What You Need to Read and Watch Before Visiting New York

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Mar 01, 2018

This 24/7 metropolis where hustle outweighs bustle exerts a powerful fascination. With a bit of pre-flight prep, you can be a part of it.

Watch

There are great films about every aspect of New York life. In a mere five-year period, 1972 to 1976, The Godfather, Mean Streets, Serpico and Taxi Driver marked out the compass points of its underbelly. Hester Street (1975), Man Push Cart (2005) and Brooklyn (2015) explore the immigrant experience; racial tensions drive West Side Story (1961), Shaft (1971) and Do the Right Thing (1989); and Wall Street (1987) dissects ruthless greed. But as a sole desert-island choice, you can’t beat the 1949 musical On the Town. Frank Sinatra, Jules Munshin and Gene Kelly are sailors on shore leave, cramming in 24 hours worth of sights and romance in this exuberant love letter to the “wonderful town” where “the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down”

Read

A post-9/11 reimagining of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Joseph O’Neill’s acclaimed 2008 novel, Netherland, finds a whole new angle on New York. The key is, of all things, cricket. Separated from his family, a Dutch banker meets a Trinidadian immigrant whose Gatsby-sized ambitions include making Americans love the “gentleman’s game”. Together they crisscross the city, from privileged heart to furthest forgotten reaches, a canvas O’Neill makes his own.

Also consider…

◖ The Bonfire of the Vanities

(1987): Tom Wolfe’s 700-page skewering of Wall Street’s “Masters of the Universe” has dated but the novel remains a fast, cynically funny read that spares no-one.

◖ Mapping Manhattan (2013): Becky Cooper gave hand-drawn maps to New orkers of all kinds and asked them to mark places significant to them. The result is this beautiful little book.

Listen

If ever a piece of music captured the city’s relentless pace and interwoven rhythms, it’s Rhapsody in Blue composed by George Gershwin, who said listeners might hear in it suggestions of “a picnic party in Brooklyn”, “a Harlem cabaret” and “a New York crowd”. The music (along with Gordon Willis’s stunning black-and-white cinematography) propelled Woody Allen’s 1979 film, Manhattan, and featured in The Great Gatsby (2013). It sounds as fresh and relevant as it did when it debuted in 1924.

Also consider…

◖ Empire State of Mind (2009): Jay-Z found the perfect collaborator for this song in Alicia Keys. His rap includes crushed dreams among the boasts but her soaring chorus sells New York as the dream-big destination.

SEE ALSO: The Best Free Things to do in New York