Whether you’re after detective fiction or trashy chick-lit, these writers have written about it. Here are our favourite names from NYC's most aspirational borough
The phrase “Brooklyn Writer” conjures up a vision: rich kid from somewhere boring, his astronomical rent subsidised by his rich kid dad, upon his head a hat and in his fist a latte, snapping his MacBook open and shut in a Bushwick café. The interesting thing about the "Brooklyn Writer" is that he could just as easily be a Tumblr teen twiddling his septum piercing or a 40-year-old with round tortoiseshell glasses and high cholesterol. Brooklyn is the borough of people who have blogs about themselves, so the stereotype of self-indulgent, loosely-labelled creativity applies to everybody. Anyway, they’re not all bad. A lot of those blogs are actually pretty good. This week, we select ten of the best from New York City’s most populous and writer-stuffed borough.
Yelena Akhtiorskaya’s delicious debut Panic in a Suitcase traces the effect that Brooklyn has on a family of Russian émigrés, and the effect they have on Brooklyn. It is funny and sweet on families and youthful dissatisfaction, but also runs a finger along a seam in the cultural history of the city that turns out to be very entertaining indeed.
A native Brooklyner, Reed Coleman is the author of a great pile of detective fiction set in his home borough. With glittering titles like They Don't Play Stickball in Milwaukee, The James Deans, and – straightforwardly enough – Hard-Boiled Brooklyn, Coleman’s stories are tautly elegant, classics of the genre to stand up to Hammett or Chandler.
Essays about leaving New York City are usually very irritating to people who still live in New York City. Chris Arnade’s photo/essay “Some Things I Will Miss About Brooklyn” (The Awl), however, achieves the impossible – paying tribute to an overcelebrated bit of the world and being genuinely moving at the same time. Arnade makes ordinary things like pigeon-keepers and fire hydrants and Red Hook bars sparkle.
In his 2013 essay “Bed-Stuy”, published in n+1, Brandon Harris noses around the past and present of one of the most iconic neighbourhoods in Brooklyn. The setting for Do The Right Thing (1989), Bedford-Stuyvesant has been home to Biggie, Jay Z, O.D.B and Frank McCourt. It is an area undergoing rapid gentrification, and Harris’ essay is a timely and rich consideration of the cultural past and future of Bed-Stuy.
Jennifer Egan’s 2010 novel A Visit from the Goon Squad isn’t exactly about Brooklyn, although it is deeply New York-ish, but Egan is sat so prettily atop the list of “Brooklyn Writers” that she is practically always photographed against a brownstone. Her book is one of the most formally innovative bestsellers of recent years, making a fine icon for this most literary-aspirational of boroughs.
Adelle Waldman’s novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P. is an excoriating portrait of precisely the "Wanky Brooklyn Writer" we described earlier. As one reviewer put it, “My daughter just graduated from college, but her education won’t be complete until she’s studied Waldman’s brilliant taxonomy of homo erectus Brooklynitis” – he’s so much a part of the wildlife that this interesting beast must be researched to be understood. A chilling portrait of a heterosexual man trying to exist.
Choire Sicha co-founded The Awl, a great website. He also wrote a book called Very Recent History: An Entirely Factual Account of a Year (c. AD 2009) in a Large City, which is even better than the website, so that’s saying something. The book is a wild ride through the prosaic life of John, a guy, and the people he hangs out with and has sex with, and the places he works. The book is narrated from a sort of story book anthropologist’s view, opening “There was, for a while, a very large and very famous city” and continuing in equally mystifying vein. The result is totally delightful, if a little depressingly real in places.
Dept. of Speculation is about a writer in Brooklyn and the guy she gets married to and what they do with their lives. Unpromising, but this is a wonderful novel – not least because it is the only contemporary novel I know of that treats of our time’s great trial: the dreaded bedbug infestation.
Ok, so this one isn’t nice, but it is good. Fox’s 1970 novel Desperate Characters tells the ghastly story of Sophie and Otto Bentwood, a middle-aged couple with no kids in Brooklyn Heights who are scared of everything and everybody, treading the brink of total paranoia. Short, brutal, and excellent.
My sister got Kelk’s book I Heart New York free with a magazine in 2010, the year I moved to New York from London. I read it on the plane to JFK twice. It is the trashiest chick lit you could possibly imagine, and I say that with the highest respect for the form. English girl finds her boyfriend shagging her mate then runs off to New York, gets a new haircut, has the best time ever. Highly, highly recommended.