Book Recommendations

Five Great Books About Women in New York

The second in a series of themed book recommendations

By Noreen Tomassi


Maggie: A Girl of the Streets
by Stephen Crane (1893)


“The story centers on Maggie Johnson, a pretty young women who struggles to survive the brutal environment of the Bowery, a New York City slum, at the end of the nineteenth century. Abused by an alcoholic mother and victimized by the overwhelming poverty of the slums, Maggie falls in love with a charming bartender, who, she tells herself, will help her escape her harsh life. Crane’s unblinking depiction of the devastating environmental forces that ultimately destroy this young, hopeful women was celebrated as one of the most important documents of American naturalism.”


The Custom of the County
by Edith Wharton (1913)


“The second of Edith Wharton’s full-length masterpieces, The Custom of the Country had a long and difficult gestation of several years. Unlike her other more characteristic works, this tale of a young woman’s adventures with money and position possesses an unusual, bristling energy, as if the subject of getting ahead affected Wharton’s own style. Undine Spragg is a beautiful and domineering creature from an unspecified, dreary Midwestern locale. Undine herself, with far greater aplomb and initiative, makes her own contacts and contrives to become engaged to Ralph Marvell, a gentle, cultured, and passive scion of one of Old New York’s grandest families.”


Turn, Magic Wheel
by Dawn Powell (1936)


“Powell’s heroine, and the character she takes most seriously, is a charming, gracious woman in her early forties who has based her whole existence on a delusive dream. Fifteen years ago Effie’s husband deserted her for another woman, and she, in the best tradition of sportsmanship, bade him godspeed. Since then Andrew Callingham in his self-imposed exile abroad, has become a novelist of extraordinary repute, and Effie, at home, proudly and loyally upholds his legend. She wears his name like a banner; she will admit to no one that she has been ill-treated; feeding on her memories, exalting Andy into a hero, she cherishes a secret, romantic hope that some day he will return to her.”


Sleepless Nights
by Elizabeth Hardwick (1979)


“With its formal sophistication epigrammatic wisdom, and freedom from the conventional demands of the novel, Sleepless Nights feels entirely modern, though it also feels like the product of another time—a more ambitious literary moment. Its influences are Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge; Peter Handke’s account of his mother’s suicide, A Sorrow Beyond Dream, and Renata Adler’s concise 1976 novel, Speedboat, which Hardwick praised in The New York Review. There is not much plot in Sleepless Nights, though its 151 pages capture the shapes of many lives.”


Disturbances in the Field
by Lynne Sharon Schwartz (1983)


Nancy Pearl of Seattle NPR writes: "I am so pleased that Lynne Sharon Schwartz’s moving…novel is finally back in print…It’s a timeless meditation on love, marriage, motherhood, and loss, and the possibilities of the consolation of philosophy. As we’re plunged into Lydia Rowe’s life, from college through middle-age, it’s impossible not to look at the choices we’ve made, and the intelligent novel filled with three-dimensional characters whose pleasures and pains are familiar to all of us…don’t miss Schwartz’s book.”




Read next: Four Great Books About the Artist in New York




Noreen Tomassi is the Executive Director of the Center for Fiction