby” by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Let's start with the classics. "The Great Gatsby" by F. Scott Fitzgerald is the quintessential New York story about the wealth and extravagance that has defined a major part of the city and its history. Although the original story was written decades ago, it remains relevant to this day. And that's not just because students are required to read it in high school. The story of the mysterious Jay, who amassed a huge fortune and uses it to throw lavish parties in the hopes of finding his true love resonates with a lot of people, whether they're from New York or not! 


“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” by Truman Capote

Just about everyone in the entire world has seen or has heard of the movie adaptation starring Audrey Hepburn. It's as iconic as far as iconic movies go! However, due to the film's massive popularity, the fact that "Breakfast at Tiffany's" was originally a novel is often overlooked. And in fact, there are even countless differences and changes in the film as compared to Truman Capote's original text. In essence, the story of this wild glamour girl who seems to "sell her company" but doing so in a more fashionable and seemingly acceptable way speaks to New York's duality. Both as a city of opportunity and one that has often abused its dreamer residents. 


Must-Read Novels Set in New York


“Up in the Old Hotel” by Joseph Mitchell

From the late 1930s up until the 90s, Joseph Mitchell has written countless stories of many of New York's unique and extraordinary residents. Oftentimes, he published his work in "The New Yorker," where he worked as a staff writer practically most of his life. Eventually, he collated all of his special tales and encounters with unorthodox New Yorkers in his book, "Up in the Old Hotel." His literary masterpiece is an intimate and unorthodox look into the famous city through its most fascinating residents. It just goes to show that the greatness of New York come from it people! 



“Chelsea Girls: A Novel” by Eileen Myles

It takes guts to turn your life into a novel. but in the 1990s, Eileen Myles had it in her to do just that. As a result, her book, "Chelsea Girls A Novel" became a literary hit. Her story is one that many people share: moving to New York from fairly conservative suburban upbringing and getting swallowed by the pleasures and the systems of the city. It's not a fairly romantic story in that she finds the love of her life, but rather, it's a realistic take on what it's like to live and work in New York City. But of course, it's realistic, it's her life! 


Must-Read Novels Set in New York


“Last Exit to Brooklyn” by Hubert Selby Jr.

Imagine you're in a rather sketchy bar in Brooklyn and an old man comes up to you while you're enjoying your drink. He then proceeds to tell you the story of his life. Of how he immigrated to the United States back in the 1950s. On how he started out dirt poor while living in one of the biggest cities in the world. And on how he survived all the challenges life threw at him that he's able to sit beside you at that bar and tell you his story. This is the kind of personal yet riveting experience Hubert Selby Jr.'s "Last Exit To Brooklyn" gives you. 


“The Flamethrowers” by Rachel Kushner

New York is a left-wing liberal city through and through. And it's not just now with the people's strong stances within today's hot political climate. Even back in the day, New York was already a major city that championed progressive left-wing values. Such is the angle of Rachel Kushner's "The Flamethrower." Set in the 1970s, the protagonist, Reno, is a quintessential New York bohemian, Getting into affairs with various types of people—namely artists, rockstars, fellow activists, and the like—whilst fighting for her progressive beliefs. Eventually, she takes her fight to the rest of the country too. 


Must-Read Novels Set in New York


“Enemies, A Love Story” by Isaac Bashevis Singer

"The Big Apple" houses one of the biggest communities of Yiddish Jews in the country. And this is the starting point for Isaac Bashevis Singer's "Enemies, A Love Story." The story focuses on a love triangle between Holocaust survivors as they take on their new lives in Manhattan. In many ways, they have to deal with their issues as they settle into their new lifestyles in the bustling metropolis. It also questions whether love is strong enough to endure even the worst of human tragedies, particularly a World War. Against the backdrop of post-war New York, this is an exciting love story worth checking out. 


“The Devil Wears Prada” by Lauren Weisberger

Here's another New York-set novel in which the film adaptation has become quite the cinematic classic among moviegoers. "The Devil Wears Prada" sheds on the more stressful and less glamorous side of the fashion industry, which is undoubtedly a huge part of New York culture. Andra Saks is an aspiring journalist who gets the unbelievable opportunity of working under Miranda Priestly, editor-in-chief of Runway magazine and the most influential woman in fashion. Little did she know, however, that working under Miranda Priestly was way more than what she bargained for. 


Must-Read Novels Set in New York


New York isn't just made up of a diverse set of people, cultures, and walks of life. It has also been the foundation of a diverse set of stories too, each more riveting than the next, ranging from new-age love stories to horrific tales of working in the "Big Apple!"



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