It's summertime, which means you're probably daydreaming about vacations to beautiful, amazing cities. Actually taking trips to those cities is an entirely different matter, of course.
Never fear! If New York City is one of those places you'd just love to visit this summer, but you can't get there (or don't want to suffer the humidity and crowds), here are five books that are set in the city and evoke it so well, you'll feel as if you visited.
I'll admit that there are hundreds of other books set in the city that probably capture it just as well or better than the books I've listed. If I missed your favorite representation of the city, leave some suggestions in the comments. In the meantime, here are some books to get your armchair traveling started!
1. Catcher in the Rye
J.D Salinger's classic novel isn't exactly a summer read (not only does it take place during wintertime, it's pretty dark and depressing), but it does a striking job of capturing mid-20th century New York City. Catcher in the Rye doesn't exactly present New York City as glamorous, but it certainly captures the gritty, dark side of the city. Through the eyes of Holden, you'll see Central Park, Greenwich Village, and Radio City Music Hall.
2. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler
Who doesn't want to go live in the Met? E.L. Konigsburg (who is the only author to win two Newbury Awards in the same year) sets From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, which revolves around two runaways, mostly in the museum, so you won't see much else of New York City, but, really, you won't miss the rest of the city. Her story is so perfect, her characters so touching and memorable, you'll soon wish you could go sleep on an antique bed and wander around the museum everyday. This is short, sweet book, so think about doing a double feature. The Cricket in Times Square is a nice companion and if you read them both you'll see more of the city.
3. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay
Michael Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize for this book, so you know you're in for a treat if you read this one. Set in pre-1950s New York City, the novel traces the rise of comic books, while also looking at the social upheaval of the era and the immigrant experience. This book will take you all over New York City and it will certainly make you nostalgic for an older version of New York City. The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is a long book, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to work through it. Still, it's a richly rewarding book, so check it out.
4. Stuart Little
E.B. White spent a lot of time in New York City (he was a staff writer for the New Yorker) and he writes beautifully about the city. Stuart Little is one of his three famous books for children, but it's the only one that is set in a city. Let Stuart Little guide you around the city. He'll show you Central Park, he'll show you the wildlife of the city, and he'll show you what it's like to live in the city. If you finish Stuart Little and still want more E.B. White, check out his essays. He writes movingly, if a little critically, of New York City and what life was like there during the Forties and Fifties.
5. The Thin Man
Like Catcher in the Rye, The Thin Man is set in New York City during wintertime. However, The Thin Man is in a much more celebratory mood. Taking place between Christmas and New Year's, the book traces Nick and Nora Charles' murder investigation. Nick and Nora are one of the most charming and funny couples ever written, and the book is more about their repartee and drinking than it is about crime. And, honestly, you won't see much of the city. Nick and Nora spend most of their time throwing parties in their hotel room and if they do venture out, it's mostly to speakeasies. Still, you'll at least get a sense of the city's lively nightlife and the carefree attitude of visitors to the city. The Thin Man is Dashiell Hammett's last book and is a pretty big departure from his earlier, much more gritty hard-boiled mysteries. Still, if you like this book, you can either try some of Hammett's other novels (though most of them are set on the West Coast) or watch the series of movies based on the book. (Since it's summer time, I recommend the movies — William Powell and Myrna Loy are perfect as Nick and Nora Charles and their witty banter is even better on screen.)