A consummate city slicker’s essential books on NYC

14 Oct

My friend MacGregor Rucker is not famous, but I believe him to be more in tune with the very soul of New York City and its inner workings than every NY1 talking head, Gawker commenter and Julia Allison-esque personality combined. Today, Greg graciously shares his all-time favorite books about our fair city.

It has struck me, after 30-plus years of living here, that New York City can be compared to an adolescent who never outgrows its awkward years of growth and struggle for identity and oneness with itself. We have been, for quite a long time now, an awful lot of people of diverse backgrounds, colors, cultures, classes, etc., sharing a seemingly unlikely small piece of real estate. These novels could be set nowhere else in the world, except this specific city that becomes its own character in every truly good story that takes place here.

Boogaloo on 2nd Avenue by Mark Kurlansky: Set in the late ’80s on the Lower East Side in 1988, this is the first book of any genre that truly captured the time and the place. Everything else has rung false.

The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow Into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle, by Edgardo Vega Yunque: Ed Vega is the most underrated talent I have ever encountered. This is a masterpiece and also chronicles (hilariously) the cultural collision that became the Lower East Side in the last 20 years.

Fairytale of New York, by J.P. Donleavy: This one takes it back a bit further, but nails something special. Call it the grandfather of the two aforementioned.

Last Exit to Brooklyn, by Hubert Selby Jr.: I’ve rarely experienced anything so dark and gruesome. It’s the New York City that even the people who lived through it don’t want to acknowledge.

Fortress of Solitude, by Jonathan Lethem: I nearly chose Motherless Brooklyn for this last pick, but FoS, better than any book I’ve read, shows the city as a potter’s wheel, shaping lumps of clay. It is nostalgic, but not particularly sentimental, and balances ludicrous with credible.


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