New York City, the never-sleeping and ever-glittering metropolis, holds a well-known grasp on adult literary culture. But the city also figures prominently in the cannons of the coming of age literature — its largess, beauty, and squalor being the perfect canvases for the growing mind. Here are six classic NYC spots from novels and memoirs that any literature lover should visit:
Henry James set Washington Square in the now fabulously unspoiled Greek Revival houses along the north side of the regal park that was once home to the upper-class denizens of 19th-century high society. James wrote, "The ideal of quiet and of genteel retirement, in 1835, was found in Washington Square … [T]his portion of New York appears to many persons the most delectable. It has a kind of established repose which is not of frequent occurrence in other quarters of the long, shrill city; it has a riper, richer, more honourable look than any of the upper ramifications of the great longitudinal thoroughfare — the look of having had something of a social history."
Eloise, Kay Thompson's famous 1951 children's book, begins with "I am Eloise. I am a city child. I live at the Plaza. There is a lobby which is enormously large with marble pillars and ladies in it and a revolving door …" The book's brilliant and punchy illustrations transform the hotel into an equally glamorous and eccentric playhouse for the precocious child.
The landmark hotel, which is located at 758 5th Avenue, also makes an appearance in The Great Gatsby and Meg Cabot's The Princess Diaries. Today, its façade is covered in a faux-building muslin sheath. However, if you find yourself in Midtown in need of a bite (and an Eloise-themed boutique), the Plaza's downstairs food court certainly delivers.
Near the end of J.D. Salinger's 1951 über-classic coming of age story, Holden Caufield visited the duck pond in Central Park and, in a rare moment of empathy for an otherwise alienated teenager, wonders to himself where all the ducks go in the winter. The answer is that the majority of ducks remain in the park, but about 240 species migrate each fall and spring.
Betty Smith's 1943 tale center on an Irish-American family who lived on Lorimer Street, "on the top floor instead of the ground floor. There was no stoop as a store occupied the street floor of the house. There was no bathroom and the toilet was in the hall and shared by two families." If you walk to the intersection of Metropolitan and Lorimer, you can see the Williamsburg Bridge and the skyscrapers in the distance from the same view as Francis Nolan.
In E.L. Konigsburg's 1967 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, 12-year-old Claudia and 9-year-old Jamie run away from home and settle in the revered Metropolitan Museum of Art. In order to maintain their residence, the children hide amongst school tours, sleep in bathrooms and antique beds, and bathe in fountains. According to the DVD commentary for Wes Anderson's The Royal Tenenbaums, the book served as the inspiration for Margo and Richie's escape to an unnamed museum.
The hotel — located at 222 West 23rd Street — has been the home of numerous writers, musicians, artists, and actors, including Bob Dylan, Charles Bukowski, Janis Joplin, Leonard Cohen, Iggy Pop, and Patti Smith. Smith, both a musician and writer, spent much of her time there as she grew her career as an artist and her friendship with photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe. She wrote of the hotel in her memoir, Just Kids, "The hotel is an energetic, desperate haven for scores of gifted hustling children from every rung of the ladder. Guitar bums and stoned-out beauties in Victorian dresses. Junkie poets, playwrights, broke-down filmmakers, and French actors. Everybody passing through here is somebody, if not in the outside world."