Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney’s debut novel The Nest arrives on March 22, but it has already made a splash on the literary scene. The irresistible story of a New York family whose four adult siblings are still struggling to grow up (as they await a watershed inheritance that may never materialize), The Nest is filled with humor, warmth, and dishy behind-the-scenes gossip on the machinations of the publishing world, a trifecta that makes it nearly impossible to put down. An insightful, beautifully drawn portrait of a family on the brink of crisis, The Nest also perfectly captures the legendary (if sometimes elusive) charm of New York City. We asked Sweeney to share her top 10 favorite New York books with us, and her inspired list is filled with titles that are going straight onto our to-read list.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
I probably revisit F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic tome of the Jazz Age in New York City and its environs every year. I always find something new to appreciate or discover, a different perspective on a familiar character. I also believe this book has the most beautiful opening and closing paragraphs of any novel ever written.
The Age of Innocence, by Edith Wharton
Edith Wharton, consummate New Yorker of a certain era, is an expert chronicler of her city and its social constraints. I love all the New York novels, including The Custom of the Country and The House of Mirth, but this is my favorite. It’s sublime.
Here is New York, by E.B. White
I first read E.B. White’s iconic essay on New York (elegantly reissued in 2000 as a standalone volume) a few years into my life as a resident of the city. I still remember the frisson of recognition and relief I felt when reading its first line: “On any person who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of loneliness and the gift of privacy.” I had an ambivalent relationship with the city initially, and it was comforting to know that someone I admired as one of New York’s clearest voices appreciated both its challenges and consolations.
The Colossus of New York: A City in Thirteen Parts, by Colson Whitehead
The perfect contemporary companion to Here is New York. Colson Whitehead presents 13 reflections on New York City, a mix of memoir and meditation. The pieces are wide-ranging and immediate and Whitehead is a generous and scintillating guide to the city that has always been his home.
The Odd Woman in the City, by Vivian Gornick
Vivian Gornick’s frank and funny memoir is about many things, including her relationship with New York City, her love of walking and how she needs “concrete beneath her feet.” I particularly admire how she writes about the sidewalks of New York, one of the city’s most vital elements and the ever-present stage for the street dramas, high and low, of city life.
Another Marvelous Thing, by Laurie Colwin
I still get angry and sad when I think of how young Laurie Colwin was when she died in 1992 at the age of 48. Another Marvelous Thing is a selection of linked stories about New Yorkers who are lost—groping their way into adulthood and love, trying to ameliorate middle-aged boredom, struggling with fears they can barely acknowledge. The stories in this collection are unsentimental and funny and heartbreaking and indelible.
Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann
I am a sucker for anything that takes place in New York City in the 1970s and this book by Colum McCann is one of my favorite novels of all time. This story begins with a tightrope walk between the newly built World Trade Towers and expands into a brilliant cast of characters who inhabit varying echelons of New York. McCann manages to give each character his or her due while knitting their various stories into a seamless, passionate, wrenching tale of New York.
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Random Family, by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
This non-fiction book by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc reads like a novel. For eleven years she immersed herself within an extended family in the Bronx and chronicled their struggles to survive the grip of tenacious poverty, the government’s “war on drugs” and its policy of mass incarceration. I still think about the people in this book and wonder where they are and what they’re doing. A brilliant and necessary reminder of the unfathomable chasm that divides the rich and poor, the lucky and unlucky, in New York.
Rosemary’s Baby, by Ira Levin
Bear with me: in spite of (because of?) its supernatural qualities, Ira Levin’s book is the quintessential New York story because it’s about real estate. An actor and his wife living in a studio find their dream apartment. Ech, so the neighbors are a little nosy and odd and the building is has a slightly creepy history, but the apartment! The square footage! The location! What’s a little devil worship? Give up this space at this rent? Never. Hey, nobody’s kid is perfect.
Rich and Pretty, by Rumaan Alam
You’ll have to wait until June to read Rumaan Alam’s debut novel, which is one of my favorite kinds of books: the New York City friendship novel. Sarah and Lauren have been like sisters for twenty years, but are struggling to navigate their relationship into the treacherous waters of adulthood and reconcile disparate paths and desires. Smart, familiar, funny and the dialogue is pitch-perfect.
The Nest is on shelves March 22.