Our Collection

New York City

Since 1995, the Library has honored exceptional books about the city with our New York City Book Awards, and to celebrate the recent announcement of this year’s winners, Library staff recommend their favorite New York books from the stacks. 

A primary strength of the Library’s collection is surely its wide array of books about our hometown. There are thousands of books on New York in our stacks for members to take home, and two good places to begin browsing are Stack 1 (call number 917.471), where you will find guidebooks and descriptions of the city (including architecture), and Stack 2 (call number 974.71), where you will find books on New York history. But books about NYC are waiting to be discovered on virtually every stack: New Yorker’s memoirs and biographies are on Stack 7; sociological studies are on Stack 3, and photography books devoted to New York may be found in variety of places (don't forget to check the oversize shelves). Fiction set in the city is on Stacks 5 and 6, and the Children’s Library has a wonderful collection of books for the youngest New Yorkers among us. So, get into the stacks and take a look around. Just like rambling through the city streets, you never know what you will find. 

Desperate Characters | Paula Fox 

Otto and Sophie Bentwood seem to have built a wonderful life for themselves. Otto is a lawyer; Sophie translates books when she feels like it. It is the late 1960’s and they are pioneers in their Brooklyn Heights neighborhood.  They seem a little uneasy in their brownstone, sitting as it does at the edge of the gentrification, but they’ve buttressed their home with markers of their taste and sophistication. They find comfort in their shelves full of Goethe and antique dinnerware purchased at local Brooklyn shops.  As the city pushes against them in their fortress with tiny violent acts, their alienation from it and from each other begin to show.  In this marvel of a domestic novel, Paula Fox manages to build suspense out of the paranoia that the Bentwoods feel living in such close proximity to so many people you don’t know and don’t trust.  The dialog is so cleanly rendered that the entire experience of reading the book feels like listening to the neighbors fighting through your paper-thin walls.  This is an unusual kind of New York novel, but one that wouldn’t make sense set anywhere else. —Patrick Rayner, Acquisitions Assistant / Circulation Assistant

AIA guide to New York City | Norval White, Elliot Willensky, with Fran Leadon, eds. 

The AIA Guide to New York City is the definitive architectural guide to our home. No place in America boasts a record as comprehensive and authoritative as this one, which covers all five boroughs neighborhood-by-neighborhood. I love this book because the descriptions are concise and witty. For example, the Guide describes the Episcopal church next to my apartment this way: “Eclecticism gone berserk: battered greenish stone walls, Romanesque arches, and Ruskinian Gothic polychromy in three shades of brownstone. It all adds up to a great façade.” Whether or not you agree with their aesthetic judgments, these descriptions open up the built environment to both the casual reader and the architectural historian by recording the facts—dates of construction and renovation, architects’ names, stylistic features—and placing them in context. This book is also delightfully easy to use. It boasts an extensive index, and icons mark examples of prominent styles and landmarked buildings. Best of all, it includes walking tours in architecturally rich neighborhoods. You can also use is it as a complement to your reading.  What did Henry James’ New York look like?  White, Willensky, and Leadon will tell you (on page 129) in style. —Erin Schreiner, Special Collections Librarian

Times Square Red, Times Square Blue | Samuel Delany  

In two essays on the mid-nineties redevelopment of Times Square, Samuel Delany examines the devastation caused by the closing en masse of sex shops and porn theaters to the city’s gay male population. Delaney doesn’t like the “clean-up” and calls attention to the effects of a gentrifying Times Square on opportunities for community-building and contact across classes and cultures. A renowned sci-fi novelist and academic, Delany reminisces about his time as a regular at these theaters in “Times Square Blue,” then tackles the social implications of the corporate take-over of Times Square in the second, more theoretical essay. The book is sometimes gritty and shocking, but always thought-provoking, and still relevant today to an ever-changing New York City. —Katie Fricas, Events Assistant / Circulation Assistant

Sleeping Arrangements | Laura Cunningham   

If you ask people to name a book in which the South Bronx figures prominently, chances are they’ll mention Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities or Jonathan Mahler’s Ladies and Gentlemen, the Bronx is Burning, an account of the 1977 New York Yankees during the “Ford to City: Drop Dead” era.  Laura Shaine Cunningham, however, deals with a different South Bronx in Sleeping Arrangements. To Cunningham, who moved there with her single mother in 1951, it was an exotic collection of parks and buildings with architectural details that evoked long-vanished cultures—complete with its own Roman Coliseum, Yankee Stadium—and gave a special aura to the complex, secretive games that Cunningham and her childhood friends played.  

