Wilderness, Thrillers and Rock ‘n’ Roll: Must-Read Books About Upstate New York

Upstate New York Books About Catskills

The world north of New York City has been a muse for countless writers, photographers, musicians and artists who draw inspiration from its wild corners and storied past. If you can’t slip away for a weekend retreat, bring the rolling hills, quaint towns and quirky characters of Upstate New York right to your living room with a good book.

We tapped the well-read team at The Golden Notebook, the fabulous Woodstock, N.Y., independent bookstore, for a list of their New York State must-reads.

Nickel Mountain by John Gardner (Fiction)
This unique love story between an obese diner owner and a pregnant 17-year-old waitress captures the complexities of family, friendship, and coping with tragedy in a small 1950s Catskills community. With characters including an amputee veteran and a “Goat Lady,” Nickel Mountain’s emotional journeys and exquisite prose will keep you riveted.

Bone Hollow, A Hudson Heartland Mystery by Bill Braine (Fiction)
Two Brooklynites head to the Catskills to find their dream home and instead unearth two dead bodies and a chilling conspiracy in the woods of Bone Hollow. This environmental thriller, written by a Hudson Valley local, weaves pulp essentials together in a suspenseful page-turner: cops, killers, gas drilling companies and back-country roads.

Upstate New York Books Catskills

The Catskills. Photo by Jaan via Flickr

The Catskills: Its History and How It Changed America by Stephen M. Silverman and Raphael D. Silver (Nonfiction)
The Golden Notebook team dubs this comprehensive tome a “must-have for every coffee table in the Catskills or for those who look forward to having one.” Packed with gorgeous photographs, rare illustrations and insightful reporting, The Catskills covers topics ranging from New York’s Declaration of Independence from Great Britain through the Borscht Belt, gangster getaways, Woodstock artists, and the controversial construction of NYC Watershed Reservoirs.

Small Town Talk: Bob Dylan, The Band, Van Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Friends in the Wild Years of Woodstock by Barney Hoskyns (Nonfiction)
This highly anticipated book, due out March 8, is full of juicy accounts of the wild lives and crazy times of the 1960s and ’70s musicians who put Woodstock — the town, not the festival — on the map. In this quiet mountain enclave, a counterculture bohemia thrived and changed history with its vision and creativity.

Catskill Creatures by Nancy Furstinger (Children’s)
Walk through the wilderness and meet all its charming inhabitants with this delightful illustrated guide to common Catskills critters. Covering everything from the warty weapons of humble toads to the winter homes of big black bears, Catskill Creatures is fun and informative for the whole family.

Upstate New York Books This Wheel's On Fire The Band

This Wheel’s On Fire cover

This Wheel’s on Fire: Levon Helm and the Story of The Band by Levon Helm and Stephen Davis (Nonfiction)
This rock ‘n’ roll story paints colorful and energetic portraits of the music world of Woodstock and the 1960s. The Band famously backed Bob Dylan when he went electric in 1985 and put out several key albums on their own. Drummer Levon Helm, who passed away in 2012, tells his story in a folksy, breezy tone, evoking the musicality of the time with his words.

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2 Comment

  • How about My Side of the Mountain?

  • The “World Made by Hand” series by James Howard Kunstler—”World Made By Hand,” “The Witch of Hebron,” and “A History of the Future” (Atlantic Monthly Press)—posits a world after the oil has run out, someone has nuked LA and Washington, DC, there’s climate change, no more electricity, and civilization has fallen apart. It’s set in Washington County (the author lives in Saratoga Springs) and ranges through the area, south to Albany and north to Glen’s Falls.
    I highly recommend it. There’s a 4th and final novel due out this summer.