Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Five essential New York novels

Jay McInerney is the author of ten books, including Bright Lights, Big City.

With Eve Gerber at The Browser, he named five essential New York novels, including:
The Catcher in the Rye
by J D Salinger

Let’s move forward to the New York of 1949. You’ve said that our cultural landscape would have been different had JD Salinger not come along. Please explain.

Catcher in the Rye injected a fresh idiom into American literature. This happened several times in our literary history. Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn and Ernest Hemingway in The Sun Also Rises did the same – they brought the contemporary spoken language into literature. When Salinger invented Holden Caulfield he gave his voice such freshness and vibrancy. Salinger also almost invented the concept of teenage angst – Salinger’s was the first voice of the youthquake that transformed our society in the 50s, 60s and 70s.

Woody Allen told me that he occasionally reread The Catcher in the Rye because it “resonated” with his fantasies about the city. What does the novel capture about mid-century Manhattan that makes it so memorable for so many?

That makes perfect sense to me, because it often seems that in Woody Allen’s movies he’s trying to preserve the New York of the immediate post-war years. Reading Catcher in the Rye made me want to live in New York City and go to the bars where Holden went and walk in his fictional steps through Central Park. For all of its satire, Catcher in the Rye is a very romantic portrait of New York.
Read about the other books McInerney tagged.

The Catcher In The Rye appears on Woody Allen's top five books list, Patrick Ness's top 10 list of "unsuitable" books for teenagers, David Ulin's six favorite books list, Nicholas Royle's list of the top ten writers on the telephone, TIME magazine's list of the top ten books you were forced to read in school, Tony Parsons' list of the top ten troubled males in fiction, Dan Rhodes' top ten list of short books, and Sarah Ebner's top 25 list of boarding school books; it is one of Sophie Thompson's six best books. Upon rereading, the novel disappointed Khaled Hosseini, Mary Gordon, and Laura Lippman.

Also see five novels that explore the dark side in New York City, Edmund White's top 10 New York books, The Great New York City Novel, Frances Kiernan's five best books about New York society, Russell Shorto's five best books on the history of New York City, and Joanna Smith Rakoff's five favorite books of New York stories.

--Marshal Zeringue