Literary Hot Spots: New York City

Posted Jan 4th 2011 01:21 PMUpdated Feb 18th 2011 12:29 AM

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Literary New York

grahamwell,Flickr

New York City and great books have always gone hand and hand. Innumerable books have been written, inspired or taken place there. In fact, following New York's literary legacy is a great way to see the city's highlights as well as some of its lesser known treasures. From ice skating at Rockefeller Center to grabbing a beer at McSorley's, literary characters have done it all. And, with this guide, you can too.

Museum of Natural History

79th Street and Central Park West
The world and everything in it moves too quickly. It would be nice if it would all stop or even just slow down for a little while. Well, there is one place in New York City where time stands still-The Museum of Natural History. Founded in 1869, the museum is known worldwide for its exhibits and its collections where you can learn about human culture, the natural world and even the universe all within its hallowed halls on 79th Street. Holden Caulfield of J.D. Salinger's "Catcher in the Rye" loved the museum for exactly the reason above-it never changes. "I walked all the way through the park over to the Museum of Natural History.... I knew that whole museum routine like a book...I get very happy when I think about it...I loved that damn museum...You could go there a hundred thousand times, and that Eskimo would still be just finished catching those two fish.... Nobody'd be different. The only thing that would be different would be you." See for yourself. But be sure you have plenty of time to explore. It is the whole universe in one building after all...

The Ice Rink at Rockefeller Center

601 5th Ave.
In John Cheever's short story "The Angel of the Bridge," the central character's mother ice skates at the famous Rockefeller rink. "You may have seen my mother waltzing on ice skates in Rockefeller Center. She's 78 years old now but very wiry, and she wears a red velvet costume with a short skirt." He is terribly embarrassed by her frolicking. But he needn't be. People come from all around the world to take to the glassy sheets. No experience required. Rockefeller Center is filled with both locals and tourists seeking a classic New York experience. Ice skating with the famous gilded Prometheus statue standing guard is only one of the many things you can do there, including shopping, eating and taking in the stellar view. The area especially comes alive at night with twinkling lights all around.

The Sailboat Pond at Central Park

14 E. 60th St
The children's classic "Stuart Little" by E.B. White tells the story of one of literature's most beloved characters, a handsome and adventuresome mouse named, what else, Stuart Little. Stuart loves the feel of the wind in his fur and so he heads to the Sailboat Pond in Central Park one sunny afternoon. "When the bus stopped at Seventy-Second Street, Stuart jumped out and hurried across to the sailboat pond in Central Park." Because of his tiny stature, he is able to captain one of the lovely ships criss-crossing the pond on a breezy New York afternoon. You can't ride on any of the boats in Central Park's Sailboat Pond. (Unless, you are a mouse too!) You can, however, steer a boat via remote control while safely standing ashore. Just east of the pond you can rent a boat and grab a bite to eat at the Kerbs Memorial Boathouse. You shouldn't expect to see Stuart Little while you're there, but you can definitely expect to enjoy a lovely day in the sun.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art

1000 5th Ave. at 82nd Street
In "The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler," by E.L. Konigsburg, Claudia Kincaid, the novel's preteen protagonist, with her little brother Jamie in tow, runs away from home. But "she decided that her leaving home would not be just running from somewhere but would be running to somewhere. To a large place, a comfortable place...and that's why she decided upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art." Smart move on Claudia's part. The Met, founded in 1870, is one of the largest and most impressive museums in the world visited by nearly five million people a year. It holds more than two million works of art that span five thousand years of world culture hailing from every corner of the world, from prehistory to today. Run away there yourself and get lost in paintings, sculptures, drawings, and other works that will quickly make you forget whatever it is you are leaving behind.


Tiffany's

727 5th Ave. at 57th Street
Holly Golightly, the central character in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" by Truman Capote has found the key to getting back to her happy place-literally. "What I've found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany's. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it." It's no wonder that this New York City icon would have such a profound effect on her. Tiffany's was founded by Charles Lewis Tiffany and Teddy Young in 1837. The flagship store has been located at the corner of Fifth Avenue and 57th Street since 1940. The world renowned store has become famous for its polished granite exterior and impeccable window displays. Of course, it's what's inside that draws buyers and window shoppers alike to its grand doors. Diamonds of astonishing sizes and quality fill the glistening cases as do signature pieces in enamel and sterling, with surprisingly reasonable prices.

