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McNally Jackson’s List of 10 Books Every New Yorker Should Read

By Emmie MurphyFeb 27 2023
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“Being a New Yorker has no real definition beyond the geographical, and the geography of the city is so large and varied that it should be a meaningless designation,” says Sarah McNally, founder and owner of McNally Jackson bookstores. “And yet, every New Yorker feels that it’s not meaningless.”

Being a New Yorker – and the many varied definitions that come with it – is a moniker often worn with pride, and it connects us to the larger history of the city and its stories. With this in mind, The Center Magazine asked McNally Jackson — the iconic NYC bookstore recently opened its fifth and largest location in the city at 1 Rockefeller Plaza —  to create a list of 10 books every New Yorker should read. The result is a pastiche of fiction and nonfiction, memoir, contemporary and early histories, poetry, and cult classics.

“These books,” explains McNally, “are about how we are brought together and how we are held apart.” Covering subjects that range from the AIDS crisis, Manhattan’s early beginnings, the secrets of a 1920s Wall Street tycoon, and rock music in the new millennium, this is a must-read list that embodies the disparate, complex, and intriguing narratives of New York City and its inhabitants.

1. The Island At The Center Of The World by Russell Shorto

Sarah McNally: “The archives from Dutch Manhattan describe behaviors of New Yorkers in the 17th century that are very familiar today. If you want to understand why New York is the way it is, this book is a compelling resource.”

2. The Gangs of New York by Herbert Ashbury

SM: “The shadowy New York described by Ashbury is one that modern New Yorkers thankfully don’t have to endure, but the story captures the turbulence, brutality, and deadly racism that persist today in subtler forms.”

3. Another Country by James Baldwin

SM: This novel primarily takes place in Greenwich Village and Harlem, and [it] deals with addiction, loss, queer love, race, and place. But really it’s a book about passion.

4. Trust by Hernan Diaz

SM: “A novel within a memoir within a mystery, Trust is a multi-layered story about the quiet unraveling of a New York stock market shark. Within a critique on the supposed ‘great men’ who dominate the business world, Diaz ruminates on the gradations of perception, memory, and truth.”

5. The Gentrification Of The Mind by Sarah Schulman

SM: “This book is Schulman's account of how HIV/AIDS tore through NYC, destroying the queer community, and how so much of that history has been sanitized in the following decades. It is a reminder of what the city has lost, and maybe what can be done about it.”

6. Meet Me In the Bathroom by Lizzy Goodman

SM: “Like its forefather Please Kill Me, Meet Me in the Bathroom is a true document of an era, when the New York indie underground exploded and produced some of the best music of the 2000s. Come for the gossip, stay for the encapsulation of how the city truly morphed in those ten years at the turn of the millennia.”

7. I Must Be Living Twice by Eileen Myles

SM: “Eileen Myles, poet laureate of St. Mark’s Place, is the most essential living interpreter of life in downtown Manhattan.”

8. Just Kids by Patti Smith

SM: “A glorious memoir famous for seducing readers from all over to New York, and the bestselling book in McNally Jackson’s 18-year history.”

9. Everyman by Philip Roth

SM: “Set in New York and New Jersey during the latter half of the twentieth century, Everyman chronicles one man’s encounter with the steady, merciless hand of fate.”

10. The Street by Ann Petry

SM: “This novel, first published in 1946, tells the story of Lutie Johnson, a single mother, whose efforts to claim a share of the American dream for herself and her young son meet frustration at every turn in 1940s Harlem. Brandon Taylor, who gave it the accolade of ‘our American Anna Karenina’ and listed it among his favorite books, has called it ‘a stunning novel about being Black and alive in America.’”

McNally Jackson is open daily from 10am to 8pm at 1 Rockefeller Plaza.

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