The Best Books About New York City

by Kerri Jarema

I have lived in New York City my entire life. I hopped between a couple of boroughs when I was very young, but for the most part, Manhattan has been my home. So, I never understood when people would write this huge, scathing essays on leaving New York. The genre just didn't mesh with my sensibilities; so much so, that I once published an essay myself on how ridiculous these essays were to me.

For one, I knew firsthand that New York wasn't this dream world of romance and success that so many shows and movies had made it out to be. New York is incredible in so many ways, but it is also hard work. It's always fast and unruly, it can be dirty and loud and overcrowded. But to me, it was always the utmost privilege to be a born and bred New Yorker, and to live here is to take the bad with the overwhelming good. For people to make the pilgrimage to my hometown and then shit all over it when they didn't get the Sex and the City experience they'd imagined was beyond annoying.

Now that I'm older, and either a bit wiser or a bit more jaded, who can tell...I can see very clearly why New York isn't for everyone. But I can also see its amazingness more now than ever before. And it seems I'm not the only one. Tons of writers and creatives, both lifelong New Yorkers and transplants, have shared their experiences with the city through their work. From collections on why they left, to essays on their first great New York experiences, these 11 picks below will introduce you to the true New York, for better or for worse.


'Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York' Edited by Sari Botton

In 1967, Joan Didion wrote an essay called Goodbye to All That, a tale of loving and leaving New York captured the mesmerizing allure Manhattan has always had for writers, poets, and wandering spirits. In this collection, 28 writers from Cheryl Strayed to Emma Straub, take up Didion's literary legacy by sharing their own New York stories. Their essays often begin as love stories do, with the passion of something newly discovered; but they also share the grief that comes when the metropolis loses its magic and the pressures of New York's frenetic life wear thin on even the most fervent dwellers. Each writer's goodbye to New York is singular and universal, like New York itself.

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'Never Can Say Goodbye: Writers on Their Unshakable Love for New York' Edited by Sari Botton

From the editor of the celebrated anthology Goodbye to All That: Writers on Loving and Leaving New York, comes a new collection of original essays on what keeps writers tethered to New York City. While the first anthology was inspired by Joan Didion's classic essay about loving and leaving Manhattan, Never Can Say Goodbye is a celebration of the city that never sleeps, in the tradition of E.B. White's classic essay, Here Is New York. Featuring contributions from such luminaries as Elizabeth Gilbert, Susan Orlean, Nick Flynn, Adelle Waldman, Phillip Lopate, Owen King, Amy Sohn, and many others, this collection of essays is a must-have for every lover of New York, whether or not you call it home.

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'My First New York: Early Adventures in the Big City' by Various Authors

From the staff of New York Magazine, My First New York is a glorious collection of recollections and reminiscences as fifty of the city’s most famous residents recapture the kicks and thrills of first arriving in the Big Apple. Actors and athletes, rock stars and porn stars, writers, artists, and politicos — from Yogi Berra to Liza Minnelli, from Chloe Sevigny to Andy Samberg, Amy Sedaris to Diane Von Furstenberg — they all share their hilarious, touching, frightening, amazing early big city adventures.

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'Just Kids' by Patti Smith

In Just Kids, Patti Smith's first book of prose, the legendary American artist offers a never-before-seen glimpse of her remarkable relationship with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe in the epochal days of New York City and the Chelsea Hotel in the late '60s and '70s. An honest and moving story of youth and friendship, and finding your way, and your place, in New York.

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'The Most Of Nora Ephron' by Nora Ephron

Nora Ephron was well-known for her ruminations on New York living, from her movies When Harry Met Sally and You've Got Mail, to her essays on the ever-changing city she loved. This collection includes many of those works, along with everything else you could possibly want — from her writings on journalism, feminism, and being a woman, to her best-selling novel, Heartburn, written in the wake of her devastating divorce from Carl Bernstein; from her pithy blogs on politics to her moving meditations on aging (“I Feel Bad About My Neck”) and dying, and so much more.

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'Brooklyn Was Mine' Edited by Valerie Steiker And Chris Knutsen

Though Brooklyn's literary history runs deep — Walt Whitman, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer are just a few of its storied inhabitants — in recent years the borough has seen a growing concentration of bestselling novelists, memoirists, poets, and journalists. It has become what Greenwich Village once was for an earlier generation: a wellspring of inspiration and artistic expression. Brooklyn Was Mine gives some of today's best writers an opportunity to pay tribute to the borough they love in says that draw on past and present to create a mosaic that brilliantly captures the quality and diversity of a unique, literary landscape.

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'Here Is New York' by E.B. White

In the summer of 1948, E.B. White sat in a New York City hotel room and, sweltering in the heat, wrote a remarkable pristine essay, Here is New York. Perceptive, funny, and nostalgic, the author’s stroll around Manhattan —with the reader arm-in-arm — remains the quintessential love letter to the city, written by one of America’s foremost literary figures.

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'Tales of Two Cities: The Best And Worst Of Times In Today's New York' Edited by John Freeman


'Slouching Towards Bethlehem' by Joan Didion

The mother of all New York essays, Goodbye To All That, is contained within Didion's collection Slouching Toward Bethlehem. It is also the first nonfiction work by one of the most distinctive prose stylists of our era, remaining forty years after its first publication, the essential portrait of America — particularly California — in the sixties. It focuses on such subjects as John Wayne and Howard Hughes, growing up a girl in California, ruminating on the nature of good and evil in a Death Valley motel room, and, especially, the essence of San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury, the heart of the counterculture.

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