A Book About a City: Picks for the TPL Reading Challenge
Explore the cities around the world, from Seoul to New Orleans, with recommended reads for the "a book about a city" category.
Remnants of Mid-Century Toronto photographs by Vik Pahwa and edited by Matthew Blackett
Every Torontonian will find a building they recognize in this tribute to Toronto's mid-century architecture. From apartment towers and places of worship to ventilation shafts and electrical substations, Remnants of Mid-Century Toronto finds wonder in the everyday structures that surround us.
- a book by an author from Toronto
Here are some recommendations from TPL staff for this category.
Love in the Big City by Sang Young Park, translated by Anton Hur
Told with warmth and honesty, Love in the Big City follows Young, a gay Korean man and aspiring author, who is searching for love in Seoul, South Korea. In all four of its interconnected parts, this slim novel moves between the past and present to explore people and relationships significant to Young throughout his twenties and thirties. The narrative voice is so candid and distinct that I felt like an old friend listening to Young discuss his relationships over drinks at a bar. Love in the Big City is a moving, raw, and often humorous look at young queer life in Seoul.
Beijing Confidential is a non-fiction account of the author's journey back to Beijing, over thirty years after attending university there during Mao Zedong's reign. Laden with history and before-after comparisons of areas in and around Beijing, this personal memoir offers a unique, blunt, and often humorous account of Wong's experiences. I also highly recommend Wong's first book about China, Red China Blues.
Zoo City by Lauren Beukes
In a world where each person has a constant animal companion (whose well-being is directly tied to their own!), Zinzi is a freelance finder of lost things. In this case, she's hired by a high-powered music producer to find a missing pop star. Missing people are her least favourite kind of case, but this one just might pay well enough to get her out of the impoverished Zoo City. This thriller left me wanting to see a lot more of the world Beukes has created, but instead it races you to a truly wild and over-the-top finish.
Likeness by David Macfarlane
The city in question is Hamilton, Ontario, but mostly the Hamilton of the author's youth. Macfarlane is approached by Canadian artist John Hartman to introduce him to, and participate in a painting of Hamilton as part of a series of paintings Hartman is doing of Canadian authors and cities. (The result is the terrific Many Lives Mark this Place, which would be another good entry for this category.)
Through the finished painting (which improbably ends up in Macfarlane's house for a time), Macfarlane simultaneously explores his memories of his childhood and youth in Hamilton as he and his family grapple with his grown son's serious illness. It is at times very funny and very moving.
The Saturday Night Ghost Club by Craig Davidson
Jake Baker, who is a neurosurgeon, reflects about a summer in the 1980s growing up in Niagara Falls. During this summer, he forms a strong bond with his quirky uncle Calvin. Along with his new friends Billy and Dove Yellowbird, he frequents Calvin's occult shop and explores haunted spots with him. Calvin calls this group The Saturday Night Ghost Club. As Jake reveals more about this year in his childhood, we learn why his uncle is obsessed with haunted spots in the city. I enjoyed this book a lot and found it all the more interesting looking up references mentioned throughout on Google Maps, such as streets, neighbourhoods and legendary haunted spots like the Screaming Tunnel.
This Lovely City by Louise Hare
This book of historical fiction takes place in 1950 London. Lawrie Matthews is arriving from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush, to answer the call for labour. Working as a mailman, he discovers a young child's body and is automatically a suspect. After a warm welcome to all the passengers of the Windrush, the city turns on them when this crime is committed. I loved the complex characters in this book, and it was really interesting reading about the history and the continued issues today.
A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
In A Confederacy of Dunces, New Orleans appears to be one of the main characters! Vibrant descriptions of the city, its unique neighborhoods (especially the French Quarter) and quirky inhabitants make reading this book a real pleasure. I especially recommend the audio version available as a digital file or on CDs with Barret Whitener doing an amazing job portraying New Orleans' vernacular, with each character having their distinctive sound.
Open City by Teju Cole
Feeling adrift after ending a relationship, Julius, a young Nigerian doctor living in New York, takes long walks through the city while listening to the stories of fellow immigrants until a shattering truth is revealed. The book has an ending you might not see coming.
—Alyson, Senior Branch Head
Last Exit to Brooklyn by Hubert Selby
Linked stories about grimy 1950s New York. If you've read Selby's Requiem for a Dream, you know he spares nothing. I found it riveting, but there's no happy ending here.
—Alyson, Senior Branch Head
If you like to read in French, check out the list of recommended books for "le roman d'une ville" - there's a mix of books, ebooks and digital audiobooks to try!
Recommendations from the Facebook Group
These are just some of the recommendations from our Facebook TPL Reading Challenge 2022 discussion group. You can read the entire thread, even if you don't have a Facebook account.
- The City We Became by N.K. Jemisin
- In the Skin of a Lion by Michael Ondaatje
- Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson
- The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson
- Life in the City of Dirty Water by Clayton Thomas-Muller