Few things tempt me more than a well-curated museum gift shop. After walking through an eye-opening and fascinating exhibit, whether it’s art or historical, I’m always hungry to know more about the topic. And then, lo and behold, on my way out, there’s a whole shop full of books on exactly that! I rarely make it out without acquiring a new book . . . or four.
One of my favorite museums is the New York Tenement Museum, which explores the immigrant history of New York City’s Lower East Side between the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries. Housed in two original tenement buildings that were home to over 15,000 working-class immigrants from more than 20 countries, the museum allows visitors to walk through meticulously re-created apartments representing the different time periods of former inhabitants with historical accuracy. The book selection in their shop is richly diverse and has something for every reader, with fiction and nonfiction books on topics ranging from the immigrant experience to food and beyond. Here are 14 of my favorites from their shop.
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
In 1913, Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family, but loses them upon arriving on the squalid Lower East Side of Manhattan. Taken in by an Italian ices peddler, she learns the secrets of his trade and reinvents herself into Lillian Dunkle, head of an empire of ice-cream franchises. But when her past begins to catch up with her, everything she has built is at stake.
The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street
Malka Treynovsky flees Russia with her family in 1913, only to be crippled and abandoned in the streets of New York shortly after she arrives. Taken in by an Italian ice peddler on the Lower East Side, she soon learns the tricks of his trade and sets off across the country in an ice cream truck. Along the way, she creates an empire and transforms into Lillian Dunkle, “The Ice Cream Queen.”
Up In The Old Hotel
Saloon-keepers and street preachers, gypsies and steel-walking Mohawks, a bearded lady and a 93-year-old “seafoodetarian” who believes his specialized diet will keep him alive for another two decades. These are among the characters that Joseph Mitchell—known for his precise, respectful observation, graveyard humor, and offhand perfection of style—immortalized in these essays, originally written for the New Yorker.
Saloon-keepers and street preachers, gypsies and steel-walking Mohawks, a bearded lady and a ninety-three-year-old “seafoodetarian” who believes his specialized diet will keep him alive for another two decades. These are among the characters that Joseph Mitchell—known for his precise, respectful observation, graveyard humor, and offhand perfection of style—immortalized in his reportage for the magazine.
In this funny, compulsively readable book, Robert Sullivan chronicles his year spent investigating a rat-infested alley a few blocks from Wall Street. He gets to know not just the beast but its friends and foes: exterminators, sanitation workers, and agitators and activists who have played their part in the centuries-old war between human city dweller and wild city rat.
Eilis Lacey is a young woman who abandons small-town Ireland and the comfort of her mother’s home for the anonymous shores of New York City. In Brooklyn, she finds a city in flux—a city where immigrants from Ireland and Poland live amongst Jewish and black communities. Just as she is beginning to fall in love with a young man, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her new life.
Read the full review of BROOKLYN.
Acclaimed character actress Saoirse Ronan takes center stage as Eilis Lacey, a young woman who abandons small-town Ireland and the comfort of her mother's home for the anonymous shores of New York City. In Brooklyn, she finds a city in flux—a city where immigrants from Ireland and Poland live amongst Jewish and black communities—and just as she is beginning to fall in love with a young man, devastating news from Ireland threatens the promise of her new life.
Release Date: November 6, 2015
Girl in Translation
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn squalor, she begins a double life: exceptional schoolgirl during the day, Chinatown sweatshop worker in the evenings. Disguising the more difficult truths of her life—like the weight of her family’s future resting on her shoulders, or her secret love for a factory boy—Kimberly learns to constantly translate not just her language, but herself back and forth between the worlds she straddles.
When Kimberly Chang and her mother emigrate from Hong Kong to Brooklyn, she quickly begins a secret double life: during the day, she is an exceptional student, and by night she works in a Chinatown sweatshop. As she struggles to move between the two worlds she occupies, Kimberly falls in love and tries to find a way to succeed against overwhelming odds.
