WSWD’s Favorite NYC Books to Curl Up With This Fall

Yes, “Catcher” made the list. (How could it not?) But other books may surprise you!

Photo by Ally Schenker

If you don’t have a library card, you better sign yourself up right now! The WSWD staff is taking you on a literary adventure through New York City—from the classic story of a country girl–turned–Upper East Side elitist to a futuristic (but too close to home!) tale about our city half underwater. Read on for more ideas for…reading on right through the fall.

Up in the Old Hotel by Joseph Mitchell

This is the book that made me fall in love with both New York City and journalism. Mitchell worked as a staff writer for The New Yorker from the late 1930s until his death in 1996. During much of that time, his beat could have been described as: interesting and unusual people. (Or as the jacket copy puts it: “Saloonkeepers and street preachers, gypsies and steel-walking Mohawks, a bearded lady and a 93-year-old ‘seafoodetarian.’”) That’s my dream beat! He profiled them lovingly and with an accumulation of magnificent details, and, in doing so, revealed ways in which they were only–in–New York characters. His piece on McSorely’s Old Ale House is a must-read for anyone who cares about the city, suds, sanity, and salvation. Mitchell would have hated all the alliteration in that last sentence. —Editorial director Mac Montandon

Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby Jr.

Selby’s series of vignettes of down-and-out characters roaming the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan was one of the first books I read upon my arrival in NYC in 2006. While the unsavory scenarios and harsh look at Brooklyn’s lowest classes might not appear to be a loving nod to this borough, I was captivated by the rough-and-tumble depiction of East Coast living. Last Exit to Brooklyn makes you feel as if you’re overhearing a story at a salty bar about another life, another era. —Art expert Molly Surno

Photo by Ally Schenker

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote

One of my favorite books. The movie bowdlerized and changed it, but it’s still wonderful. —WSWD contributor Michael Musto

Chelsea Girls: A Novel by Eileen Myles

This book confirmed for me, a girl from Ohio, that New York City was a place where you could be whomever you are and whomever you want to be. Though the autobiographical stories are not exactly uplifting—Myles documents her misadventures as a broke alcoholic trying to make it as a writer in the city—it was exciting to see a woman as a louche, dangerous, irresponsible but brilliant beat poet, a role usually romanticized in men. —Executive editor Patty Onderko

Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City, 2001–2011 by Lizzy Goodman

It’s an extended Behind the Music for the downtown scene in the early aughts with a significant number of bands that defined my high school/college years—Interpol, LCD Soundsystem, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and the like. Who knew rock stars were so debaucherous?! (Everyone knows that, Jess. What rock were you sleeping under?) —Editor Jess Bender

How to Murder Your Life: A Memoir by Cat Marnell

I’m not the drug-memoir type—I try to keep it easy-breezy, you know!—but I loved reading this fascinating blueprint of how not to come of age in NYC. —Social media manager Molly Borman

Photo by Ally Schenker

New York 2140 by Kim Stanley Robinson

It’s 2140. New York looks like Venice. Climate change has submerged all the boroughs except Manhattan. Told from eight different perspectives, the New Yorkers in this novel have seen it all. The rich live in newly constructed high-rises near the Cloisters, and the poor live in Chelsea, which is half underwater. Superficially, the story revolves around the weather, a vehicle to explore socioeconomic structures and what’s required to change them. New York art and architectural references flesh out story details, while the narrative builds toward an unlikely collaboration. Robinson’s utopic yet pragmatically defined dreams make this book a great read. —Art expert Paddy Johnson

Severance by Ling Ma

A half apocalyptic cult science fiction tale/half love story, told via flashbacks interweaving heritage and family. Ma forces the reader to contemplate the most essential reasons to survive; it’s an intense book that is hard to put down. Plus, the protagonist is a photographer, so I felt an immediate kinship. —Photo editor Sayaka Ueno

Photo by Sayaka Ueno

The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

I’m a kid from rural New Hampshire, and Salinger and Holden Caulfield introduced me to the city. Sure, it’s not a New York that still exists except in memory. Holden skips out of his miserable boarding school and prowls the streets of New York, his hometown, on his own. He took me to the crummy Edmont Hotel, the American Museum of Natural History, the Broadway Theatre (full of phonies), and the duck pond in Central Park. It ends at the carousel in the park. I want that ride to never end. —Theater expert David Cote

The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith

Highsmith’s time capsule of 1952 turned the city into a wintry zone of suffocating, nerve-wracking anxiety and blossoming romance. It’s funny, scary, and unique. I reread it every year. —Performance expert Ross Tipograph

Photo by Ally Schenker

 The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie

A cosmic, lifelong, rock-and-roll love story that takes place between India and NYC. It depicts 1960s–’70s Greenwich Village but also features a portrait of Mumbai, so it’s great for the globally leaning NYC book nerd. —Music expert Meera Dugal

Ex Machina by Brian K. Vaughan (words) and Tony Harris (pictures)

This graphic novel presents an alternate universe in which a native New Yorker acquires the superpower to talk to and control any electronic or mechanical device, from a nuclear reactor to a typewriter. After he uses those powers in 2001 to steer away one of the planes headed for the World Trade Center, he is elected mayor of New York, where his superpowers can’t save him from gridlock and malfeasance. While many of the issue-based governance plots that drove Ex Machina’s 50-issue run (including extensive pro/con debates on the legalization of marijuana and same-sex marriage) haven’t aged that well, the complete collection remains a rollicking read and an excellent time capsule of mid-2000s New York politics and culture. —Music expert John Seroff

Want even more ideas and recommendations from NYC’s leading experts? Try our mobile app. The very best of New York, wherever you are or plan to be.