No matter where you live, where you grew up, or where you call home, you probably have a passionate sense of pride for that city. If you completely adore bright city lights, a luminous skyline, and the hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle, you’re not alone. Authors have been inspired by cities since the beginning of time, and it's easy to see why: there's plenty of interesting characters, anything can happen, and there's never a dull moment.
I’ve always been in love with cities. Growing up in a somewhat small town just outside of a somewhat small city, I couldn’t wait to leave it behind and move somewhere brand new. On my travels, I love discovering the unique details that make up each city. And when I can’t travel, I opt for the next best thing: books. For nearly every city, there’s a book (or a thousand) that represent it better than anything else. While I wish I could capture every city in America here, it would be an endless list (just like my TBR pile.)
For now, here are some beloved cities and the classic books that take place within them. If you happen to live in or near one of these cities, get to reading ASAP, because these books are incredible!
New York City, New York — A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
There are a million books that embody the spirit of NYC, but you just can’t beat Betty Smith’s iconic coming-of-age tale A Tree Grows In Brooklyn. The story of young Francie Nolan and her years in the slums of Brooklyn beautifully captures the essence of the city in the early 20th century. This novel is one that every NYC native and transplant must read at some point in their lifetime.
Los Angeles, California — The Day of the Locust by Nathanael West
If you want to dive into the corrupt world of Hollywood, there’s no better story than The Day of the Locust. West explores the lifestyles and secrets that lurk within the Hollywood glamour and exploits the "lights, camera, action!" world of movies. Whether you live in LA or dream of moving to the City of Angels, take a dive into this fascinating classic. You won’t regret it.
Chicago, Illinois — Native Son by Richard Wright
No book seems to mean more to Chicagoans than Native Son. The story follows Bigger Thomas, a young black man sent to jail after he accidentally commits a horrible crime. The story exposes how poverty and fear can impact lives. In our day and age, this novel is still relevant, and it painfully portrays what it means to be black in America.
Atlanta, Georgia — Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
It’s love, it’s war, it’s Atlanta. Gone with the Wind transports us into the Civil War era and explores the love story between two enchanting and iconic characters: Scarlett O’Hara and Rhett Butler. If you live in this glorious city and haven’t read this classic, make sure to change that as soon as possible.
Birmingham, Alabama — To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
One of our all-time favorite classic books, To Kill a Mockingbird, challenges issues of race, democracy, right and wrong, and many things in-between. This book is a mandatory read for any Alabama native... and every American.
Houston, Texas — Terms of Endearment by Larry McMurtry
You’ve probably seen the movie adaptation of this classic novel, but read the novel if you haven't already. The story follows a newly widowed mother and her pregnant unmarried daughter. Their love for each other, along with their somewhat hateful relationship, creates a funny and realistic tale that’ll touch your Texan heart.
Seattle, Washington — Skid Road by Murrary Morgan
Skid Road shows the rise of Seattle before the Space Needle and coffee shops. This city's fascinating journey is full of unpredictable events, arguments, and historic decisions. While some of the book is heavily political, the author includes interesting facts throughout that'll surprise and enthrall any Seattle native.
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — Birdy by William Wharton
Birdy is the tale of two best friends and Philly natives, Al and Birdy, as they prepare to fight in WWII. One boy is hot-tempered and girl-crazed, and the other is an awkward and tongue-tied genius. As the two boys grow up together, they explore their many hopes and dreams. It's an unforgettable story set in a glorious city.
Knoxville, Tennessee — A Death in the Family by James Ages
As Jay Follet makes his way back to his hometown, Knoxville, he's killed in a car accident. But that's just the beginning of the story. This certainly isn't an uplifting book, but it is an accurate portrayal of grief that takes place in an incredible city.