With summer just around the corner, it’s time to give a little thought to what you’ll be reading on warm summer nights or beach days spent lounging on the sands of Coney Island.
There are a wealth of books written by Brooklyn authors, and a plethora of books set in Brooklyn. Here are eight of Brownstoner’s favorite novels and memoirs about Kings County — books for everyone from the lifelong Brooklynite to the most recent transplant or even those who’ve yet to set foot in this fine borough.
Did your favorite make the list? Share your Brooklyn book recommendations in the comments.
Last Exit to Brooklyn
This deeply disturbing 1964 novel explores the then-seedy bits of Brooklyn, such as forlorn areas of Sunset Park and the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Written by Hubert Selby, Jr., the author of Requiem for a Dream (which is set in the Bronx, but was made into a film set in Coney Island) and a borough native himself, the novel paints an intimate portrait of mid-20th-century urban blight and crime.
A Walker in the City
Written in a stream of consciousness style, A Walker in the City transports its reader back to the warm Jewish kitchens and cramped fire escapes of early 20th century Brownsville, when the area had a far larger Jewish population. Written in 1951 by Alfred Kazin, this memoir is a quick read, but its imagery will last a lifetime.
One of Brooklyn’s most borough-centric writers, Jonathan Lethem explores the world of an orphaned boy detective with Tourette syndrome in his 1999 novel Motherless Brooklyn. Deeply ambitious and a good deal more plot-oriented than his other works, Motherless Brooklyn is a genre-bender in which Lethem has a good deal of fun with his prose.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
This epic, Pulitzer Prize-winning exploration of the lives of two Jewish comic book writers begins in 1939 and stretches over the decades. A 639-page undertaking, this work of historical fiction by Michael Chabon is sure to entertain, its narrative spanning Flatbush to Antarctica.
A series of short stories exploring the quiet, residential Marine Park neighborhood on Brooklyn’s watery edges, Marine Park is written by neighborhood native Mark Chiusano, and represents one of the few literary imaginings of the nabe. While not yet a classic, the collection captures many moments in an area of Brooklyn still unknown to many.
Brown Girl, Brownstones
This poetic 1959 book was the debut novel of award-winning author Paule Marshall. Brown Girl, Brownstones focuses on the identity, inner life and daily plights of Barbadian immigrants living in a Bed Stuy brownstone during the Great Depression and World War II as well as the the cultural tensions between African Americans and West Indians. Reprinted in 1981, many of the book’s themes remain relevant today.
The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.
Written by former newspaper reporter Adelle Waldman, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is a 2013 coming-of-age novel which delves into the relationship of young Brooklyn residents Hannah and Nate. Praised for its empathy and its humor, the comedy of manners explores Nate’s psyche and search for happiness in a modern world.
Perhaps the most classic work on this list is Chaim Potok’s 1967 The Chosen. Another coming-of-age novel, The Chosen is set in 1940s Williamsburg, with the narrative following two young friends and their interactions with everything from baseball to Zionism.
Named for a large, rose-colored residential building in Greenpoint, Kate Christensen’s 2014 The Astral explores themes of gentrification and a blundering husband. While the novel may be fiction, the famous 19th century building, built by industrialist Charles Pratt for oil workers, is very real, and encompasses a full block on Franklin Street with its girth.
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