Morning Star Restaurant and The Flame Coffee House

Morning Star Restaurant, 879 9th Ave.
The Flame Coffee House, 893 9th Ave.
Even characters in a novel need to hit a good coffee shop now and then. Matthew Scudder, PI, the central character in "All the Flowers Are Dying" by Lawrence Block, is no exception. He actually had two favorite haunts. "The Morning Star's on the Northwest corner of Ninth and 57th; the Flame's at the 58th Street end of the same block. They're both New York-style Greek coffee shops, and neither one's a candidate for the next edition of Zagat, but they're not terrible, and God knows they're handy." The Morning Star Restaurant is a Hell's Kitchen coffee shop/diner that's known for killer breakfasts that only joints like this can offer. It doesn't have a full bar, but it does serve both beer and wine. The Flame Coffee House is a casual, classic, American diner also in Hell's Kitchen that offers a full bar, as well as breakfast, lunch, and late night meals. Grab a bite. Grab a drink. Just don't try to do any crime solving. Scudder's got that covered.

New York City Public Library

5th Avenue at 42nd Street
In her poem, "Invitation to Miss Marianne Moore," Elizabeth Bishop makes prominent note of the regal lions who sit at the entrance of the famed New York City Public Library. "For whom the agreeable lions lie in wait on the steps of the Public Library, eager to rise and follow through the doors up into the reading rooms, please come flying." Housing more than 15 million items, the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, also known as the "main branch" of the library is a New York City landmark from the Beaux Arts period. Inside you can visit the impressive humanities, social sciences and children's collections. And, you can peruse the non-circulating graduate-level collections renowned for being one of the world's most comprehensive public resources for nearly every subject from world history to the arts. Even if you decide to only stop by for a photo op with the stately lions standing sentry outside of all of the magnificent collections inside, it's worth the time to stop by this New York gem.

The Strand Book Store

828 Broadway at 12th Street
The Strand Book Store is no mega-mall. It is enormous, however, occupying 55,000 square feet of space and employing 200 workers. But, it is still independently owned and family run since it opened its doors in 1927. The Strand boasts the largest rare books collection in NYC and one of New York's largest collections of art books. It also offers specific services for libraries, universities and other institutions and even rent books out for home and set decorators. They call it books by the foot! The Strand offers more than 2.5 million titles both new and used to visitors to their store, their kiosks in Central Park and their online site. They also buy thousands of titles brought in by locals and visitors to the city alike. So, it's no wonder that the central character of Jonathon Franzen's novel "The Corrections" found his way there when money was running low. "He purged the Marxists from his bookshelves and took them to the Strand in two extremely heavy bags."

McSorley's Ale House

15 E. 7th St.
You don't have to do anything profound if you stop by McSorley's Old Ale House for a beer. But considering the words that have been written, the songs that have been sung and the movements that have been started there, you just may find yourself inspired to do something grand. McSorley's opened its doors in 1854. Since then, Abe Lincoln and John Lennon have visited, Woody Guthrie gave wings to the union movement and women went all the way to the Supreme Court to be allowed to even walk through the doors. (Something that didn't happen until 1970.) There is sawdust on the floors, history flooding the walls, and the chance to follow in the footsteps of real and fictional characters alike. E.E. Cummings wrote his poem "I was sitting in mcsorley's" there. "I was sitting in mcsorley's. outside it was New York and beautifully snowing," E.E. Cummings writes. Joseph Mitchell crafted a collection of pieces about the bar in his book "McSorley's Wonderful Saloon."

The Plaza Hotel

768 5th Ave.

"Oh my lord there's so much to do. Tomorrow I think I'll pour a pitcher of water down the mail chute. Ooooooooooooo I absolutely love the Plaza." Those are the words of the mischievous and incorrigible Eloise of the Kay Thompson childhood classic by the same name. Although The Plaza might not appreciate any guest pouring a pitcher of water down the mail chute, they do offer all kinds of Eloise-esque experiences in this iconic New York hotel. There is the Eloise suite designed by Betsy Johnson (with an adjoining suite for adults, of course), the Live Like Eloise package (complete with Super Duper Sundae from In-Room Dining), afternoon tea (for guests and visitors alike) and the Eloise shop. You can even live there, as Eloise the classic and terribly naughty, storybook character did, as the Plaza offers residences there as well. Nanny not included.


A former college English instructor and avid lover of New York City, Jenny Block is a freelance writer for numerous print and online publications and the author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage." Read her blog on Red Room.
Filed Under: Arts & Culture

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