Cunningham was eight years old when her mother died, and her two bachelor uncles disrupted their own lives to move to the Bronx to look after her, heading a household that later came to include Cunningham’s eccentric grandmother.  The emergence of this largely happy, non-traditional family from a starting point of grief is the basis of this memoir.  I’ve reread it many times, mostly out of admiration for Cunningham’s ability to tell a story that’s funny and poignant yet devoid of sentimentality, but also for its novel depiction of that neighborhood. —Laura O’Keefe, Head of Cataloging and Special Collections

New York | Edward Rutherfurd  

Rutherfurd's New York is a sweeping saga, following family lines from the seventeenth to early twenty-first century. Fictionalized and factual characters of Native-American, Dutch, British, Irish and Italian descent are woven into the canvas of the city’s rich history, bringing the reader to know them intimately and think about their connections across time. The extraordinary growth of the city, the fortunes won and lost, and the backdrop of the wars in which our country was engaged have been so well researched by the author that in reading the book one is immersed in both incredibly engaging personal stories and an exciting historical survey of the events that shaped them.

Named one of the best books of the year by The Washington Post, New York (2009) was Rutherfurd’s seventh novel. He is also the author of London (1997)  and Paris (2013). —Cathy McGowan, Circulation Librarian

The City Out My Window: 61 Views on New York | Matteo Pericoli (introduction by Paul Goldberger) 

When you live in New York, what you see outside your window is often a prism defining or distorting your thoughts and feelings about living here. Matteo Pericoli somehow managed to get himself invited into the homes of New Yorkers like Tom Wolfe, Elizabeth Strout, and Mario Batali so that he could sketch what they saw from their windows. The drawings themselves are entrancing, and the descriptions of what these New Yorkers see and feel while looking through those windows is just as captivating. I wish I had a talent for drawing (or a friendship with Pericoli) to immortalize my own city view because every time I look out my window at the setting sun illuminating the tiny bistro table on my tiny balcony I think, who needs Paris? —Carolyn Waters, Assistant Head Librarian

The Alienist | Caleb Carr

A somewhat implausible mystery plot scarcely detracts from this breathe-it-in portrait of 1890s New York City. The wonderfully appealing title character, Dr. Laszlo Kreizler, makes the radical claim that proto-psychology can help solve crimes, sending his journalist and police friends on an exciting, disturbing chase for a serial killer avant-la-lettre. Terrific to read around the Lower East Side, where you may find yourself sitting on, near, or below one of the many landmarks Carr describes.

If you love The Alienist, read Jack Finney’s classic Time and Again, and vice-versa. —Sara Holliday, Events Coordinator / Head Librarian's Assistant

Up in the Old Hotel | Joseph Mitchell 

It is no secret that some of the best writing about New York appeared in the pages of the New Yorker from the 1930s-1950s. While staff writers A.J. Liebling and St. Clair McElway are not to be missed, it is Joseph Mitchell’s vivid dispatches from among the city’s construction workers, gypsies, fishermen, saloon-keepers, and other eccentrics, compiled in Up in the Old Hotel, that have had a hold on me for 20 years. Mitchell shows a novelist’s feel for character, an unerring instinct for details, and a melancholic, elegiac tone that offers a glimpse of Mitchell as he disappears into the scene he is reporting from. 

Not as well-known, but highly recommended, is the work of New York Herald Tribune journalist Stanley Walker. His book on New York during prohibition, The Night Club Era, is well-informed and great fun to read, filled with period slang, colorful characters, anecdotes, rumors, and the excitement of an all-night tear. Legendary film director Samuel Fuller began working at the New York Evening Graphic at age 17, and his little-known (and little) book, New York in the 1930s, is a brief, entertaining, remembrance of the life of a young journalist. Moving forward to another era of  excess, Don McNeill’s 1967-8 coverage of the downtown counterculture scene for the Village Voice is collected in Moving Through Here. McNeill died age 23 and, although not uncritical, his reporting presents a young New Yorker's view of the “Movement” before the Democratic Convention, the Mansons, and Altamont. 

