One of the newest books to read before you go to New York is the recently published New York Diaries, edited by Teresa Carpenter. The book takes the reader through one year, and for each date includes a few diary excerpts from residents in NYC across time (the entries range from 1609-2009). For example, on this day in 1849 William Macready wrote, "Let me die in a ditch in England, rather than in the Fifth Avenue of New York here."
A few days later--but in 1922--Edna St. Vincent Millay reads an article about her book selling 10,000 copies, and strikes a happier tone: "Oh, what a thrilling winter this has been...what fun we've had!--how happy we are." The next day, in 1957, Allen Ginsberg describes New York from aboard a ship: "Past the docks of Brooklyn and black dirty ships' asses stuck out in void green water...the towers of Manhattan spiring and rocking on the Island behind us...green statue standing and turning in the world as we passed."
For more personal accounts of present day New York, check out My City, My New York, in which famous New Yorkers let you in on their favorite spots around the city. Get Kevin Spacey's recommendation on the best pizza joint in town (Joe's), or discover little known spots, like the flower district Nora Ephron frequents early in the morning.
If you're looking for fiction, NYRB has published a few collections of short stories set in the city, including the New York stories of Edith Wharton, a New York native, and of Henry James, whose imagination made frequent returns to the city as he traveled abroad. The collection of his stories, edited by Colm Toibin, includes his famous novella, Washington Square.
And finally, the essay that first introduced me to the city and remains my favorite piece of literature ever written about New York: E.B. White's classic Here is New York. "A poem compresses much in a small space and adds music, thus heightening its meaning," White observes, "The city is like poetry; it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music to the accompaniment of internal engines."
Read White's slim volume on your next trip down to the city and you are sure to arrive there with an unmistakable feeling, almost a recognition, if not a revelation: "Yes, there is New York."
P.S. As a nod back to Natasha's blog (czech it out), introducing the new Destination Literature section instigated in our Used Book Cellar, and featuring Czech literature, I wanted to mention the recently re-published Conversations with Kafka, by Gustav Janouch, complete with cover illustration of the writer by Maira Kalman. The book, in which a young poet walks around the city with his mentor, Franz Kafka, would make an excellent traveling companion for your next trip to Prague.