The Big Oyster
A remarkable story of New York told through one of its most fascinating inhabitants—the oyster, a shellfish famous in New York for centuries. Filled with cultural, historical, and culinary insight, this dynamic narrative sweeps readers from the founding of New York to the oyster cellars of the Five Points slums to Manhattan’s Gilded Age dining rooms.
TRIANGLE is a poignantly detailed account of the 1911 disaster that horrified the country and changed the course of twentieth-century politics and labor relations. On March 25, 1911, a fire broke out in the Triangle Shirtwaist factory in New York’s Greenwich Village. The final toll was 146 people—123 of them women. At the time, it was the worst disaster in New York City history. TRIANGLE is a vibrant and immensely moving account that chronicles the fire as well as the social and political aftermath.
When I Was Puerto Rican
Esmeralda Santiago’s story begins in rural Puerto Rico, where her childhood was full of both tenderness and domestic strife, tropical sounds and sights as well as poverty. When her mother, Mami, a force of nature, takes off to New York with her seven, soon to be 11 children, Esmeralda, the oldest, must learn new rules, a new language, and eventually take on a new identity.
Ghana, eighteenth century: two half sisters are born into different villages. One will marry an Englishman and lead a life of comfort in the Cape Coast Castle. The other will be captured, imprisoned in the same castle, and sold into slavery. This novel follows the parallel paths of these sisters and their descendants through eight generations: from the Gold Coast to the plantations of Mississippi, from the American Civil War to Jazz Age Harlem.
Read the full review of HOMEGOING.
Two half-sisters are separated by forces beyond their control: one sold into slavery, the other married to a British slaver. HOMEGOING traces the descendants who follow, as their destinies lead them through two continents and 300 years of history, each life indelibly drawn.
My Notorious Life
Inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City, this is the story of Axie Muldoon, the impoverished child of Irish immigrants who apprentices to a doctor and eventually builds a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women’s rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue.
A memorable novel inspired by a real midwife, Axie Muldoon, who became one of the most controversial figures of Victorian New York City by defying the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights. This story is sure to further conversations about women’s rights issues that have been the subject of debate for centuries.
Never Look an American in the Eye
Okey Ndibe’s funny, charming, and penetrating memoir depicts his move from Nigeria to America. It examines the differences between Nigerian and American etiquette and politics; details an incident of racial profiling just 13 days after he arrived in the US; and juxtaposes African folk tales with Wall Street trickery. All these stories and more come together in a generous, encompassing book about the making of a writer and a new American.
Never Look an American in the Eye
This beloved children’s series chronicles a Jewish immigrant family at the beginning of the twentieth century in New York City. Sydney Taylor, who was born in 1904 on New York’s Lower East Side, based the richly drawn characters on her own life. The series centers on five sisters—Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie—and their mischievous younger brother, Charlie, who share many adventures.
Five young sisters experience life in New York’s Lower East Side at the beginning of the twentieth century. The close-knit group encounters everyday realities such as boring chores, missing library books, and trips to the Rivington Street market, as well as those details that bring the early 1900’s to life—scarlet fever, peddlers, and bathing at Coney Island.
At the turn of the twentieth century in New York City, a casino owner was gunned down, and the ambitious district attorney charged decorated policeman Charley Becker with ordering the murder. Was he a bad cop leading a double life, or a pawn felled by the rogues who ran Manhattan’s underworld? Chronicling Charley Becker’s rise and fall, this true account describes the raucous, gaudy, and utterly corrupt city that made him.
The United States has a culturally and ethnically diverse population that makes for a continually changing culinary landscape. But Sarah Lohman discovered that American food is united by eight flavors: black pepper, vanilla, curry powder, chili powder, soy sauce, garlic, MSG, and Sriracha. In this well-researched exploration of American culinary history, Lohman sets out to explore how these influential ingredients made their way to the American table.