The City Novel

I’ve long been interested in the idea of “The City Novel,” a piece of literature which captures perfectly a particular American city at a specific moment in time: the people, the places, the culture, the mythology, the attitudes, the optimism or pessimism, the history and the future.

For a long time, also, I’ve attempted to write my own “City Novel” for Orlando, Florida, the place I currently call home, a desire that I share with other readers and writers in cities who also feel un-(or under-)represented. Click this link to read about the history of the “Great D.C. Novel.”

And in the meantime, until my own “Great Orlando Novel” is complete, this page will offer a reading list of the very best city novels I’ve read, what locations each represents, what can be gained from each (as a writer, or just as a reader), and even which books and articles I’ve found that best showcase the city of Orlando (sadly, there’s very little fiction on that particular list).

New York:

  • Fortress of Solitude – Jonathan Lethem
  • Bonfire of the Vanities – Tom Wolfe
  • Bright Lights, Big City – Jay McInerney
  • The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay – Michael Chabon
  • American Psycho – Bret Easton Ellis
  • Miles From Nowhere – Nami Mun
  • I Just Want My Pants Back – David J. Rosen
  • Netherland – Joseph O’Neill


  • Then We Came to the End – Joshua Ferris
  • The Jungle – Upton Sinclair
  • Devil in the White City – Erik Larsen
  • Sister Carrie –
  • Downer’s Grove – Michael Hornburg


  • A Man in Full – Tom Wolfe


  • Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides

Los Angeles:

  • Less Than Zero

Orlando, Florida:

  • 15 Views of Orlando – ed. Nathan Holic

New Orleans:

  • A.D.: After the Deluge – Josh Neufeld
  • Treme (HBO Series)

St. Louis:

  • The Twenty-Seventh City – Jonathan Franzen

Note: The idea here isn’t to simply list novels that have a real setting, but instead novels that develop the city as a central character, and whose characterization of the city furthers the tradition and mythology of that city in literature…I don’t update this page often, to be honest, but maybe I’ll find the time to really dig through my reading lists and make this more complete, more satisfying…


2 responses to “The City Novel

  1. Chris Champagne

    Your choices for New Orleans invalidates your judgement.

    • Not sure why that would be. I haven’t read much New Orleans literature, but Josh Neufeld is a hell of a cartoonist. And Treme was about as amazing a portrait as a city could hope for.

      Even so, though, the only “judgment” rendered on this page is which books/movies I’ve read/seen that create a real/honest character out of a particular city. If you don’t like my reading/viewing list, just build on it instead of leaving douchey comments.

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