Finally, if you have a fascination with New York’s unsavory past, a regional nostalgie de la boue, Low Life by Luc Sante is a modern classic, an exhaustively researched chronicle of crime, vice, corruption, and horror on the lower east side, circa 1840-1920. —Steven McGuirl, Head of Acquisitions

The Fortunate Pilgrim | Mario Puzo 

The Fortunate Pilgrim, Mario Puzo’s second novel, was based on his own childhood and set in the Italian neighborhood of Hell’s Kitchen. It chronicles the life of the Angeluzzi-Corbos family and their dedication, particularly that of matriarch Lucia Santa, to the betterment of their circumstances through much hardship. As the family strives for more and begins to make their way out of the immigrant community, success brings its own sadness for Lucia Santa as she is faced with leaving the place where her life has unfolded for so many years. The setting on the west side of Manhattan near the train and shipyards in the 1930s is created so vividly by Puzo that becoming immersed in the novel feels like a trip back in time. Puzo actually preferred The Fortunate Pilgrim to his next novel, the one that made him famous and changed his life: The Godfather. —Cathy McGowan, Circulation Librarian

Drawn to New York: An Illustrated Chronicle of Three Decades in New York City | Peter Kuper  

Cartoonist Peter Kuper’s collection of watercolors, sketchbook pages, and comics about his thirty years in New York City makes for a rowdy read. Formerly an artist for Mad Magazine and the long-running comic Spy Vs. Spy, Kuper’s skill as an artist is exhibited by the range of technique he employs and the types of stories he tells. The short story “One Dollar” traces the path of a single dollar bill from its minting through the gamut of New York City experiences: it’s stolen from an elderly lady’s purse, travels to a corner candy shop, pays for a cabbie’s meal at a diner, gets exchanged for a New York City Lottery ticket, and eventually ends up with a rat in the sewer.  A one-page illustration called “Odorama: A Guide to City Smells” features abstract watercolor paintings of the Holland Tunnel, asphalt on 97th street, and a garbage can in the flower district, to name a few. The book offers up various and colorful versions of Kuper’s life in New York, from his early days as a bachelor in the late ‘70s, to the shock he experiences with his daughter on the morning of September 11, to his future visions of the city. —Katie Fricas, Events Assistant / Circulation Assistant 

Children’s Books

Masterpiece | Elise Broach (illustrated by Kelly Murphy) 

You may fondly recall Claudia and James Kincaid’s museum adventures in E.L. Konigsburg classic, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. But do you know the story of Marvin, the artistic beetle who foils an art thief in the wonderful novel, Masterpiece, by Elise Broach? Marvin is a beetle, and he and his family live in the Manhattan kitchen that belongs to the Pompaday family. When James receives a pen-and-ink drawing set for his 11th birthday, Marvin discovers that he is a bug with artistic talent crafting delicate, museum-quality miniatures with his legs. Although he can't speak to James, they soon bond in an interspecies friendship. Because of Marvin's wonderful drawing, presumed to be James's work, the boy is recruited to create a fake Dürer for the Metropolitan Museum of Art to help trap an art thief. Marvin produces the forgery, but he soon realizes that the original artwork is in danger. Marvin and James must find creative ways to communicate to foil the thieves and protect the masterpiece. In the tradition of Mary Norton's, The Borrowers, this story is filled with suspense, art history, family relationships, and friendship, and is great for independent or family reading. —Carrie Silberman, Head of the Children’s Library 

The Diviners | Libba Bray   

Thanks to a generous donation from Library member Richard Peck, the Children’s Library is expanding their Young Adult holdings into the high school age level. Coinciding with the call for New York-focused books, the first title selected for this new collection is The Diviners by Printz Award winning author Libba Bray. Set in 1926, New York takes center stage, surrounded by a rotating cast of characters, who all harbor many skeletons in their closets. Naughty John, a serial killer who chants his creepy jingle as he performs his dirty deeds, is on the loose, and Evie O’Neill, a sprightly teenager, new to the city, is making new friends, including some kooky cat ladies, as she struggles to control her untapped powers to help those in harm’s way. If you are a fan of a good ghost story, pick this one up. There are mysteries a-plenty inside and some remain unsolved, leaving the door open for the next volume in this new series due out later this summer. —Susan Vincent Molinaro, Children’s Librarian & Interlibrary Loan Librarian

Photographs on this page were taken from the following collections. A partial list of New York City photography books in our collection is available here.  

Colors | Saul Leiter (editor, Sam Stourdzé) 

Harlem: a Century in Images | introduction, Thelma Golden; essays by Deborah Willis, Cheryl Finley, Elizabeth Alexander 

Picturing New York: Photographs from the Museum of Modern Art | Sarah Meister 

New York Rises | photographs by Eugene de Salignac (essays by Michael Lorenzini and Kevin Moore) 

The New York School: Photographs, 1936-1963 | Jane Livingston 

Winogrand: Figments from the Real World | Garry Winogrand (John Szarkowski, ed.)