Reading lists

Anna Pitoniak’s five favourite novels about New York City

Author Anna Pitoniak shares her five favourite books set in, around or about the Big Apple – New York City

The Goldfinch

Donna Tartt

This novel ranges across a wide geography—Las Vegas, Amsterdam—but the early scenes set in New York are the ones that stay with me especially. I remember beginning this book and not being able to move from my seat for the first 50 pages. Tartt accomplishes a great deal in this novel, but I particularly admire the riveting, heartbreaking way she begins the story, with the bombing at the Metropolitan Museum. She executes a very tricky thing: she taps into a collective memory, evokes a collective emotion, without writing about the event itself. In those opening scenes, she captures something essential and terrifying about New York in the post-9/11 era—without ever once invoking 9/11. Because how do you write a novel about something like 9/11 that can ever reflect the enormity of the real thing? You can’t, probably, but you can find a side door; you can find a fictional story that sheds a different kind of light. 

Bonfire of the Vanities

Tom Wolfe

Well, this one is just a blast. It is the New York-iest of all the New York novels on this list, because it is just so much: loud and funny and crass and smart. This is like the novel-length version of the outrageous, provocative, pun-filled headlines in the NYC tabloids, headlines that say things like “Headless Body in a Topless Bar.” It’s another novel that captures a specific era in New York, as The Best of Everything also does. In this case, the era is the 1980s: a time of crazy money on Wall Street and millionaire yuppies, but also resurgent crime and racial tensions. This novel nails the stark contrast of life in New York, taking a reader from palatial residences on Park Avenue to cramped apartments in the Bronx. It is voyeuristic, razor-sharp, bursting with drama—and an absolute classic. 

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