Empire State of Mind

Adam Mansbach’s Book Bag: 7 Quintessentially New York Books

The Go The F**k to Sleep author returns with Rage Is Back, a new novel about the graffiti culture of New York. He picks his favorite books on the Big Apple.

01.15.13 7:00 PM ET

New York Jew
By Alfred Kazin

‘New York Jew’ by Alfred Kazin. 307 pp. Syracuse University Press. $20.

A dense memoir, both lyrical and incisive, from one of the great intellectuals of the 20th century. Though it’s brimming with famous writers—Kazin’s collaborators on the slew of magazines and journals he founded and wrote for—the real star here is the New York Public Library, where Kazin first discovered himself.

Ladies’ Man
By Richard Price

‘Ladies’ Man’ by Richard Price. 256 pp. Picador. $15.

Think you’ve got a bead on the hardboiled author of Clockers and Lush Life? Think again. This early effort, published in the late seventies, is a straight-up sex comedy, full of club-hopping and one-night stands and leavened with just enough existential angst to keep things interesting. As a portrait of New York after dark, it pairs incredibly well with … well, with Scorsese’s frenetic and hilarious After Dark.

‘The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City’ by Jennifer Toth. 280 pp. Chicago Review Press. $16.

A fascinating account of the hundreds of people who make their homes underground—some of them in elaborate, highly structured communities, others isolated in bunker-like warrens. Highly readable, deeply thoughtful, and very helpful for me, since the Mole People and the tunnels figure heavily in Rage Is Back.

Random Family
By Adrian Nicole LeBlanc

‘Random Family’ by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. 432 pp. Scribner. $17.

Harrowing and intimate, this portrait of an extended community in the 1980s Bronx is written with an unparalleled level of access; the way the author manages to be omnipresent and yet totally unobtrusive is astounding in itself. But not as astounding as the story, which chronicles the lives of several teenage girls as they navigate the labyrinth of relationships, single motherhood, social welfare, prison, the drug trade, and much more.

The Street
By Ann Petry

‘The Street’ by Ann Petry. 448 pp. Mariner Books. $15.

Originally published in 1946, Petry’s novel is a stark and beautiful portrait of 116th Street in Harlem—and proof that you can depict an entire world through a tiny keyhole.

Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists
By Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Jeff Mao, Gabe Alvarez, and Brent Rollins

‘Ego Trip's Book of Rap Lists’ by Sacha Jenkins, Elliott Wilson, Jeff Mao, Gabe Alvarez, and Brent Rollins. 352 pp. St. Martin's Griffin. $26.

No book captures the ethos of hip hop—or, by extension, the New York State of Mind—as well as this quirky, obsessive, smack-talking compendium. Just as hip-hop thrives on the dynamic of battling, hip-hop fans live to debate, catalogue, reminisce, and complain. Here, in unassailable fact and hard-argued opinion, is a testament to the extent to which it’s possible to eat, breathe, sleep and smoke hip hop.

Another Country
By James Baldwin

‘Another Country’ by James Baldwin. 448 pp. Vintage. $15.

The greatest novel by our greatest writer (see, that’s that hip-hop thing I was just talking about) spans continents, but its title is just as apt a description of Baldwin’s NYC, in which each neighborhood is its own sovereign kingdom, and crossing a border can bring pleasure or peril. As always, the stunning and equal measure of humanity with which Baldwin imbues his characters—black and white, straight and gay, male and female—is on display here, and it fills every corner of the city as well.