Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Reading American cities: New York in books

In our new summer series, Charlotte Jones collates the perfect literary companions for four US city breaks. This week, the metropolis that has inspired writers from John Dos Passos to Don DeLillo

Tuesday 29 July 2014   

Taxi on Brooklyn Bridge
Ways into the city's literature … a taxi drives across Brooklyn Bridge. Photograph: Carlo Allegri/Reuters

From the "gilded age" of Edith Wharton and Henry James to the rhythms of the Harlem Renaissance and Beat poets, writers have long been drawn to the east coast's biggest city. The New York Times has planned a holiday itinerary based entirely around literary landmarks, but what would be the perfect reading list to accompany a visit?

For all the heiresses and eminently acceptable suitors of the fin de siècle, the quintessential New York novel of money must surely be Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby. It's definitely the book to read on the first approach: "Over the great bridge, with the sunlight through the girders making a constant flicker upon the moving cars, with the city rising up across the river in white heaps and sugar lumps all built with a wish out of non-olfactory money. The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and the beauty in the world".

This is the American dream concretised in a shimmering mirage, the burgeoning metropolis of hope built on foundations of money, drugs and exploitation. (Bridges, of course, dominate the city's architecture: if you want to dazzle other tourists with sneakily memorised gobbets, try Whitman's Crossing Brooklyn Ferry; Hart Crane's The Bridge; or Russian futurist Vladimir Mayakovsky's Brooklyn Bridge.)

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