The June primary is just around the corner, and when New Yorkers get to their polling place this year they’ll be confronted with a new type of ballot, one that allows you to rank your top five choices — welcome to the era of ranked-choice voting in NYC.
To help New Yorkers get acquainted with the new method, we’ve been hosting some practice elections. You may recall that in February, Mayor Lenny of Ghostbusters won our race for Fictional Mayor of NYC, after which we provided a breakdown of how his victory played out through several rounds. For our next practice election, we’ve teamed up with the New York Public Library for the Big Apple Book Ballot, which will decide once and for all on the greatest NYC-centric novel of all time.
NYPL librarians (after much discussion, debate, and New York-style arguing) chose the below books, which they feel represent the diversity, excitement, and beauty of the cultural center of the world. Think of these books as the candidates in the election. While it’s a crowded race, you will only be able to choose and rank your top five. (Bonus: You can borrow all of these books from the comfort of your home using a smartphone with the Library’s SimplyE app, or reserve a copy for pick up at one of the Library’s open locations.)
Once you vote, you will even get a (digital) “I Voted” sticker. We’ll post the results and a detailed analysis next week. Let’s do this…
Voter Guide: Meet The Candidates
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
By Michael Chabon
This super novel follows two creative cousins in WWII-era Brooklyn as they successfully break into the comics industry with their (surprisingly relevant) anti-Fascist character The Escapist, among others. Their personal lives–hopes, dreams, magic, curiosities–wind up on the pages of their Golden Era comics as they maneuver various relatable and not-so-relatable realities. Accessible to varying demographics, this universally-renowned book already has an impressive history of landing on top, winning the Pulitzer in 2001.
By Jacqueline Woodson
Told as a series of flashbacks, this short but powerful novel showcases the resilience, grit, and beauty of NYC as it portrays four friends growing up in Bushwick, Brooklyn in the 1970s. This lyrical mural of vignettes is a coming-of-age story that brilliantly and quietly touches on so many weighty issues: class, race, sexuality, history, hopes, dreams, the passing of time, and how individual stories create a collective experience. In a world that needs to understand varying perspectives, this story is timely.
Bonfire of the Vanities
By Tom Wolfe
This book is quintessential New York, from its pace to its wit to its charactery characters. New York. A timeless tale of class, ambition, politics, and the press, Bonfire–a terrible movie but fantastic read–follows investment banker Sherman McCoy as he maneuvers the (often cringe-worthy) fallout of a freak accident in the Bronx. Written at a newsprint pace with plenty of light moments despite the heavy social commentary, the vivid, self-serving characters create a perfect satire of the, well, sometimes bonkers nature of NYC day-to-day life.
Catcher in the Rye
By JD Salinger
Holden Caulfield wouldn’t want you to choose this book. He would think this whole darn election is phony. Outside of political circles, he wouldn’t participate in debates. He wouldn’t advocate for your votes. But ironically, it doesn’t matter, because this darkly-funny classic novel will surely have strong grassroots support. JD Salinger’s most famous story follows the reluctantly-iconic Holden as he spends three days on his own in NYC, struggling with his past, growing older, and finding himself and his place in a world he finds pretty bogus. Who can’t relate?
The House of Mirth
By Edith Wharton
A devastatingly satirical snapshot of New York City’s high society at the turn of the 20th Century, Edith Wharton’s tale of the rise and fall of Lily Bart skewers the shallowness of an upper class saddled with issues of jealousy, greed, and a basic lack of morals. Following the revelation that she was financially destitute, Lily needs to use her beauty as a ticket to social events . . . and once that’s gone, she becomes an outsider. A tragic look at the tale of two cities concept, this well-written novel still rings true, and provides some potentially cathartic reading on the 1 percent.
By Toni Morrison
Written by the incomparable, accomplished, Nobel- and Pulitzer- Prize winning Toni Morrison (a New York Public Library trustee), this acclaimed historical novel set mostly in 1920s Harlem mirrors jazz music, featuring several pace-changes and a call-and-response device that allows different narrators (some unreliable) to share their perspectives on the same story. All of the characters’ individual stories come together, as in jazz music, to create a masterpiece, this one of love, jealousy, and the Black experience during the jazz age.
