New York Novels

New York …. here we come.

Literature reflects various aspects of the life and culture of a society. Let’s look at people, places, issues and trends through the eyes of writers. What do they have to say about their social environment and culture?

We will use our trip to America as a basis for this topic.

1. Project:  A Literary Mosaic of New York City :In the footsteps of…

Read one novel that plays in New York. In what places and areas of NYC does the story play?

Keep a reading diary and write 3 short entries (10 minutes free-writing each).

Analyze the role of the setting in the story. Authors use settings very consciously to convey a certain atmosphere. Every setting carries lots of connotations, be aware of these. Find the settings on Google Maps. Find out background information about each setting and the time-period. Collect pictures (take photos during our trip and/or use internet pictures) or draw/paint your own based on the descriptions you find in the novel.

List the different places and prepare an illustrated story map following the main character through the city.  Present the character’s wanderings through the city to the class. Make a poster,  or use  powerpoint to illustrate your presentation.

What do(es) the setting(s)  say about the society and time? (values, problems, wishes…) Why do certain episodes happen at certain places?

Answer all these questions in a 2 page essay-paper + the story map(12pt). Find a clear thesis statement that explains what the story says about New York and its society at a certain time. Could the novel play somewhere else? If so, where?


2. Reading Short Stories and Poetry

Read the assigned literature and keep a regular reading diary. Focus mainly on the importance of the settings. What do the settings imply? What are the connotations? Why has the writer chosen this setting? What atmosphere is conveyed?  What is the tone? Does the text say anything about the society of the time? What do you know about the time (politics, social problems, historical events)? Be ready to discuss these issues in class. Always bring your reading diary to class.


3. Snapshots of Life in America: Poetry Project and Short stories

 a: ObservationsThis step has to be done during our trip!!!!!

Choose a place in New York or Kansas City that you find especially interesting. Take 10 minutes to observe the place in detail and take notes of your observations.

Take notes about  the following aspects:

What is the atmosphere right now?

What contributes to this atmosphere? Jot down bits and pieces, what are people doing, what do you see, hear, smell? What is the temperature and weather? You might also want to take a few pictures. (Please respect people’s privacy. Do not behave like a paparazzo!)

Collect bits of information that will help you write a poem (a haiku or a short free verse poem) and a short story about this place.

b: Back home: Write a haiku or a short free verse poem about your experience. Prepare a well designed, illustrated page that will be “published” in our book of Snapshots of Life in America. See the two haiku pages for details.

c: Short story: Use one of the characters in your observation in a brief short story. The main purpose of your story is to recreate and convey the atmosphere of the moment. Bring your short story for a peer conference. Then revise it carefully and hand it in in your writing folder.

Write a 3rd draft and illustrate your story if possible (use photos you took in New York). We will  publish the stories in our Snapshots of America book.

List of New York Novels:

Choose one of the following novels. Read it carefully and keep a regular reading diary. Mark all the references to the New York settings for your literature essay and presentation.

Please buy one of the books before you go to America. It will be a great experience for you to really see the places you are reading about. If you have not quite finished the book read the last chapters on the plane. You will have plenty of time to kill. Bring a pencil to mark interesting passages – otherwise you will have trouble finding them later.


  • J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye
  • Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy
  • Henry Roth, A Diving Rock on the Hudson
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man
  • Scott F. Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
  • Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s
  • Ernesto Quinonez, Bodega Dreams
  • Bret Easton Ellis, American Psycho
  • Jay McInerney, Bright Lights, Big City
  • Jay McInerney, Brightness Falls
  • Tom Wolfe, The Bonfire of Vanities
  • John Dos Passos, Manhattan Transfer
  • Claude Brown, Manchild in the Promised Land
  • Henry Roth, Call it Sleep
  • James Baldwin, Go Tell It on the Mountain
  • Sister Souljah, The Coldest Winter Ever


  • Gwen Kinkead, Chinatown, A Portrait of a Closed Society









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