Only 3 days and counting until I visit the Big Apple! It’s been over 11 years since I last visited New York and I booked the plane tickets in September last year – to say I am excited to return is beyond an understatement! So to calm my mind, and get into New York spirit, I’ve compiled a list of some of my favourite New York reading.
Originally entitled The Price of Salt, and now famous as a film starring Cate Blanchett, Patricia Highsmith’s novel is fantastic. Published in 1952, the New York of the time is so vividly portrayed that you almost feel like you are there – this is a New York novel that will have you yearning to visit. The love affair between the young aspiring set designer, Therese, and the older, glamorous Carol is so passionate, so devastating and yet so understated, that I was left staring at the page long after I finished reading. Highsmith didn’t want to be labelled as a ‘lesbian writer’, so published the book under a pseudonym, but this would unfairly pigeon-hole for a book that goes beyond labels; it is simply a story about two people who fall in love.
This book made me cry. In a good way, of course, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it long after I had finished reading and I will be taking it with me to NY so that I can enjoy it again. I defy you to read Just Kids and not want to hop on a plane bound for New York City. The book is the first of two memoirs by Smith and centres on her life before she found fame and her friendship/love affair with Robert Mapplethorpe, an artist who she met when she first moved to the city in 1967. Smith’s New York is made up of the stuff of legend – living in the Chelsea Hotel, working in a dusty book store to make ends meet, while working on her art and poetry, alongside chance meetings with the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. And through it all is the relationship between Smith and Mapplethorpe – bound together by their fierce creativity and efforts to survive life in this city that never sleeps. Patti’s love for Robert is so simple and yet so complex and heartfelt that I found myself sobbing when it reached it’s conclusion. I am not a particularly emotional reader, but Smith’s writing spoke to me with a depth of feeling I haven’t found very often. When I was reading this book, a stranger stopped me to tell me how much they had loved it. If that isn’t recommendation enough, then I don’t know what is!
Motherless Brooklyn by Jonathan Lethem
This isn’t the only novel by Jonathan Lethem set in New York, but it is my favourite. His twist on detective fiction is funny, smart and engaging. Lionel Essrog, a self-styled detective who suffers from Tourette’s is on the hunt for his boss/father figure’s murderer, and the chase takes him all over Brooklyn, making it perfect reading if you are a fan of the area. By choosing to bestow Tourette’s on his protagonist, Lethem has the perfect excuse to play with language and the results are hilarious. In an article written a few years after Motherless Brooklyn’s publication, Lethem ponders how ‘these twenty-six letters we use so routinely were never going to sit still, not when they were loaded up with so much mythological garbage and magic’. In his eyes letters, the building blocks of language, possess a versatility and potential that enable their users to engage in linguistic alchemy, and his excitement at this prospect is clear in his writing. There are times when you will want to laugh out loud when reading this novel, but Lethem also gives us insight into the loneliness and difficulties that Lionel faces because of his condition. As Lionel says: ‘Follow that car! Hollywood star! When you wish upon a cigar! ‘ – read this book!
And because I love a list, here are a few other New York novels:
- The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
- American Psycho by Brett Easton Ellis.
- A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
I’d love to hear your New York recommendations if you have any!