8 Books That Capture New York City in Summertime

By Margaret Kelly on July 3, 2014 7:06am 

Slideshow
 These tales of summertime across the boroughs will show you a side to New York that you've never seen.
Summer Reading List: New York City Books and Where to Read Them
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GREENWICH VILLAGE Many writers have described what it's like to be in New York City during the summer. The time of year is perfect to find a shady space in a park and lose yourself in a novel about the city you're in.

Listed below are a few, along with good places to read them.

"The Group" by Mary McCarthy

The fall of privileged postgrads is a perennial New York story, and fans of a certain HBO series may relate to the girls of "The Group," McCarthy’s best-selling semi-autobiographical novel about six Vassar roommates, class of 1933.

In McCarthy's narrative, the young women take turns explaining their adventures in terms drawn from their liberal arts education: Libby's conflict with a boss makes for what she considers "a fascinating exercise in narrative point of view," and Dottie's date reminds her of "the summer solstice, when maids had given up their treasure to fructify the crops."

Endlessly erudite, but rarely self-aware, the hapless graduates face surprisingly modern misadventures from Madison Avenue to the mental health unit at Cornell Medical Center.

Where to read it: The book opens in Stuyvesant Square by St. George’s Church in Gramercy — follow in the footsteps of the group and find this charming, out-of-the-way spot.

"The Subway Chronicles: Scenes from Life in New York" edited by Jacquelin Cangro

E. B. White wrote that the city "compresses all life" and, on the subway, that's more than a figure of speech. For anyone who's been pressed too close to a stranger, or seen something and wanted to say something, there's "The Subway Chronicles."

Francine Prose writes of getting on the train at Newkirk Avenue in the summer of 1966 and commuting home to Brooklyn from a writing course uptown. Ken Wheaton describes standing on an uptown 3 "on a muggy summer day" one week after the London subway bombings on July 7, 2005.

Colson Whitehead, Jonathan Lethem and other celebrated New York writers contributed to this 2006 collection of transit tales. 

Where to read it: Does it need to be said? There's no better place to read this book than on the subway train car or station platform.

"Native Speaker" by Chang-rae Lee

This 1996 debut novel introduces us to Henry Park, a spy who works for mysterious clients collecting intelligence on local politicians — including John Kwang, a Korean-American city councilman with mayoral ambitions.

Lee describes a summer when New York "seemed too dangerous...the street so dog mad with heat, untempered, literally streaming with possibilities, none of them good."

An espionage thriller set in contemporary Queens, "Native Speaker" is deepened by themes of assimilation and betrayal: "My ugly immigrant's truth," Lee has Park say, "is that I have exploited my own."

Where to read it: Find a bench by the water in Flushing Meadow Park, then head to a Korean barbecue restaurant on Northern Boulevard for kalbi or bulgogi.

"Brown Girl, Brownstones" by Paule Marshall

First published in 1959, Paule Marshall's novel opens on a "somnolent July afternoon" in Brooklyn, where a dreamy 10-year-old Barbadian-American girl named Selina imagines the generation who lived in her brownstone before her.

Where to read it: Find a spot in the shade at Selena's beloved Fulton Park, near Chauncey Street.

"Super Sad True Love Story" by Gary Shteyngart

In a New York City of the not-so-distant future, the United States is at war with Venezuela, the National Guard shoots rioters in the parks, devices called "äppäräts" stream thoughts and conversations and hipsters have taken over Staten Island.

At "zero hour" for America, Russian-American Lenny Abramov falls for a young former arts student named Eunice Park.

Where to read it: Shteyngart's dystopian love story is best begun on Cedar Hill in Central Park, where Eunice and Gary find respite "amidst the brilliant greenery" on a mid-June day.

"The Tenants of Moonbloom" by Edward Lewis Wallant

In Edward Lewis Wallant's posthumously published 2003 novel, New York rent collector Norman Moonbloom introduces us to a highly eccentric — but perfectly believable — collection of tenants sharing a Manhattan building.

In between his collections, Moonbloom recalls scattered moments from his childhood: strawberry ice cream on New Year's Eve and "a summer night as huge as heaven."

Where to read it: To fuel your imagination about the source of the noises coming from upstairs, read it late at night in your apartment when it's hot and you can't sleep.

"Kafka Was the Rage" by Anatole Broyard

In his 1946 Greenwich Village memoir, New Orleans native Anatole Broyard describes a postwar downtown "where rents were cheap, restaurants were cheap, and it seemed...that happiness itself might be cheaply had."

The author-narrator moves through sordid apartments on Jones Street and Prince Street, meets a "protégée" of Anais Nin, hangs out in the bars and on the benches of Washington Square and talks psychoanalysis and abstract art.

Throughout, Broyard's love for books, music, women and the Village itself is conveyed with the delirious excitement of a student just set free for the summer.

Where to read it: Absorb Broyard's memories of a bygone bohemia from a bar on Jones Street or the reading room of the Jefferson Market Library, 425 6th Ave.

"The Chosen" by Chaim Potok

A Williamsburg as yet untouched by American Apparel or Starbucks comes to life in Chaim Potok's coming-of-age story of two bookish Hasidic boys at the end of World War II.

Reuven and Danny meet through a baseball accident and spend the rest of their summer together. Later, in high school and then at Hirsch College on Bedford Avenue, they continue to pursue shared interests.

Reuven resolves to become a rabbi, while Danny, having received a blessing from his father, enters a psychology graduate program at Columbia University.

Where to read it: Begin this Jewish-American classic at the Hungarian Pastry Shop, a Morningside Heights cafe where students talk philosophy and Wi-Fi is not available.

For more summer reading recommendations, check out our guide to stories of the Lower East Side.

Did we miss your favorite book about summer in New York City? Let us know in the comments.

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