By ALEIX GWILLIAM
Here’s a good question: what’s better, knowing or not knowing about a place before you travel there? Some people prefer to plan their travels to the very last detail and others enjoy going places without having planned anything. However, reading about your next destination can only spark your curiosity even more. To quench your thirst before you turn the key and open the door to one of the many New York apartments, here are some books that will help you pass the time.
Few American writers have the same status as Henry James. This great New Yorker wrote some of the best novels set in the US at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th. It would be unfair to make a list of New York books and not include him. Washington Square, a novel set in late 19th century New York, is a tragicomedy about the relationship of a father and his daughter and all the conflicts that arise. When you visit New York this time around, you might not see carts pulled by horses everywhere in the streets but it’s a good account of what life used to be like, described by one of the best American novelists of all time.
Another classic is The Great Gatsby, a novel by F. Scott Fitzgerald set in New York after the First World War, the golden days of the United States’ society, with secret parties where alcohol flowed despite the prohibition. Love, death and deceit make for the perfect depiction of a great time to have lived in New York.
Slightly darker but nonetheless brilliant is J.D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Set in New England and New York City, it follows Holden Caulfield’s struggle to fit into society. Ironic and sometimes sad, this novel has gone down in history as a controversial yet classic piece of literature that depicts American life in the fifties like few other books do. Through the eyes of young Caulfield, the grandeur of New York can be imagined and felt as the pages of this American classic are turned.
No book shows better what New York was like in the eighties than Tom Wolfe’s The Bonfire of the Vanities. Business districts, greed, Wall Street, politics and society are the main points in this book at a time when New York and the United States went through a very important and complicated part of 20th century history. During the times when money ruled and New York was the centre of the universe, Wolfe’s novel will grip you from start to finish.
Whether you want to read these books at home before your travels or in one of the apartments in New York, they will show you how the city and its people have evolved throughout the years, through thick and thin, and how the city has been shaped until it’s become what it is today.