Share 12 Novels that Take a Bite Out of the Big Apple

12 Novels that Take a Bite Out of the Big Apple

After several years in the Subsidiary Rights Department at Atria Books, Hilary Krutt now works as an editor at L&T, a brand publishing company. A former member of the Off the Shelf editorial board, Hilary continues to be an avid consumer (and sometimes reviewer) of contemporary fiction and memoir. She hails from Boston but currently calls Brooklyn home.

British novelist Angela Carter once declared, “Cities have sexes: London is a man, Paris a woman, and New York a well-adjusted transsexual.” This feeling of perpetual movement—that the city is continually revealing new aspects of itself—is perhaps what makes it so universally beloved by residents and tourists alike. These twelve books place New York center stage as a living, breathing character in its own right.


Let the Great World Spin
by Colum McCann
On a hot summer day in 1974, Philippe Petit walked across a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers. Colum McCann’s National Book Award–winning novel introduces a dynamic cast of characters connected to this moment in ways large and small, from a grieving Upper East Side housewife to a prostitute in the Bronx. McCann’s tender and impactful storytelling breathes life into the city that unites their stories.
Let the Great World Spin
Colum McCann

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A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan
Jennifer Egan’s bold, interlocking narratives circle the lives of a host of characters whose paths intersect over many years and locales, but who are all somehow connected to the New York music scene.
A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan

Jennifer Egan brilliantly reveals the pasts of two music industry veterans in this Pulitzer Prize–winning novel. With music pulsing on every page, this masterpiece is a startling, exhilarating novel of self-destruction and redemption.

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Manhattan Transfer
by John Dos Passos

This celebrated portrait of 1920s New York reveals the lives of wealthy power brokers and struggling immigrants alike. From Fourteenth Street to the Bowery, Delmonico’s to the underbelly of the city waterfront—Dos Passos chronicles the lives of characters struggling to become a part of modernity before they are destroyed by it.

Manhattan Transfer
John Dos Passos

This celebrated portrait of 1920s New York reveals the lives of wealthy power brokers and struggling immigrants alike. From Fourteenth Street to the Bowery, Delmonico’s to the underbelly of the city waterfront—Dos Passos chronicles the lives of characters struggling to become a part of modernity before they are destroyed by it.

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A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
by Betty Smith
This beloved classic tells the story of young, sensitive, and idealistic Francie Nolan and her bittersweet coming of age in the rundown neighborhood of Williamsburg. By turns sublime, heartbreaking, and uplifting, Betty Smith’s novel has enchanted readers since its publication in 1943.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith

This American classic coming-of-age tale centers around Francie Nolan, a young, sensitive reader living in the slums of Williamsburg, Brooklyn (oh, how times have changed). I read this book, I think, a bit too early to fully understand it, so when I encountered it again in high school, it was a much more pleasant and satisfying experience. As far as I’m concerned, it should be a staple.

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Underworld
by Don DeLillo
This National Book Award finalist is about an artist and an executive whose lives intertwine in New York throughout the overarching conflict of the Cold War. A novel that confronts every challenge of this extraordinary time—it is Don DeLillo’s greatest and most powerful work of fiction.
Underworld
Don DeLillo

One of DeLillo’s best, Underworld has many storylines, but it starts on a baseball diamond. The book only spends a short time focusing on baseball, but one ball in particular factors into all of the action that follows.

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The Bonfire of the Vanities
by Tom Wolfe

This quintessential story of 1980s New York centers on three characters—a WASP bond trader, a Jewish assistant district attorney, and a British expatriate journalist—as they navigate a cutthroat world of ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed.

The Bonfire of the Vanities
Tom Wolfe

This quintessential story of 1980s New York centers on three characters—a WASP bond trader, a Jewish assistant district attorney, and a British expatriate journalist—as they navigate a cutthroat world of ambition, racism, social class, politics, and greed.

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We Are Not Ourselves
by Matthew Thomas
The promise and tragedy of postwar America is charted in this riveting portrait of an Irish-American family as they chase the American Dream from their home in Woodside, Queens. As they build the life they have always imagined, an inescapable darkness enters their lives. At once expansive and exquisitely detailed, what readers will remember most is the huge heart at its core.
We Are Not Ourselves
Matthew Thomas

The promise and tragedy of post-war America is charted in this riveting portrait of an Irish-American family as they chase the American Dream. It is at once expansive and exquisitely detailed, but what readers will remember most is the huge heart at its core. It heralds the arrival of a major new talent in contemporary fiction and is destined to be an American classic.

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The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
by Michael Chabon
This exuberant, irresistible winner of the Pulitzer Prize begins in New York City in 1939 when Joe Kavalier, a young escape artist, arrives on the doorstep of his cousin, Sammy Clay. Looking to cash in on the comic book craze gripping the nation, Joe and Sammy embark on an adventure that takes them deep into the heart of Manhattan and of old-fashioned American ambition.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
Michael Chabon

An exuberant Pulitzer Prize–winning novel that opens in the New York City of 1939. While World War II rages in Europe, a young escape artist and his cousin dive into the American comic book craze, traveling deep into the heart of Manhattan and American ambition.

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Motherless Brooklyn
by Jonathan Lethem

This compelling and compulsive riff on the classic detective novel features Lionel Essrog, a misfit who works for a small-time mobster’s limo service–cum–detective agency. Brooklyn—with its charming folkways and bad-guy swagger and sentimentality—becomes a major character itself.

Motherless Brooklyn
Jonathan Lethem

This compelling and compulsive riff on the classic detective novel features Lionel Essrog, a misfit who works for a small-time mobster’s limo service–cum–detective agency. Brooklyn—with its charming folkways and bad-guy swagger and sentimentality—becomes a major character itself.

MENTIONED IN:

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Between Two Rivers
by Nicholas Rinaldi

Farro Fesco, the concierge at Echo Terrace condominium, is intimately acquainted with the interior lives of the people who pass through his lobby—from a former World War II German fighter pilot to an Iraqi spice merchant. In this beautiful tribute to the human spirit, Farro comes to know himself as he learns the secrets of the residents of Echo Terrace.

Between Two Rivers
Nicholas Rinaldi

Farro Fesco, the concierge at Echo Terrace condominium, is intimately acquainted with the interior lives of the people who pass through his lobby—from a former World War II German fighter pilot to an Iraqi spice merchant. In this beautiful tribute to the human spirit, Farro comes to know himself as he learns the secrets of the residents of Echo Terrace.

MENTIONED IN:

12 Novels that Take a Bite Out of the Big Apple

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The Age of Innocence
by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Age of Innocence, which explores the joys and scandals surrounding the marriage of an upper-class New York couple during the Gilded Age.

The Age of Innocence
Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Age of Innocence, which explores the joys and scandals surrounding the marriage of an upper-class New York couple during the Gilded Age.

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Time and Again
by Jack Finney
If you've never read Jack Finney's beautiful New York novel, now is the time to fall in love with this much-admired, time-honored classic. It is admired for its rich, painstakingly researched descriptions of life in New York City more than a century ago, and for the swift adventure at its core.
Time and Again
Jack Finney

When advertising artist Si Morley is recruited to join a covert government operation exploring the possibility of time travel, he jumps at the chance to leave his twentieth-century existence and step into New York City in January 1882. Aside from his thirst for experience, he has good reason to return to the past—his friend Kate has a curious, half-burned letter dated from that year, and he wants to trace the mystery. But when Si begins to fall in love with a woman he meets in the past, he will be forced to choose between two worlds—forever.

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