It’s summer, and it seems like everyone is fleeing to beaches and mountains, near and far, for some much needed escapes. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing better in the summer than the sticky heat of city concrete, where, as temperatures rise, so does the drama. It’s not for the faint of heart, but it always makes for a great story. So, if you’re stuck with skyscrapers this summer while everyone else is getting some sun and sand—bright side: fewer people to deal with on public transit!—here are some unforgettable characters to keep you company.
If you’re someone who likes to take advantage of the empty(ish) city streets during the summer, Teju Cole’s haunting novel about identity and place is the perfect companion. It follows a young Nigerian doctor named Julius as he wanders Manhattan and reflects on his life, relationships, journey, and new culture. The prose is unforgettable, and it perfectly captures the weirdly meditative act of absentmindedly navigating New York.
In this haunting and powerful novel, Julius, a young Nigerian doctor, walks the streets of Manhattan between shifts, reflecting on his present, his past, his relationships, and the choices he has made that have led him to Morningside Heights. Along the way, he meets people from different cultures and classes who help him understand the deepest parts of his own soul.
Sometimes, the best way to get to know a city is over time. In Angela Flournoy’s impressive debut, she introduces readers to Detroit through the story of the Turners, who have lived on Yarrow Street for more than 50 years and seen their city rise, fall, and change from a thriving metropolis to one with abandoned lots and embattled, divided neighborhoods. As ailing matriarch Viola decides that what’s best is to move in with her son, her children are called back to reckon with how their pasts will determine their family’s future.
In this masterful debut novel, 13 siblings must decide the fate of their mother’s Detroit home, which housed the family for 50 years before mirroring the disarray and crisis of the city around them by falling into debt and misfortune. Secrets, addiction, and even a malevolent spirit all work against the siblings, but in the end Angela Flournoy shows how it takes more than walls to keep a family together.
When they were children, three boys in Boston experienced a shocking event that forced them apart forever. Now the past has come back to haunt and unite them in an equally tragic way. This Dennis Lehane classic is an unmistakably New England drama—an intense, addictive, and powerful story about how our identities are inevitably shaped by where we’re from and the ways in which loyalty can be tested.
When they were children, Sean Devine, Jimmy Marcus, and Dave Boyle were friends. But then a strange car pulled up to their street. One boy got into the car, two did not, and something terrible happened—something that ended their friendship and changed all three boys forever. Now, years later, murder has tied their lives together again . . .
Set in 1930s Chicago, Richard Wright’s controversial classic tells the story of Bigger Thomas, a young black man who is charged with murder and rape after he kills a young white woman in a moment of panic. There is no one on his side, and no escape from his expected fate. As the tensions flare within the community, so do Wright’s ideas about race, poverty, and society.
Right from the start, Bigger Thomas had been headed for jail. It could have been for assault or petty larceny; by chance, it was for murder and rape. Native Son tells the story of this young black man caught in a downward spiral after he kills a young white woman in a brief moment of panic. Set in Chicago in the 1930s, Wright's powerful novel is an unsparing reflection on the poverty and feelings of hopelessness experienced by people in inner cities across the country and of what it means to be black in America.
Considered by many to be the Los Angeles novel, Joan Didion’s beloved classic captures the ennui and uncertainty of the 1960s through the eyes of the young Maria Wyeth. It’s a salty, dark look at the underbelly of Hollywood and the ways that cities shape and then destroy our expectations of them. This is an unforgettable, raw book that will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.
Los Angeles, CA: Set in a place beyond good and evil—literally in Hollywood, Las Vegas, and the barren wastes of the Mojave Desert, but figuratively in the landscape of an arid soul—this is a profoundly disturbing novel, riveting in its exploration of a woman and a society in crisis, and stunning in the intensity of its prose.
As the title implies, this novel is nearly combustible, an epic and dramatic mystery that takes place in 1970s New York amid soaring crime rates, punk rock music ’zines, and an impending blackout that will change the lives of four people forever. If you pick this one up, just make sure you’re near an air conditioner, because you won’t be able to move or put it down for a while.
The most anticipated novel of 2015, Garth Risk Hallberg’s debut fetched a huge advance, and even bigger buzz. We were able to lay our hands on an advance copy, and spoiler alert: it’s well worth the weight!.... Page Count: 944
Another California classic, Bret Easton Ellis’s mesmerizing portrait of the 1980s Lost Generation of Los Angeles follows Clay, whose return home on vacation from his Eastern college throws him back into the world of excess, passivity, and privilege. Joined by his girlfriend and his drug-dealing best friend, the three descend into the world of elite parties, seedy bars, and underground clubs—resulting in a downward spiral that impossible to look away from.
