The end of summer is near, but we have a few solid weeks of sun left to enjoy — or hide from, depending on personal preference. Whether you’re heading to the Rockaways, lounging at the LIC waterfront, or blasting the AC in your apartment and pretending you’re in an arctic tundra, a quality book in hand is essential.
We compiled a few of our favorite books that take place in New York City — from easy, breezy beach reads to darker, thought-provoking works — to get you ready for fall.
The Witches of New York—Ami McKay
For anyone into historical fiction… and witchcraft
Set in 1880s New York, Ami McKay’s novel revolves around three strong-willed, loyal and fiercely independent witches nearly 200 years after the Salem witch trials, during a time when New York City is only just being established in its own right. Flying under the radar, they cater to Manhattan’s high society women from an inauspicious tea shop until a young girl comes to see them and the winds of change come calling. With every page, the story evolves more deeply — from a historical fiction tale of making it in New York into a magical realist thriller that’ll keep the pages turning until the very end.
The Beautiful and Damned—F. Scott Fitzgerald
For anyone craving New York’s most ritzy time
If you’re an old-school romantic, give The Beautiful and Damned a whirl. A lesser-known but no less wonderful book by the famed Great Gatsby author, it brings to life the grandeur of New York’s jazz age darlings, from the man who coined the phrase. The story oozes with extravagance as it follows newly married Manhattan couple, Gloria and Anthony, as they dine, party, and avoid responsibility in a way that only the extremely wealthy could. As spending increases, but inheritances dwindle, it begs the question: how well does each know the foundation of the person they married?
Brown Girl, Brownstones—Paule Marshall
For anyone who loves a good female coming of age story
This (highly underrated, in our humble opinion) semi-autobiographical novel set in 1930s-1940s Brooklyn centers on the experience of a young daughter of Barbadian immigrants. The protagonist, Selina Boyce, struggles to reconcile her parents’ opposing dreams, figure out her own identity as a woman of color in America, navigate relationships within her community, and understand the workings of the world. Published in 1959, Marshall’s novel stunningly conveys this unique perspective of Brooklyn during a fascinating time in history. We are lucky that we get to experience Selina’s relatable journey to adulthood through the author’s words, inspired by her own lived experience.
Sweetbitter— Stephanie Danler
For anyone who’s newly navigating life in NYC
It seems almost impossible not to have heard of Stephanie Danler’s novel by now. Published in 2017 (with a TV show of the same name quickly following in its stride), *Sweetbitter *chronicles a 22-year-old New York City transplant who begins her career in the Big Apple as a waitress at one of the city’s finest restaurants. Serving up a smorgasbord of the zest and drama that draws people to New York in the first place, this funny, smart novel is a can’t-put-it-down beach read that’ll keep you close to home.
Just Kids—Patti Smith
For the starving artist at heart
Iconic musician and poet Patti Smith chronicles her life as a young, free-spirited artist coming into her own in ‘60s and ‘70s New York City. This memoir focuses on her passionate but tumultuous relationship with late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe as they live and work in the Hotel Chelsea, the city’s primary artistic hub of the time. It’s part messy, nostalgic coming-of-age, part making of an artist, part tragic love story, and part homage to a gritty era we all dream of, all rolled into one. Just Kids is pretty much the perfect transitional read as we head toward autumn.
Fates and Furies—Lauren Groff
For those seeking a new take on marriage
Some like to call this a more literary, cerebral version of Gone Girl. Its initial reception was largely love-it-or-hate it, which is kind of one of the best reasons to read a book, isn’t it? Any book that polarizes readers merits exploring, if only to learn something about yourself when you determine which side of the line you fall on. The book reveals two sides of a complex marriage (and spans over 20 years of it). The perspective shifts between the husband and wife, an envied Manhattan couple whose life is much darker and less desirable than it seems. The characters are frankly unlikeable, but the story is compelling — and leaves you with enough to think about— that it’s worth a read.
Go Tell It On The Mountain—James Baldwin
For literally anyone and everyone (but especially those interested in religion and its role in the African American experience)
Can you tell that we’re kinda, sorta into autobiographical and semi-autobiographical coming of age stories? This one, written by late world-renowned writer and activist James Baldwin, is about a young black boy growing up in Harlem in the Depression Era. It explores his relationship with the Pentecostal church, his family, and his experience in the city during this time. There is so much to say about this book that we can’t encompass in one brief recommendation, so we’ll let you read and reflect yourself. Note: this is very much not light reading.
Playing with Matches—Hannah Orenstein
For anyone into the comedy of dating
Hannah Orenstein’s latest offering has been named the best book of summer by sources like Refinery29, Bustle, and PopSugar. It offers a perfectly comedic view into the life of a journalism graduate-turned-matchmaker as she learns to navigate the demands and eccentricities of clients twice her age while simultaneously dealing with her own unravelling personal life. Far more fun than serious, this New York-based beach read is a surefire hit in the sunshine.