Mannahatta

07.16.13

Cathleen Schine’s Favorite New York Books

Cathleen Schine, whose new novel, Fin & Lady, is about life in Greenwich Village in the swinging ’60s, chooses the books that epitomize the Big Apple for her.

Leaves of Grass

By Walt Whitman

whitman-grass

One of my favorite passages in Leaves of Grass, that breathless, exuberant poem so rich and full of innocence and joy and generosity and compassion, is “Mannahatta.” It springs from a 19th-century sense of possibility, but it feels just like Manhattan now. “Numberless crowded streets—high growths of iron, slender, strong, light, splendidly uprising toward clear skies.”

American Notes for General Circulation

By Charles Dickens

dickens-notes

Charles Dickens visited the city and described it in American Notes. The passages about the poor and criminal sections of the city are very … Dickensian.

The Age of Innocence

By Edith Wharton

wahrton-innocence

In addition to all its other virtues, the novel has wonderful descriptions of the city and the social significance of real estate. Location, location, location.

The Nero Wolfe Mysteries

By Rex Stout

stout-nero

The slang, the streets, the taxi drivers, the offices and brownstones and crummy apartments—these books always feel like the New York of black-and-white movies from the ’30s to me. A fantasy reality I'm convinced existed.

Manchild in the Promised Land

By Claude Brown

brown-manchild

A haunting memoir of growing up poor and black in New York City in the ’40s and ’50s. Nero Wolfe this is not. Written with tenderness and swagger and terrifying honesty. It came out in 1965, and it is fueled by the hope of that time.

The Cricket in Times Square

By George Selden, illustrated by Garth Williams

williams-cricket

Everyone who moves to New York City has a book or movie or song that epitomizes the place for them. For me, it's The Cricket in Times Square, written by George Selden and illustrated by Garth Williams. It came out in 1960 when I was 7. Chester, the cricket overwhelmed by the city, came from Connecticut, like me. I lived in New York for 40 years, and I always felt a little like Chester—welcomed, inspired, enchanted, and stunned. Still do.