Sometimes you need to get under the skin of a place, and the best way to do that is through the words of the writers that have immortalised it. Hatty Copeman offers her review of five books about New York that offer a glimpse into the history and culture of this great city.
The Catcher in The Rye by J.D. Salinger
This iconic book shows New York through 17-year-old Holden Caulfield’s eyes. The story narrator’s nostalgic and deep love for the city bears a romantic view of Manhattan’s most popular landmarks: “I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park, down near Central Park South. I was wondering if it would be frozen over when I got home, and if it was, where did the ducks go?”
Other attractions Holden mentions are the skating rink at Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall, The Zoo and Carousel in Central Park, Grand Central Station, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the American Museum of Natural History. Although the book was published in 1951, these landmarks are still some of the most significant places in the city and continue to draw visitors in their flocks. Holden’s idealistic and old-fashioned view of Uptown Manhattan, where most of these landmarks are situated, accurately describes the area’s atmosphere, which remains much the same today.
Just Kids by Patti Smith
The mother of punk’s account of Robert Mapplethorpe and herself living together in New York during the 1970s whilst they were starting out their creative careers provides a vivid insight of the city during that time. Smith’s rich imagery of downtown New York sets the scene for what was a transitional and significant time for the people and the neighbourhood.
Soon after, the small community of local emerging artists would contribute towards the city becoming the cultural centre of the Western world. Smith’s portrait provides a cultural background to today’s downtown Manhattan, especially her emphasis on the artistic seriousness and optimism of the city that is still very present and relevant.