We’re spending a record amount of time at home, so I thought I would publish a travel & lifestyle post this month. As people try new hobbies or go back to the interests they enjoyed when they were younger, it’s exciting to see that reading has transformed into a treasured way to pass the time in recent months: In an April 2020 Stanford Graduate School of Business article, lecturer Scotty McLennan tells the author that, “It helps us get deep into the minds and hearts of people. And that’s important during a crisis like COVID-19, because we see the human condition laid bare. We see the character of people and the interaction of all the different forces in society. I think it’s one of the best ways to find help.” ABC 7 News additionally reported that book sales were higher in 2020 than they were in 2019, and Barnes & Noble CEO James Daunt reported that contemporary fiction, cookbooks, educational resources, and children’s books were popular.
Reading has multiple benefits. Just six minutes of reading is enough to lower blood pressure levels. Reading improves your writing skills, boosts empathy, decreases the risk of Alzheimer’s, and stops cognitive decline. While these are all amazing effects, here’s another reason why reading is a memorable pastime: You can travel to a new place and learn more about it without leaving your couch. Since the ability to travel is limited right now, you can read about a captivating region instead.
Enter New York State. Whether you’re a city-slicker, history lover, or aquaphile, the Empire State has a variety of attractions that will satisfy everyone in your travel party. It’s no surprise that this place is one of the most visited states in the country. This state is absolutely exceptional because of its heterogenous landscape: Hearing the words New York may conjure images of famed New York City, but there are nine other regions filled with beaches, lakes, mountains, and museums (Anyone not from New York City will tell you this too. I can imagine the annoyance someone from Buffalo or Albany must feel when they go out-of-state and someone asks where they’re from. When the New Yorker says they’re from New York, the local lets out a gasp of excitement and says, “You’re from New York?” And then the New Yorker has to contain a sigh and say, “No, not New York City. I live in another part of New York State”). The other regions of the state are just as thrilling as New York City, I promise.
The landscape has inspired writers, and several bestselling books are set in this Mid-Atlantic state. Whether you can’t make it to New York because of travel restrictions or you’re missing the state, reading a book that mentions this region is the perfect way to overcome Zoom fatigue and unwind after staring at a computer screen all day.
Here’s a detailed overview that reviews nine books (Not all of these books are set in New York City). Take that, blue light.
Sports journalist Wayne Coffey is one beast of a storyteller. In this non-fiction book, Coffey recounts the Miracle on Ice: The 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, consisting of young players with no professional experience, defeated the Russians- ranked the best team in the world- in the quaint Adirondack village of Lake Placid on February 22, 1980. Coffey rotates between writing what happened on that electrifying Friday and writing about the personal life of each player. I love the duality of this book.
Coffey also writes about the Russian players and how they were introduced to hockey. I enjoyed reading about the background of the players from both team because it humanized them. My favorite American hockey player, Jack O’Callahan, turned down Harvard to play for Boston University. Simply a stud.
Coffey’s writing is just as intense and gripping as the sport of hockey itself: His syntax makes each sentence long and is punctuated with endless commas. This book is best paired up with a cup of hot chocolate and a winter blanket.
Here are some quotes that stand out:
“Hockey is a club that holds its members tightly, the bond forged by shared hardship and mutual passion, by every trip to the pond, where your feet hurt and your face is cold and you might get a stick in the ribs or a puck in the mouth, and you still can’t wait to get back out there because you are smitten with the sound of blades scraping against ice and pucks clacking off sticks, and with the game’s speed and ever-changing geometry. It has a way of becoming the center of your life even when you’re not on the ice.”
” You can’t be common, the common man goes nowhere, you have to be uncommon.”– Herb Brooks
“Great moments are born from great opportunity.”– Herb Brooks
“The name on the front is a hell of a lot more important than the one on the back.”– Herb Brooks
“Risk something or forever sit with your dreams.”– Herb Brooks
“Write your own book instead of reading someone else’s book about success.”– Herb Brooks
2. My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (Catskills)
This adventure novel is so much fun to read! 12 year-old Sam Gribley is unhappy living in a New York City apartment with his eight brothers and sisters. He runs away to live in the Catskills Mountains and has his own falcon. He makes deerskin clothing and a clay fireplace. He also learns how to hunt for shellfish and how to smoke meat.
While this is a middle grade book, it’s a comforting read that everyone will enjoy. Sam is such a likeable protagonist due to his perseverance, love of reading, and appreciation for nature. Jean Craighead George was an environmentalist, so her descriptive nature writing is a triumph.
Here are some memorable passages:
“Be you a writer or reader, it is very pleasant to run away in a book.”
“Fortunately, the sun has a wonderfully glorious habit of rising every morning.”
“I throw back my head, and, feeling free as the wind, breathe in the fresh mountain air. Although I am heavy-hearted, my spirits are rising. To walk in nature is always good medicine.”