THE LAZARUS PROJECT tells the story of 19-year-old immigrant Lazarus Averbuch, who was shot to death in 1908 on the doorstep of the chief of the Chicago police and labeled a would-be assassin. A century later, a young Eastern European writer becomes obsessed with the story and tries to reconstruct Averbuch’s path. As he moves deeper into the past, the two men’s stories become inextricably intertwined, not only with each other but also with the city they both call home.
Set against the WTO protests of 1999, this stunning debut novel (and one of this list writer’s personal favorites!) brings the streets of Seattle to life as it explores a single day of chaos, drama, and hope. Through the eyes of a young boy named Victor, his estranged father (who happens to be the chief of police), activists, bystanders, and political leaders, this book asks timely and crucial questions about empathy, connectedness, social justice, and family.
The lives of seven disparate strangers are changed during the dramatic and historic 1999 World Trade Organization protests in Seattle. Vivid, electric, and brimming with heart, YOUR HEART IS A MUSCLE THE SIZE OF A FIST explores the power of empathy and how far we will go for family, justice, and love. —Taylor (Seattle, Washington)
Seemingly infused with the boozy, sweaty milieu of New Orleans, Anne Rice’s classic follows the life and confessions of Lestat, a charismatic and powerful vampire who chooses a young plantation owner to be his second-in-command. Together, they prey on innocents and recruit others to join them, wreaking havoc for more than 200 years. A novel of love, loss, suspense, and good old-fashioned Southern terror, this one is the perfect summer read.
Here are the confessions of a vampire. Hypnotic, shocking, and chillingly erotic, this is a novel of mesmerizing beauty and astonishing force—a story of danger and flight, of love and loss, of suspense and resolution, and of the extraordinary power of the senses.
On the last day of summer, a young college grad moves to the Windy City and rents a small apartment on the north side. During the five seasons he lives there, he meets gangsters, bus drivers, his first girlfriend, policemen, gamblers, and his shy landlord, among others. This isn’t just a coming-of-age story, it’s a love letter to Chicago in all its eccentric and exciting forms.
A novel as iconic as New Orleans, John Kennedy Toole’s comic masterpiece introduces Ignatius J. Reilly, “a Don Quixote of the French Quarter.” Toole takes readers on a hilarious romp, bringing the zaniest of characters and situations to life.
An American comic masterpiece, its hero, one Ignatius J. Reilly, is “a latter-day Gargantua, a Don Quixote of the French Quarter. His story bursts with wholly original characters, denizens of New Orleans’ lower depths, incredibly true-to-life dialogue, and the zaniest series of high and low comic adventures” (The Chicago Sun-Times). After struggling to find a publisher, Toole committed suicide in 1969. More than a decade later, his mother succeeded in having his manuscript published by the Louisiana State University Press, and he was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.
The Great Recession has not been kind to San Francisco web designer Clay Jannon. Out of work and out of options, he takes a job at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, where strange customers come through at odd times to “check out” large volumes instead of buying them. When Clay starts to investigate, unbelievable secrets emerge. This is one of my favorite books, and you'll see why once you start reading: it perfectly captures the spirit of San Francisco and the way books and tech come together in interesting ways.
Clay lands a job at a mysterious 24 hour bookstore with few customers and almost no book sales. What he discovers about the store and the owner and the world beyond makes this a page turner of a novel.
All right, this one isn’t a novel, but you can’t have a city summer reading list without this masterful narrative tale, which has spent years—not weeks, years!—on bestseller lists everywhere. In the early hours of May 2, 1981, shots rang out in Savannah’s most decadent mansion. For nearly a decade, that event and its aftermath reverberated throughout the Georgia city. John Berendt’s extraordinary account of that time, that crime, and the people who crossed his path is an absolute must read, if you haven’t already gotten to it.
Shots rang out in Savannah’s grandest mansion in the early morning hours of May 2, 1981. For nearly a decade, the shooting and its aftermath reverberated throughout this beautiful and isolated remnant of the Old South. John Berendt’s sharply observed and suspenseful account of this landmark murder case is a sublime and seductive reading experience.