Ten Quintessential, Contemporary New York City Novels

August 16, 2016 Top Ten Tuesday 33

Top Ten Tuesday
Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish that asks bloggers to create Top Ten lists on a variety of bookish topics. This week’s topic is Top Ten Books With X Setting.

When I think of quintessential New York books, Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities is the first thing that comes to mind. But, I hear less talk about recent releases that are “quintessential NYC books”, so I wanted to focus on them here. This list started as “Ten Contemporary New York City Books”, which then became “Ten Contemporary New York City Novels” because there were just so many to choose from. I culled that down further to just those released in the past three years (2013-2016). 

Ten Quintessential, Contemporary New York City Books



Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue (out on August 23)
An immigrant family working for a top Lehman Brothers executive during the 2008 financial crisis.

Bright, Precious Days by Jay McInerney
The hoity-toity literary and social sets.

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin
Truman Capote and the 1950’s Upper East Side social scene.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
Behind-the-scenes of the world of NYC fine dining restaurants.


A Little Life by Hanya Yanigahara
Four college friends hitting the worlds of art, law, acting, and architecture…and SO much more.

Saint Mazie by Jami Attenberg
The Lower East Side during the Jazz Age, Prohibition, and the Great Depression.


Florence Gordon by Brian Morton
An aging writer with a typical New York personality.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff
Late 1990’s New York publishing world.


The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Friendships evolving in New York.

The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. by Adelle Waldman
The dating scene in contemporary New York, specifically the Brooklyn literary scene.

What are your favorite contemporary books about New York City?

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33 Responses to “Ten Quintessential, Contemporary New York City Novels”

    • Sarah Dickinson

      For some reason, I’ve read a ton of NYC books in the last few years…and not nearly as many before that.

      And – of course after I put the post up, I remembered My Salinger Year is not actually a novel..it’s a memoir! Oops.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Of course I remembered after this post that My Salinger Year is a memoir, not a novel! Oops…

  1. Helle @ Bookish Utopia

    I haven’t read any contemporary books set in NYC, but after reading this list I have several to keep my eye on. My favourite book set in NYC, though not contemporary, has to be The Bell Jar. I find the NYC setting really interesting, so I’m glad you wrote this list!

  2. Susie | Novel Visits

    I love this list! New York is one of my very favorite settings and I’ve read most on your list, but have picked up a couple of new titles. Thanks! I might add one for 2016, Tuesday Nights in 1980 by Molly Prentiss. It gives a great picture of the New York art scene in 1980.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Tuesday Nights is on my list of books to at least try before the end of the year. I’ve heard so many good things!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yes! I had that one on my original list, but then took it off when I had to cut b/c such a big chunk is set in Vegas. But, I did love it!

  3. Bri @ Transported By Books

    I’ll definitely have to add some of these to my TBR. I really liked Sweetbitter and just recently read The Ramblers by Aidan Donnelley Rowley that just came out this past Winter and loved that.

  4. Michelle

    I’m surprised you didn’t add City on Fire to this list. It has a similar vibe to it as The Bonfire of the Vanities although it deals with the punk scene more than the Wall Street scene. Both fascinating books though!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Haha – hmm…I didn’t add City on Fire b/c I’m still SO mad at the last third of the book I could scream! Wasn’t a fan 🙁

  5. Ola

    This is a great list! I love books set in NYC, I’m instntly drawn to them. I read three books from your list, Behold the Dreamers, The Love Affairs and A Little Life and I loved all of them. I don’t know some of the books from your list, so I will be definitely checking them out.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Me too! I did live there for about 8 years, so I’m sure that’s why! But, it’s also such a complicated place…inspiring complicated feelings!

  6. Trish

    Oh goodness. You’ve reminded me again that I need to get to Bonfire of the Vanities. It is the book I’ve had sitting on my shelf unread for the longest. Sad! 🙂 I have The Interestings to look forward to–I didn’t realize it was set in NYC!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      YES!! I’d like to re-read it…it’s been quite awhile since I read it..I wonder how I’d feel about it now.

  7. Lindsay

    After reading “A Little Life” last week I watched a long interview with the author, and, if I remember right, she said she didn’t think the book was especially “New York-y” — or at least she didn’t intend for it to be that way. However, I found the atmosphere, the attitudes, the people, the careers, the social circles, the food, the neighborhoods and the way of life of New York to be permeating the entire thing, and I thought it was a vivid — if, perhaps, subtle — portrait of the city.

    Several of the other books on your list are on my TBR. I should be getting “Sweetbitter” in from the library any day!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      That’s so interesting! I felt like it was a very NY book…and I lived there for 8 years! So, I guess she painted what was only supposed to be a backdrop really beautifully!

      Hope you love Sweetbitter!

  8. Megan @ booksandcarbs

    Contemporary books set in NYC … the titles that came to mind for me were The Ramblers, Three-Martini Lunch, and & Sons (mixed feelings about this last title). Of those three, I enjoyed The Ramblers the most.

    • Sarah Dickinson

      The Ramblers! I’ve heard good things about that one and need to add it to my TBR!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      I loved Devil Wears Prada too! I did live in NYC for 8 years, so a lot of what was in these books rang true for me.

  9. Lindsey

    I wouldn’t say I intentionally read books set in NYC, but I’ve read a bunch of the ones on your list! I do still need to read The Salinger Year, though.

  10. Mari Chapman

    I love books set in places that I can relate too. Who can’t in one way or another relate to New York? Right now I am reading Sun Valley Moon Mountains by Ajax Minor. Set in Utah, since I am from there this was a no brainer for me and not to mention, but I will…this is a great book!

    • Sarah Dickinson

      Yep – I would say that’s a quintessential NYC book! Just wish I’d liked it more 🙂

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