3. The Last of the Mohicans by James Fenimore Cooper (Adirondacks/Central New York)
This is an unforgettable story that chronicles the French and Indian War, a conflict between France and the United Kingdom as they fought over who would govern North America. Indigenous Americans fought for both countries. Cora and Alice Munro must head from Fort Edward to Fort William Henry with Major Duncan Heyward. It’s a memorable recount of war, loyalty, and the overwhelming power of nature. Goodreads describes it as “a classic frontier adventure story.”
Fort William Henry is in the Lake George area of New York, and you can come inside the fort and see demonstrations today. The author moved to Cooperstown, a village in the Central New York region that is home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Visitors can also tour the Farmers’ Museum and the Fenimore Art Museum.
Here are some lines that stand out:
“Every trail has its end, and every calamity brings its lesson!”
“History, like love, is so apt to surround her heroes with an atmosphere of imaginary brightness.”
“Is it justice to make evil, and then punish for it?”
4. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Long Island)
Transport yourself to the gorgeous beaches and elegant mansions of Long Island. This timeless book features Nick Carraway and his meetings with Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is still not over Daisy Buchanan, a past lover. This man actually bought a mansion near Daisy’s own home and deliberately throws parties in the hopes that she will attend. Honestly, both of these two characters have their own faults and you can debate whether Daisy truly loves Gatsby as much as he loves her.
While I do find the joke that Gatsby hosting parties in the hopes that Daily will attend and talk to him is the modern-day equivalent of posting on social media hoping that your crush will see the photo or story hilarious, this classic is nevertheless an American staple and is discussed in most American high schools. This book has important commentaries about wealth and status. The Great Gatsby additionally brings up the debate of whether or not the American Dream is a fallacy.
Overall, the description of 1920s New York is exciting. The book also has tons of memorable passages, including these:
“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees, just as things grow in fast movies, I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
“He smiled understandingly-much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced-or seemed to face-the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favor. It understood you just as far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
“In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
“Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you had.”
“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”
“He looked at her the way all women want to be looked at by a man.”
“The city seen from the Queensboro Bridge is always the city seen for the first time, in its first wild promise of all the mystery and beauty in the world.”
5. Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín (New York City)
This such a poignant story! Eilis, an Irish woman, travels on a ship from England to Brooklyn because an Irish priest in New York sponsors her and offers her a room in a house filled with five other boarders. She immigrates to the United States, leaving her mother and sister in Enniscorthy, because the post-World War II economy means it’s very difficult for her to find a job. She works at a department store on Fulton Street and attends bookkeeping classes at Brooklyn College. She also dates Tony, an Italian-American living in Bensonhurst who loves the Dodgers.
This moving novel explores the themes of identity and courage. I absolutely loved watching Eilis grow as a character and reading about her success in bookkeeping. I think the love story between her and Tony was well-written. The twist happens halfway- After a tragedy strikes the Lacey family in Ireland, Eilis returns to her hometown and must make the difficult decision of staying or going back to Brooklyn. The depiction of grief is so powerful.
I loved reading about New York City in the 1950s! It was so much fun to read about the Dodgers and summers at Coney Island.
Some people may say that the pace is slow, but I wanted to savor every second because the writing was beautiful. I don’t think it’s slow-Rather, Tóibín is a descriptive writer.
My only regret is that I didn’t pick up this book sooner!
Here are two quotes I liked:
“She felt almost guilty that she had handed some of her grief to him, and then she felt close to him for his willingness to take it and hold it, in all its rawness, all its dark confusion.”
“Tony was so wrapped up in the game that it gave her a chance to let her thoughts linger on him, float towards him, noting how different from her he was in every way. The idea that he would never see her as she felt that she saw him now came to her as an infinite relief, as a satisfactory solution to things.”
6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (New York City)
We had to do a project in our ninth grade English class on one of the books from our required summer reading, and I chose this book! Ms. Smith writes about 11 year-old Francie Nolan, an impoverished girl living in a Williamsburg tenement with her brother Cornelius, her mother Katie, and her alcoholic father Johnny. This is a quintessential bildungsroman: You see Francie mature into a woman, as the book ends with her University of Michigan acceptance.
Francie’s likeable character is one of the greatest aspects of this novel. The novel also touches on the theme of family. This novel was so amazing that it was distributed to American soldiers during World War II, and one man even wrote to the author saying how much he enjoyed reading this book.
Here are some striking quotes:
“Dear God,” she prayed, “let me be something every minute of every hour of my life.”
“From that time on, the world was hers for the reading. She would never be lonely again, never miss the lack of intimate friends. Books became her friends and there was one for every mood. There was poetry for quiet companionship. There was adventure when she was tired of quiet hours. There would be love stories when she came into adolescence and when she wanted to feel a closeness to someone she would read a biography. On that day when she first knew she could read, she made a vow to read one book a day as long as she lived.”