By Chang-Rae Lee
A mysterious and moody novel set against the turbulent background of NYC politics and growing ethnic tensions, Native Speaker follows Korean-American spy Henry Park as he infiltrates the campaign of a fellow Korean-American running for New York City mayor. The secrets Henry uncovers launch a series of internal struggles: he wants to assimilate into American society, something that often eludes him, but he doesn’t want to ruin the career of a fellow Korean-American and seemingly positive role model. While Park’s story is very specific, it also illuminates complicated facets of the immigrant experience in general, and the Korean immigrant experience in particular.
By Teju Cole
This beautifully-written story–which boasts a long resume of “best book” list mentions–allows you to take a long, soul-searching, poignant stroll through New York CIty without leaving your couch. As we follow an unreliable narrator, a Nigerian psychiatric resident who just broke up with his girlfriend, on his walks through post 9/11 New York City, he learns a lot about himself, but we learn so much about a City that had just been through a devastating trauma. As the protagonist interacts with different people and places, we can FEEL the energy of the city; this book gets it. In his debut novel, Cole makes a strong case to win this election, as he depicts the grit and beauty of New York City so well you feel transported there. This is particularly cathartic today, as NY is dealing with another set of challenges, and so many haven’t been able to take long, leisurely walks.
The Price of Salt
By Patricia Highsmith
Written in 1952, this ahead-of-its-time novel beautifully portrays the sweetness and intensity of new love and romance, following two women who meet in the toy section of a NYC department store, have an immediate connection, launch a relationship, and eventually fall in love. The love story is relatable to anyone but also full of high-drama, as the two women understand the complexities of being in a romantic relationship together in the 1950s. Highsmith, spoiler alert, gives her characters a mostly happy ending, providing one of the first positive, hopeful stories for the LGBTQ community. Highsmith had to fight to get this story published (and did so under an alias at first). A sleeper pick, this one deserves consideration.
By Patti Smith
This memoir perfectly captures a moment in the life of musician Patti Smith, as well as an important time in the cultural history of New York City. Smith writes about meeting artist Robert Mapplethorpe at an innocent moment when both were still unknown and embracing the Bohemian lifestyle in the Village and elsewhere. But through the telling of this love story, we get a glimpse of the New York that welcomed and inspired not just Smith and Mapplethorpe, but legendary artists like Bob Dylan and others. The Village is described often, but the couple also visited many museums and spent time in Coney Island, for example. For the non-fiction lovers, this is the candidate for you.
A Little Life
By Hanya Yanagihara
Don’t mistake this beautifully-written novel with a typical “college graduates struggle to make it in New York City” ensemble story. While this is indeed a tale of chosen family coping with varying degrees of difficulty as they look to establish themselves in New York City, the story is much more complex, taking several unexpected turns and diving into dark places, particularly in its exploration of one of the characters and his disturbing childhood. The novel examines what makes people who they are, and in a city as crowded as New York, that’s important to remember.
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love
By Oscar Hijuelos
A Pulitzer Prize winner (notable because it was the first book by a US-born Hispanic writer to win), this novel about two brothers and musicians from Cuba who make their way to the United States and conquer the NYC nightclub scene at the height of the Mambo craze in the 1950s explores various themes, including nostalgia, passion, and youth. The main characters, despite their brush with fame and how they embraced American culture, work to hang on to their heritage–a common and relatable experience for many immigrants. Classic New York story.
By Jonathan Lethem
Hardboiled fiction at its best, this thrilling, original homage to the typical crime-noir story follows would-be detective Lionel Essrog–an orphan with Tourette’s Syndrome who calls himself “The Human Freakshow”–as he works with a fascinating cast of characters to unravel the mysterious murder of a mob boss. This darkly humorous tale, which takes place in Brooklyn, isn’t resolved until the very last page, but it doesn’t feel like much of a wait, because this super readable book speeds by as fast as an express train.
YOU VOTED! Here’s your sticker:
STAY TUNED: On May 11th we’ll be closing the polls, announcing a winner, and breaking down how it all played out through ranked-choice voting.
The New York Public Library’s “Read, Think, Vote” initiative provides resources and information tied to this year’s high-stakes NYC elections, and you can follow our ongoing coverage at gothamist.com/election2021.