“People always think that happiness is a faraway thing,” thought Francie, “something complicated and hard to get. Yet, what little things can make it up; a place of shelter when it rains- a cup of strong hot coffee when you’re blue; for a man, a cigarette for contentment; a book to read when you’re alone- just to be with someone you love. Those things make happiness.”
“Look at everything always as though you were seeing it either for the first or last time: This is your time on earth filled with glory.”
7. Before We Were Strangers by Renee Carlino (New York City)
This contemporary fiction novel follows two NYU students: Photography major Matt and music major Grace. They are instantly drawn to each other, but Matt ends up moving to South America for a National Geographic position. 15 years pass, and Matt sees Grace waiting for the F train one day.
This is a realistic portrayal of love and accurately captures how some people are meant to be together but the timing sucks. Life has other plans sometimes. Thankfully, Matt and Grace get redemption.
Carlino’s description of New York City is amazing. Read this book if you’re dreaming about the city that never sleeps!
Take a look at these unbelievable quotes:
“The present is our own. The right-this-second, the here-and-now, this moment before the next, is ours for the taking. It’s the only free gift the universe has to offer. The past doesn’t belong to us anymore, and the future is just a fantasy, never guaranteed. But the present is ours to own. The only way we can realize that fantasy is if we embrace the now.”
“You can’t re-create the first time you promise to love someone or the first time you feel loved by another. You cannot relive the sensation of fear, admiration, self-consciousness, passion, and desire all mixed into one because it never happens twice. You choose it like the first high for the rest of your life. It doesn’t mean you can’t love another or move on; it just means that the one spontaneous moment, the split second that you took the leap, when your heart was racing and your mind was muddled with What ifs?- the moment will never happen the same way again. It will never feel as intense as the first time. At least, that’s the why I remember it. That’s why my mother always said we memorialize our past. Everything seems better in a memory.”
“And in that moment, you realize how little control you have over your own destiny. From the time you’re born, you have no control; you can’t choose your parents, and, unless you’re suicidal, you can’t choose your death. The only thing you can do is choose the person you love, be kind to others, and make your brutally short stint on earth as pleasant as possible.”
“We were victims of bad timing. But here we are again.”
“New York has an energy that takes root inside of you. Even a transplant like me gets to know the different boroughs, like they’re living, breathing organisms. There’s nowhere else like it. The city becomes a character in your life, a love you can’t take out of you. The mysteriously human element about this place can make you fall in love and break your heart at the same time.”
8. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (New York City)
This story follows 12 year-old Claudia Kincaid, a girl living in the Connecticut town of Greenwich that is part of the New York metropolitan area, and her escape to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Claudia and her younger brother Jamie find themselves caught in a mystery involving a statue that is rumored to be one of Michelangelo’s works.
Here are some thoughtful quotes:
“The eyes are the windows of the soul…If someone was to look into your eyes, what would you want them to see?”
“Happiness is excitement that has found a settling down place, but there is always a little corner that keeps flapping around.”
“I think you should learn, of course, and some days you must learn a great deal. But you should also have days when you allow what is already in you to swell up inside of you until it touches everything. And you can feel it inside of you. If you never take time out to let that happen, then you accumulate facts, and they begin to rattle around inside of you. You can make noise with them, but never really feel anything with them. It’s hollow.”
9. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving (Hudson Valley)
No mention of New York writers is complete without a spotlight on Washington Irving! The story- a perfect autumn read-follows Ichabod Crane and his move to Sleepy Hollow. He begins to like a woman named Katrina Van Tassel, but a critical encounter with the Headless Horseman changes everything.
This is a thrilling novel set in the Hudson Valley, and you can read my blog post about this region here. It’s exciting that Irving highlighted this region, as the Hudson Valley has many places to visit and New York City residents can enjoy great day trips to this part of the state. Travelers can even visit Irving’s home in this area! You can read more about his home and other note-worthy places to visit in my blog post that covers four Hudson Valley attractions. For a description about Christmas festivities in one of the mansions in this area, click here.
This book has had a major impact on Hudson Valley tourism, as people love going to this area in autumn to see Halloween parades, the Great Jack O’Lantern Blaze (There’s over 7,000 pumpkins!), and foliage at Bear Mountain. There’s also a movie version of this book!
That’s a wrap-up on my book recommendations! You can click here for my blog post about books set in Poland. You can also add me on Goodreads (It’s like a social media app dedicated to book reviews)-here!
Have a great March everyone!
All my love,
Ooh! Good list. I was thinking about doing a couple lists like this based on region. I really like this concept!
Thank you Sarah! And I’d love to read your post about books based on a region if you decide to write it!
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